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The history of Richard Mille

Most luxury watch brands we know and love had their early beginnings before televisions existed. Some however made their mark in horology culture during the 2000s which would make them relatively new. An example of a watch brand that has managed to cement itself and cultivate a group of watch enthusiasts over the past two decades would be Richard Mille. He is recognized as one of the world’s leading watch innovators of our time and here’s how it all began.

Before the name, Richard Mille was spoken globally, he had already earned a reputable career in horological culture. Beginning his career in the mid-1970s at the boutique French watchmaker Finhor, he eventually rose through the ranks of Matra's chronometer business to become a manager.

Not long after, Richard Mille would reallocate his skills to jeweler Mauboussin to help set up the firm’s watch business. Mille, though, was hungry for more, despite having achieved such important positions. He created his firm, Richard Mille SA, in 1999 with Swiss manufacturer Audemars Piguet, based on his extensive expertise in managing premium jewels and excellent chronographs.

Then came the launch of its first watch, which came after 2 years of establishing itself as an international watch brand. The wait was truly rewarding as they finally lifted the curtains and unveiled the RM 001. The creation would set to defy standard high-end watch design norms as it was created in partnership with Renaud et Papi, Audemars Piguet's research and development department.

The RM 001 tourbillon, dubbed "a racing machine on the wrist," made a name for itself not only because it was attached to a carbon nanofiber levered bridge (a feature unheard of at the time), but also because it cost around $135,000, more than twice the price of the next most expensive tourbillon at the time. It set a new bar in exclusivity by being limited to 17 copies. It's no wonder, therefore, that the press hailed it as the "beginning of a new age in watchmaking."

Mille's collections have bolstered the brand's incredible repertoire throughout the years, all of which were produced with a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of a product's inner workings as well as its outer appearance. Customers were impressed by the RM 003's dual time zone function, the gear-filled RM 004's split-second chronograph, and the RM 022's honeycomb orthorhombic titanium aluminide baseplate direct from NASA.

Mille's firm has become known as "the secret billionaire's handshake" in addition to developing technically complex machinery. "They're all sold," he said to CNBC in 2014 when asked if he had sold all of his $2.2 million sapphire crystal watches (the RM 56-02 Sapphire Tourbillon). "They're all of them." Distant pundits frequently wonder why purchasers are ready to pay six- or seven-figure amounts for a wristwatch, but those in the know understand that a Richard Mille is more than just a timepiece: it is a wrist sports car.