Does it still count as a “hot” take if most people agree with you? Call me crazy, but there are better deals out there than a $300,000 wearable clock. Bear with me, as what follows is a bit of a rant against one of horology’s most expensive brands. However, given how the overall watch market is experiencing historic inflation, we might as well unpack why some consumers are drawn to the worst value in the industry today: Richard Mille.
For a bit of background, Richard Mille is an independent watch brand founded by Richard Mille and Dominique Guenat in Les Breuleux, Switzerland in 2001. The brand rose to prominence through a mix of aggressive R&D and ambassador-driven marketing. Anyone who’s seen an internet “watch spotting” article will recognize Richard Mille’s signature barrel-shaped cases and bold color palettes. RM is perhaps best known for its celebrity clientele, including Drake, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Neymar. And those are only the celebrities with one name!
But as the brand has grown, so has its contingent of critics. The diatribe below focuses on the two main points of contention: gaudy design and the collector culture it has attracted.
Openworked or Overworked?
Look at a Richard Mille watch, and you’ll find a depth of detail in its skeletonized construction. The brand builds its watches like F1 cars and fighter jets, with materials including titanium, carbon composites, ceramic, and sapphire crystal. My two cents? On paper, at least, the final product doesn’t match the myth.
Perhaps it’s the wrist presence; maybe it’s the materials and flamboyant colors, but something about these watches feels toyish – playful but in an overly-calculated way. People who appreciate RM admire the brand’s peak-performance technology. But instead of crafting a stealthy spy plane, they wound up with a neon Lamborghini.
Speaking of which, why are bright colors the default? Settle down, we see you! The watch’s silhouette is already recognizable on its own, and with cases often hitting 16 mm+ in thickness, it’s not exactly easy to hide under a cuff. Perhaps this is ultimately a matter of personal preference. It could be that this brand signature is simply not for me. Heck, even the candy-themed Bonbon collection sold out before it was officially released (which the brand’s marketing repeatedly assures us is a “serious” project).
But is there a limit to intentional ugliness? We can draw a comparison here to sneakers. The “ugly sneaker” trend appeared to take over the high-end footwear market a few years back, selling well as celebrities, influencers, and the like jumped on the bandwagon. Runways, mood boards, and social media feeds alike were soon clogged with the brazen and the bulky. Now that this trend has finally (thankfully) started to recede, the question remains: Did anyone really like the Balenciaga Triple S to begin with?
It makes you wonder how this hyper-specific and hype-centric design language will resonate 5, 10, or 50 years down the road. Franck Muller and Hublot were once the hot watches to have on your wrist. And now? If history repeats itself, Richard Mille might unwittingly be the next one in this line.
Now, I must say I do enjoy the RM 67-01 Automatic Winding Extra-Flat; acting icon John Malkovich has one. It’s sleek, subtle, and, yes, by RM standards at least, downright easy to read. It’s the least “Richard Mille” watch that Richard Mille makes – if you see what I’m saying. And speaking of RM standards, its $200,000 price tag places it squarely in the brand’s, ahem, “affordable” range.
I once had the surprising (and somewhat secretive) privilege of taking the elevator to the top floor of Richard Mille’s New York boutique. I had an up-close-and-personal encounter with the RM 25-01 (Sylvester Stallone’s watch, by the way). Talk about a beast of a tool watch: with a 50-mm case size, compass, mirror, level, tourbillon, and even storage for water filtration tablets should you venture into environments far wilder than midtown Manhattan. You can currently find one of these 20-piece limited editions on Chrono24 for just south of $1,400,000. Flattered as I was to experience this behemoth in person, all I could think at the time was: “Just buy a G-SHOCK!”
What to Buy When All Your Friends Have a Nautilus?
There’s a common sentiment in the watch community among those who don’t quite get Richard Mille: “When I see an RM on someone’s wrist, I don’t see personality. I only see money.” But maybe that’s the point; maybe that much money turns you into “that guy.”
These watches are seemingly owned exclusively by rappers, athletes, and Hong Kong billionaires. And nothing against any of these folks. Rappers, give “Richard Milly” a shoutout. Athletes, get your sponsorship money and enjoy your free watch. Hong Kong billionaires… Well, you’re probably not reading this, but maybe try to match your tastes with your tax bracket.
As a Private Client Advisor at Chrono24, I’m immediately skeptical of anybody who calls regarding a Richard Mille for sale. I get that it’s fun to have a conversation about them, saying, “I’d be a buyer if it were closer to 325k,” but chances are, you’re only peeking at the high-roller table.
In late August, hip-hop mogul Diddy took to Instagram to vent his frustration on the subject. “I’m just telling you, y’all getting tricked by the Richard Mille.” The entertainer-turned-entrepreneur went on to explain that he owns “two or three, but I never pull them out. They ugly. I don’t even want to hate; I don’t even know Richard Mille.” For his pointed conclusion, Diddy advised, “Black men, save your money and go buy a house.”
Not Worth the Hype, Danger, or Price
While researching stories for this article, my Google searches came up with things like “Richard Mille robbery London,” “Richard Mille robbery Hong Kong,” and “Richard Mille robbery Beverly Hills.”
The Beverly Hills incident included three well-prepared assailants, four gunshots, a trip to the hospital, and a stolen RM 11-03 Flyback Chronograph. To be sure, incidents like this are thankfully rare. They do, however, add another unwanted aspect to these watches.
My advice: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Why not take that same pile of cash and get an equally bonkers, albeit more refined, timepiece? Purchase an Urwerk, a Greubel Forsey, or go a little more mainstream and take your pick of the many excellent openworked Royal Oaks. Or why not just take Diddy’s advice and “go buy a house” instead?