Richard Mille is in the business of making friends
It only takes a minute to get from the top of the mountain to the bottom in the giant slalom competition,” say Alexis Pinturault, “and only a second to know if you’ve won the gold.” The world and Olympic champion skiier explains to us at a local coffee shop in Swedish mountain town of Are.
It’s -19C outside, and we’re hoping that the hot chocolate in our hand will perform the double miracle of warming our insides, as well as reviving our freezing fingers. Noticing our discomfort he quips, “if you think it’s cold now, imagine what it will be like for us at the top of the mountain getting ready for the slalom tomorrow!”
Pinturault looks relaxed with a cup of tea in hand. Casually dressed in a sweater and jeans, he could be any good-looking, young skiing enthusiast, until you glance at the limited-edition Richard Mille watch on his wrist. As the name suggests, the RM 67-02 Automatic Alexis Pinturault, was named after him and designed with his input.
For professional skiers, clad in only their skin tight aerodynamic gear, wind and bad weather conditions can mean that they sometimes have to race temperatures of almost -30C. Hurtling down a mountain at blistering speeds, smacking into alternating poles on their way down. It’s tough, fast and—when you get it right—immensely rewarding. That’s where the avant-garde Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille comes in.
“I don’t want a dainty or a heavy watch on my arm that I need to worry about while I’m training or competing,” Pinturault explains, gesturing towards the RM67-02 on his wrist. “I need something that’s like me, something hardy and able to withstand my daily regimen.” That type of customisation is at the very heart of the collaboration between the 28-year-old French Olympian and the Richard Mille brand. He is one of a clutch of elite athlete ambassadors brought into the bosom of the watch brand – joining the likes of Rafael Nadal, Formula One driver Charles Leclerc, and footballer Didier Drogba. But more than just receiving a free watch and wearing it commercial campaigns, Richard Mille ensures that the relationship between itself and the athletes is much more organic and inclusive.
Amanda Mille-Bey is the brains behind the company’s relationship with its ambassadors. As Richard Mille’s daughter (and right-hand woman) she is uniquely placed to explain to us the lengths of collaboration involved in Pinturault’s watch in order to undergo the punishing and extreme conditions inherent to his profession.
In Are, sitting across Mille-Bey at dinner and our host in Sweden, I learnt that she has all the A-list Richard Mille ambassadors on her personal WhatsApp and recently spent time at a party with Pharrell Williams, who is very close to the Mille family.
At the dinner is one of Mille’s other brand ambassadors, up-and coming Czech Olympian Ester Ledecka who shares some personal anecdotes.
“I get a personal message from Amanda before and after every competition, even on days like this when I didn’t do so well. It makes me feel like I’m truly a part of a bigger family. My team is not as big as some of the other skiiers so every message of support counts,”
Brushing off the comments of her dedication to the ambassadors Amanda Mille adds, “The only thing we ask of our sports ambassadors is that they wear a Richard Mille watch while competing.
“We don’t want to create a watch that’s going to fall apart if you play a sport,” she says. “Skiers and other professional athletes train with our watches and give their inputs on how we can make them better. As my father says, it’s an extreme watch for extreme conditions.”
The RM 67-02 as Mille’s is adapted to work in extreme temperatures and at high altitude while maintaining perfect ergonomics, durability and remaining freakishly lightweight. It uses NTPT carbon—a composite material that had never before been used in watchmaking—which makes the case lighter and tougher. Its nano-layers of carbon are no more than 30 microns thick and are covered in resin and then structured in a highly sophisticated manner and heated under pressure.
Watchmaking maverick Richard Mille founded his eponymous company in 2001 and quickly carved out the reputation of making avant-garde timepieces in limited edition that cost an absolute fortune.
Mille once defended the high cost of his watches saying “…I am a victim of my own inability to compromise. Every time I get to a point where
I need to decide [whether] to save cost or to push performance to the very extreme, I always choose the latter.”
In fact, so dedicated is Mille to pushing performance, he wants the brand ambassadors to wear their multi-million Dirham timepieces during competition and openly admits to hoping they push the watch to the very limits.
While the majority of watch brands predominately focus on motor racing, football and golf, Richard Mille’s move into winter sports again shows the brand’s in-built desire to stand out. Joining Pinturault is Czech Ester Ledecka, who in Pyeongchang 2018 became the first woman to have won gold in both skiing and snowboarding at the same Winter Olympic Games.
Every single Richard Mille watch is tried and tested by the athletes to ensure that they are the best partner to each of their chosen disciples, including super light watch that weight around 32 grams and a new Velcro strap that athletes can resize during different sporting conditions.
“What inspires me in sports is performance and technique,” Richard Mille explains. “Since the very beginning, athletes have had the power to fascinate. These gods of the stadium are winning machines, yet no less human for all that. It is precisely this paradox which has always interested me.”
And one that the Richard Mille brand will continue to contribute to.