Richard Mille: the man who puts soul into watches

"I am increasingly insane"! It is in these words, that Richard Mille, founder of the most expensive watches in the world, presents himself. But the reader should reassure himself. His madness is a soft madness, stimulated by his creative bulimia. Apart from his watches, true Formula Ones with the most current designs, sold under the name 'éponyme', he is currently focused on drafting a book, centred on the mysterious characters of the watch, to be published by Cercle d'Art. Each section will be sublimated and put into text by Alain Borer, a specialist in Verlaine and Rimbaud. For Mille, a passionate man, only creativity and quality counts. Demanding, precise and meticulous, his desire is to bring out the best of the watch-making culture, characterized by his the concern for the minute details. His only limit is the technique.

If one speaks to Mille about the price of his watches (between 20,000 and 500,000 €), he affirms that the cost, at the time of manufacture, is the least important consideration. A deliberate choice, placing his company above many competitors in the watch making world.

Indeed, in the watch-making industry, the price is an essential factor which determines manufacture techniques and often advertising campaigns.

His only concern is to offer his customers, often Industry Directors, a watch designed for life, with the latest technology and yet which is easy to wear. In his eyes, luxury is ever changing.  It's over for the glittery, bling products, which seduce only a non-informed public. Now is the time for a return to true values.

Richard Mille. Where do you come from?

After having worked as Sales Manager at Matra, then at Mauboussin, I was slowed down in my  moments of creativity by the spirit of consensus and existing marketing constraints. As much I was in step with AlainMauboussin's ideas, I was against his brother Patrick's development strategies in 1999. Non-realistic development not wanted in the marketplace, which preached marketing to the detriment of the creativity. Since the 1990s I had a pressentiment that the luxury market would revive again.

In your opinion, what was the reason?

It was due essentially to non-informed marketing, without real value added from so-called "luxury" companies.
One should not forget that luxury is not connected with marketing or with the number of sales outlets, but rather with a constantly renewed creativity, taking into account the culture and the needs for the customers.
If one has demanding, cultivated, informed customers, who know how to distinguish the real from the fake, one needs a strategic standpoint to really approach thesm, based on quality and exception and not on the price.

What is your concept?

I want to create extremely modern and accomplished watches for life,without constraints. I have pasionate about mechanics since childhood (boat, car, clocks), and what interests me remains the resulting product, even vis-a-vis a problem.
I want to cross the architecture of mechanics, as one does with a car, in which the product challenges the five senses: the oily odour, gasoline, the sightlines of the vehicle, the cuts, hearing its engine, the beauty of its wood, its leather...
My desire is to make watches which speak to men.
What is astonishing to note is that the emotional reaction of the Industry Directors, who can allow themselves almost everything, is very strong with regard to an accomplished watch, sleek in its mechanical performance.
The object speaks to them, fascinates them, evokes in part their own dreams. It is a piece of their childhood. It is like when I designed my first watch in 97/98, which was produced in 2001.

Why have you chosen to make the most expensive watches?

It is the result of a decision and a concept. Concretely I took the opposite step to society. Instead of  initially taking into account the cost, I chose to take the best in terms of technology, design and manufacture.
Paradoxically my watches which integrate technical dexterity are manufactured in an 'artisanal' way and are hand finished. This accounts for about 30 to 40 % of total manufacture and explains why I am always out-of-stock.
The price is ultimately a result of choice.
There is obviously an element of risk, but this is calculated. I am insane, but careful. I would be content with selling around fifty watches a year. Currently, I sell more than a thousand.

May we know the price?

The price of a Richard Mille watch starts from 20,000€ and goes up to 500,000€. Currently, my order book is filled up to 2010.

What is your vision of luxury in 10 years time?

Luxury changes enormously. Its definition evolves in time and must adapt itself to its era. It will be more and more multi-faceted. Admittedly, accessibility to luxury is essential, but this is not true luxury.
Currently, with the marketing campaigns of a number of trade mark products, the message is truncated. The glittery side is not enough any more. It is necessary to work beyond the perceived value.
It is thus necessary to return to the true values. In my case, for example, the weight of one of my watches does not add to its value, whereas very often the weight of a watch is used as justification of a high price.

Do you believe in accessible luxury?

If that can initiate people in the concept of luxury, why not! One needs a better knowledge of culture, a disclosure of the codes of luxury. But what makes the very essence of luxury, intrinsically, is its scarcity.

Do you have projects?

I have many ideas, in particular three new models. My endeavour is different from that of the clock makers. I like this "profusion" of products, which I create. It is my way of making "volume" and consists in creating new watches each year, with innovations.

Contrary to the other watch makers, I have this freedom of creation without having budgetary constraints.


Mai 2008