The Richard Mille RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost retails for GBP 786,000 in the UK. That’s roughly enough to get the new Ferrari 488 Pista in three different colours. Or a half-decent flat in Central London. (Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch). The RM 70-01 has proven a strong seller, despite its astronomical price tag. (Like most Richard Mille watches). So, how does the brand justify the cost?
The short answer is; they don’t. They don’t need to. For the individuals who can afford a Richard Mille timepiece, cost is irrelevant. The rest of us mere mortals meanwhile are left to speculate. As such, here’s why we think the Richard Mille RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost is so insanely expensive.
A (Very) Brief History Of Richard Mille
Richard Mille is no stranger to selling expensive watches. The company broke the internet in 2010 with the unveiling of the RM 027 Tourbillon for Rafael Nadal. The price tag on that watch was a cool half a mil. Many dismissed it as nothing more than a publicity stunt at the time. How wrong they were. It lay the foundation for the brand to develop ongoing partnerships with numerous high-profile athletes and celebrities. These include sprinter Yohan Blake, pro golfer Bubba Watson and F1 Driver Felipe Massa.
It didn’t start out this way, of course. The origins of the eponymous brand’s founder are quite humble. His career began at the Anguenot watch factory in 1974. There he was responsible for the distribution of watches to Latin America. Seven years later Anguenot was sold to Matra, an aircraft and automobile manufacturer. Mille would become the director of Matra’s watch making business.
Later, Matra sold of its watch division to Seiko. Mille left the business. He started a new watchmaking venture with Parisian jeweller Alain Mauboussin. They produced high-complication watches in collaboration with another giant of the industry; Giulio Papi. (Side note: Giulio Papi is the co-founder of Renaud & Papi, a legendary company specialised in complicated movements. It is now majority owned by Audemars Piguet.)
In 1999 Richard Mille left Mauboussin. He had his own ideas for an avant garde watch brand, influenced by the automotive racing world. He wanted his watches to be lightweight, distinctively shaped and unlike anything the market had seen before. And he knew just the man to help him make his vision a reality. Giulio Papi. In 2001, Richard Mille’s first watch, the RM 001 Tourbillon came to market. And the rest, is history.
Richard Mille RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost
Fast-forward to the present day. Richard Mille still makes avant garde watches unlike anything the market has seen. The RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost is a perfect example of this. A celebrity watch inspired by a specific sport – in this case, cycling. But what goes into this sculptural masterpiece that makes it so insanely expensive? We’ll never know the answer to that question but here’s our best guestimate.
Unique Design – 10%
The first thing to strike you about the RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost is its unique aesthetic. According to Richard Mille, it is designed to ‘ensure fabulous comfort on the wrist and optimised legibility of the dial’. The result is a sort of warped tonneau-shaped case that bulges out to one side. It’s intended to be worn on the right wrist and sits quite high up. This is to prevent the crown from digging into your arm when you bend your wrists to grip the handle bars on your bike.
The skeletonized dial is divided into two main sections. The upper half houses the mechanical odometer. The lower half features the tourbillon. Hours and minutes are shown centrally. At 5 o’clock there is a power reserve in the shape of a gauge, powered by a planetary differential. Despite the outrageous case design, the dial is simple and refined. By Richard Mille standards at least.
Not one to shy away from larger cases, the dimensions of the RM 70-01 are 54.88 (H) x 49.48 (W) x 17.65 mm (D). Not a watch to hide away under the cuff by any stretch.
Hi-Tech Materials – 20%
Richard Mille has built its reputation on using cutting-edge materials. These are often adapted from the automotive and aerospace industries. The company has pioneered the use of carbon fibre in watch making in particular. The RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost is no exception. The distinctive, tonneau shaped tripartite case is constructed from Carbon TPT®. A material Richard Mille uses often for its watch cases.
