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Can Richard Mille’s new watch rule the skies?

January 2016

The brand’s new, limited edition RM 50-02 ACJ Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph is a true engineering accomplishment. But does the watch miss the mark by focusing too much on the corporate jet passenger, rather than the actual pilot?

When I think about aviator chronographs, Richard Mille is not the first brand that comes to mind. Nothing against Richard Mille and their potential for producing a solid aviator. In fact, the brand has already released the RM 039 Aviator E6-B Tourbillon Flyback within that genre.

I’m a big fan of their watches and their quality and innovation is hard to argue against. But that still doesn’t change the fact that when I think aviation and watches, I think about brands like IWC, Bell & Ross, and of course Breitling.

Can Richard Mille's new watch rule the skies?

And then came Richard Mille, telling us that “the world of aviation has always played an integral and inspirational role for Richard Mille” and that it was “only natural” that the brand would realize a horological masterpiece reflecting its connections to aviation. That masterpiece in question is the recently unveiled RM 50-02 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph, a 30 pieces limited edition timepiece.

Can Richard Mille's new watch rule the skies?

Sure, if we look hard enough we can see some parallels between the aviation industry and the way Richard Mille operates: both are constantly undergoing evolutionary changes with regards to traditional methods of engineering and design, where standard solutions are being challenged by new methods, means and materials.

But how well did the brand really capture the pilot’s spirit with their new watch?

The new RM 50-02 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph is the result of collaboration between the watchmaker and Airbus, particularly the aviation giant’s corporate jets division (ACJ). In fact, it was Sylvain Mariat, Head of ACJ’s Creative Design Studio, that drafted the first designs for the RM 50-02 watch. To put that into perspective, it would be something like a designer from Richard Mille designing a corporate jet, and Airbus building it. And the fact that this watch was born in the design bureau of Airbus and not at Richard Mille is obvious at first sight.

Can Richard Mille's new watch rule the skies?

Known for its distinctive case shapes, this watch also sports a unique design. Using Titanium-Aluminum alloy - the same alloy as that used in the Airbus for its jet turbine blades - the watch shape mirrors the outlines of a jet’s typical window shape. Even the screws used on the around the outer edge of the bezel have been replaced by Torq set, a distinctive shape that you can find on airplanes. Even the crown is inspired by a jet engine, bearing an engraved, wave patterned Airbus logo.

Can Richard Mille's new watch rule the skies?

On the insides, we have the same engineering philosophy used by aeronautics engineers: an extensive application of skeletonisation to every possible area, offering significant weight reduction. Parts of the movement have also been coated with a distinctive aeronautical coating normally used to protect engine parts from corrosion.

That chassis protects the new RM50-02 tourbillon calibre, which also provides a power reserve indicator (70 hours), a torque indicator that supplies information about the tension of the mainspring allowing the optimisation of the chronometer function, and a function indicator to show the watch’s state in each of the positions for winding.

Can Richard Mille's new watch rule the skies?

The end result is a visually breathtaking – maybe even overwhelming - view of the technical interior of the split seconds chronograph movement. The watch doesn’t look like a classic aviator chronograph on first glance, but it has all the requisite features and it can probably outperform all of the competition. Part of the reason is that Richard Mille doesn’t often do “typical”. The other part is that it seems the watch was designed with the corporate jet clientele in mind, not necessarily pilots.

Not looking like a typical aviator is probably a good thing. But it’s also the reason I will likely continue to not associate Richard Mille with aviation.