Why Richard Mille doesn't compromise
There is no messing around when it comes to Richard Mille. The high-end, niche watch brand has been pushing boundaries at the contemporary end of watchmaking for the past decade. To understand the mentality behind this uncompromising horological brand, Esquire Middle East spoke to Peter Harrison, the CEO of Richard Mille's Europe, Middle East and African operations.
ESQ: What are Richard Mille’s grand plans for the Middle East?
PH: Over the last few years we have changed, not just in the Middle East, but across the world. This is from a multi-brand environment to more of our own boutiques. This has worked really successfully in the Middle East and we are expanding quite aggressively.
How different are your Middle Eastern operations to other areas of the world?
I would say today it is almost purely having our own stores, which is much more interesting. As a result of this, we have had much greater success.
You’re the official time-keeping partner of Yas Marina Circuit. Tell us about your involvement.
This was a result of my relationship with the builders of the track in Abu Dhabi. We were there at the very beginning and we wanted to keep that relationship. We also like that Yas Island doesn’t just use it once a year. They have plans for it every day, from track days, to cycling, walking
Speaking of the young generation, there is a real appetite for high-end design in the Middle East...
Yes. Their homes, the cars they drive, the bespoke outfits. And this is where we sit.
The Richard Mille RM 50-03 McLaren F1, released at SIHH 2017
In your experience, how much of the Middle East business culture relies on strong relationships?
I think you have to develop relationships. Making a call into an office just doesn’t work. You just have to work at it. For example, our store in the Galleria Mall came as a result of a conversation over lunch. We had been trying for years to get a location, but we couldn’t get anywhere until then.
What was it that made you want to be involved with Richard Mille?
Richard and I have been friends for 20-odd years, working in the same industry, so our paths crossed a few times a year, and we would have lunch and dinner. We were both reasonably successful and then he talked about his plan to go alone. I said, “You are out of your mind, what are you doing? You could lose everything you have made!” He asked me to drop everything as well and I basically told him [where to get off]! Then a few years later he talked about doing something in Europe, and we set this company up together in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and it’s great, I love it. We work independently, we don’t have a board of directors to answer to, we don’t have shareholders, but we do work really hard. That was what attracted me.
Why does Richard Mille put so much emphasis on sporting partnerships?
It started with Felipe Massa because when Richard started making watches he wanted to make a product without compromise. That wasn’t a gimmick. So when you replace, for example, the baseplate, going from brass to carbon, with shock absorbers in the corners, it was really something that you can only test if you put it through some horrible real-life experiences, and this is where Massa came along. He had a couple of horrible crashes before the really bad one in Hungary, and we realised that the watch could handle it.
Yes, we really advanced from that in terms of our relationships with people like Rafael Nadal. We wanted to produce something that we felt represented Nadal; something visible on his wrist when he plays tennis. He is an aggressive player but it had to be something complicated that contained all our DNA but weighed nothing. So the aim was, again, to produce something that wasn’t a gimmick. It was something designed to be very functional.
What timepiece are you wearing at the moment?
This is the watch that we did for Felipe Massa, the RM 009, and it came out around 2005, which is vintage for us! It has a tourbillon movement and the case is interesting as it’s an aluminium-silicon alloy that was developed by The European Space Agency. It’s really light, really hard-wearing and really rare — we made only 25 pieces.