When do we stop talking about one of the most incredible watchmaking pieces of all time?
There are some perfect watches that define modern timepieces. A watch at the pinnacle of mechanical craftsmanship, innovation and creativity – a watch that reminds me why I love what I do. As a watch journalist, I am surrounded by new watches and launches every day, each exciting in its own way. But there is one watch that remains untouchable with its sheer mechanical audacity and micro-engineering splendor. It was produced 16 years ago and no other watch has come close to it since then, but no one really talks about it anymore. Of course, I am referring to the Richard Mille RM 012 Tourbillon.
Among experts, industry veterans and some knowledgeable collectors, the RM 012 is unanimously regarded as one of the finest examples of modern watchmaking. Personally, I would go a step further – in my list of the best watches of the century, the RM 012 is in the top three.
So, what makes the RM 012 so special in my book? It’s a tourbillon, sure, but there’s a lot of tourbillons out there, right? This is not a super complicated watch. In fact it is not a complicated watch at all (the tourbillon is not). In fact, the RM 012 has a unique architecture. It has no bottom plate and no bridge. Imagine a movement and remove all plates and bridges, leaving all moving parts suspended in 3D space. Now, using extremely narrow but strong metal tubes, create an irregular and angled grid to keep the wheels and all other moving parts in their fixed positions. This is exactly what the Audemars Piguet (Renaud et Papi) team did for the RM 012 tourbillon.
Try to imagine the complexity and difficulty of making such a watch. It was never done before 2006, and it has never been done since, precisely because it was so challenging.
Richard Mille fashion himself tells the story of how he received his first photo of the completed RM 012 while on a business trip in Singapore. The APRP team emailed him photos and waited by the phone with champagne so they could celebrate when he approved. However, when he called them, he told them to put away the champagne and redecorate because it wasn’t up to the standard he wanted. If you know APRP at all, you know that there’s pretty much the center of genius there, and it’s really hard to challenge them that way.
According to another anecdote recounted by Richard Mille, when the watch was launched, François-Paul Journe came up to congratulate him personally, telling him that only a watchmaker can fully appreciate and understand the difficulty of making a watch. Felix Baumgartner of luxury URWERK, one of the cornerstone brands of modern independent watchmaking, expressed his desire to buy the RM 012.
Its rarity is completely understandable. In 2006, independent watchmaking was not as developed and established as it is today – the RM 012 clearly caused a huge sensation at the time, winning the Golden Needle at that year’s Grand Prix de la Horlogerie de Genève. That said, even if the RM 012 is launched today, it will still dominate watchmaking, and that’s what makes this watch amazing in terms of mechanical achievement.
Of course, it’s always fun to talk about a new wholesale watch. But we should also remember yesterday’s masterpieces, especially when they are as extraordinary as the 2006 Richard Mille RM 012 Tourbillon.