The technique involves layering hundreds of sheets of carbon fibre. It’s an automated process that changes the orientation of the weft between layers. Heated to 120 °C in an autoclave similar to those used for aeronautic components, the material is then machined at Richard Mille. This process creates random patterns in the layers of carbon. That means no two cases look exactly the same. The result is a super light-weight, super strong tonneau-shaped case that is somehow simultaneously rectangular and asymmetrical.
According to Richard Mille, Carbon TPT® is indestructible. This makes it possible to create a lighter case that still offers ideal shock protection to the fragile movement within. The case is water-resistant to 50 metres thanks to two Nitrile O-ring seals. Assembly is done with 20 spline screws in grade 5 titanium and abrasion-resistant washers in 316L stainless steel.
Complicated Movement – 30%
Inside the RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost resides a complex movement. The manually winding calibre is equipped with a tourbillon – a signature of Richard Mille. It also features a rather unusual complication. A mechanical odometer. Inspired by speedometer-equipped shift levers, it can tally distances of up to 99,999 kilometres. Keep in mind this watch is designed for the world’s wealthiest cyclists. Keeping track of distances travelled is a high priority.
You update the count manually using the two grade 5 titanium pushers located at 2 and 10 o’clock respectively. The first pusher selects the roller to be changed or sets the complication in neutral position. Markers on the odometer provide visual confirmation of the selection. Activating the second pusher incrementally rotates the selected roller. This can also be done automatically. You just need a smart watch (or phone) with GPS tracking enabled.
The mechanical odometer occupies a large part of the available space for the movement. Consequently, the calibre itself needed to be as compact as possible. Richard Mille came up with the ingenious solution of positioning the barrel and the tourbillon on the same axis. That’s why you don’t see the rear of the tourbillon when you look at the movement through the sapphire caseback.
The use of hi-tech materials is not limited to the case construction. The baseplate and bridges of the movement are in grade 5 titanium. The alloy is 90% grade 5 titanium, 6% aluminium and 4% vanadium. It’s used in the aerospace, aeronautics and automobile industries. The baseplate is black PVD treated and the micro-blasted bridges are reminiscent of a bike frame.
The movement boasts a number of finishing techniques. These include Anglage and polishing by hand, satin-finished bridges, burnished pivots, concave chamfering with a diamond tool on the wheels and more. The result is a sporty yet technical design, executed to the highest degree possible.
Reputation / Marketing Hype – 40%
It’s hard to overstate how much value is attributed to a product due to its reputation. People pay a massive premium for Richard Mille because its Richard Mille. That’s not a criticism by the way. It’s a statement of fact. The man and the brand have built their reputation on making outrageously expensive, avant garde watches. No one else is doing what Richard Mille does. And no one is doing it as consistently.
There’s also the exclusivity element. Even if you have the disposable income to buy such a watch, only 30 examples of the RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost are being made. That means you’re not guaranteed to get one. For some, this only serves to increase the model’s desirability. They want to have it. No, they have to have it. There’s no doubt it’s a tricky business model to balance but Richard Mille has done a remarkable job of it. Staying true to the brand ethos is key, even if everyone else thinks you’re crazy.
We almost forgot to mention. Each watch comes with its own bespoke road bike designed in partnership with Prost, Mille and Italian bikemaker Colnago. It’s valued at around EUR 10,000. So, there’s that too.
There you have it. Our break-down of what makes the Richard Mille RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost so insanely expensive. Do you agree or can nothing justify the GBP 786,000 price tag?
Technical Specifications: Richard Mille RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost
- Case: Carbon TPT – 54.88 (H) x 49.48 (W) x 17.65 mm (D) – sapphire caseback – torque-limiting crown – waterproof to 50 metres.
- Dial: Skeleton – hours and minutes – seconds shown on the tourbillon – mechanical odometer – power reserve indicator at 5 o’clock.
- Movement: RM Calibre 70-01 –Variable inertia, free sprung balance – Barrel pawl with progressive recoil – 21,600 Vph – 70 hour power reserve.
- Price: GBP 786,000.
More info at www.richardmille.com.