It may seem that quite a few current Formula 1 drivers can be seen with a Richard Mille on their wrist, on and off the track, we have to look back on the first partnership that the brand established on the grid, which was none other than Felipe Massa. The Brazilian driver spent 15 years in F1, starting with Sauber in 2002, then joined Ferrari in 2006, where he came very close to winning a championship in 2008, being pipped by just one point on the last race by Lewis Hamilton. He would stay with the Scuderia through the 2013 season, then raced for Williams until his retirement in 2017. He was arguably one of the most popular drivers on and off the grid, winning 11 races, with 16 pole positions and 41 podiums to his name.
Massa partnered with Richard Mille almost throughout his entire career, first seen on the grid with an RM on the wrist in 2004. Mille wanted to prove that his watches, an in particular the tourbillons, were engineered in such a way that they could withstand even the rigours of an F1 race; this was unheard of at the time, with tourbillons in particular considered to be delicate mechanisms that should not be subject to significant shocks. Even today, it’s rare to see a driver wearing a watch during the race (the requirements of the sponsors lead them to strap on the watch before climbing on the podium for the photo ops), but Massa certainly did have the Richard Mille on his wrist at all times. This partnership would lead Richard Mille to create a number of watch editions with Felipe Massa, which remain highly sought after. Here we revisit one of the more rare references, the RM056 Felipe Massa 10th Anniversary Edition, a manual wind tourbillon rattrapante with power reserve, torque and function indicators.
As the name would suggest, this watch came from a two watch collection in 2015, set to commemorate the 10 year partnership between Massa and Richard Mille. They were exclusive from the beginning, with only 10 pieces made for the RM056, and 100 pieces made of another reference, the RM011 NTPT Carbon Chronograph. The “original” RM056 was a 5 piece edition, produced in 2012; the Felipe Massa 10th Anniversary Edition is easily differentiated by the colour combination and the stamp between 7 and 8 o’clock.
The watch is distinguished in large part with its case entirely made of sapphire glass, with Richard Mille being one of the very first brands to use this construction. While the material is known to be scratch resistant, it is also quite difficult to work with once you venture beyond relatively simple shapes such as the normal sapphire glass protecting a watch face, and it is a significant investment for each brand that follows this route to not only research, but to produce the required parts. Being fully sapphire, the three-part structure that combines perforations and curvature is extremely demanding on the CNC machinery, requiring a considerable amount of time, and even then, it produces only the pre-forming stage of the case. To perfect the desired optical quality, the next step is to polish the raw case into a clean and even finish before applying the anti-reflective coating that elevates its transparency. These procedures all together total around a thousand hours of machining on the case, presuming all goes well; unlike metal, any damage to the sapphire case during its production will very likely mean that the part cannot be used at all.
The case is astonishing, yet the choice of sapphire has also created extra weight due to the thickness necessary for its structural integrity. To a manufacturer that is known for being uncompromising in pursuing lightness in their watches, Richard Mille turned their attention to the calibre RMCC1, which is also the powerhouse that facilitated the references RM008 and RM050. To compensate for the extra weight of the case, around 400 components were revised to reduce the overall weight by 20%. This included making certain parts in grade 5 titanium, as well as further skeletonising some of them to enhance the visual depth of the movement, such as the mainspring which is now visible at the front of the watch. The RMCC1 in this RM056 weighs less than 10 grams, a truly incredible weight considering the complication and the number of parts required.
To manufacture a case out of sapphire was once merely an audacious idea, especially in an industry that generally does not experiment beyond its comfort zone, but Richard Mille took on the challenge and produced an impressive result with the RM056. It was a rather convincing demonstration to the watchmaking industry, which consequently opened up the possibility for brands to adapt sapphire in their cases, as seen in the increasing number of watches with sapphire cases in various colours. Some might say that the RM056 was more about being ostentatious, but this would be disregarding the design and engineering that went into making such a watch even possible, and it is a shining example of Richard Mille’s unconventional approach. The accompanying price tag certainly generated more than a few raised eyebrows; one could argue that this would also eliminate the acquisition of the watch by speculators, and only make them accessible to those who truly appreciate the ethos behind Richard Mille (and those who have the means to do so).