Watch out for Richard Mille
The famed watch designer opens at Bal Harbour.
By Jessica Michault
This month Richard Mille, one of the watch world’s most creative independent voices, opens at Bal Harbour Shops. The signature brand, which Mille launched in 1999, has in less then 20 years, become a household name in terms of daring innovation both in the composition of the watch cases he creates but also in the intriguing complications the watchmaker weaves into his timepieces.
Bal Harbour Shops spoke with Mille about the sad fate of his first timepiece, how women’s desire for luxury watches is changing and what he thinks the arrival of the Apple Watch will do to the market.
Bal Harbour Shops: What was your first watch?
Richard Mille: I don’t remember the name anymore; I do remember that I opened it up with a penknife the same evening and broke it…I had to see how it looked inside! My parents of course were totally furious with me!
BHS: When did you know that creating watches was what you wanted to do with your life?
Mille: Hmmm, a good question….I was always interested in technical drawings, like those that showed all the detailed interior parts of a car engine or airplane. You know what I mean, those exploded views that were so popular when we were kids. At some point as an adolescent I was trying to imitate them myself, and later, I guess I was 30 or 35 years old, I began to find the smaller form of wristwatches fun to play around with. But it was only much later that the actual idea of producing my own watch from such sketches came to the forefront.
BHS: What is fascinating you right now in terms of watches: a movement, metal, shape?
Mille: All of these together! In a really good timepiece, you cannot divorce the material, movement, shape and design from each other; they form an intertwined holistic unit. This is extremely hard to achieve in real practice, but from the very start I decided this was the only way for me, because there were enough brands around in the market that slap things together. People recognized this difference clearly in my watches and this propelled my success.
BHS: You have done quite a lot of collaborative watches over the years what do you gain from these partnerships?
Mille: First of all, a lot of fun; exchanging ideas and engaging with others is always interesting and enriching. Most important is the fantastic know-how we accumulated over all those years, as working with top sportsmen and movie stars is very demanding; we explore any technical issues by placing our watches in extreme conditions.
BHS: What has been your biggest challenge in the last five years?
Mille: There are always challenges to deal with, and each time different ones; I would have to say that making sure the brand’s popularity and growth remain controlled and organically guided is of primary importance to me. Guiding your success in the right manner sounds easy, but it has its own set of challenges that one has to deal with.
BHS: Do you think that women now crave complications on their watches as much as men?
Mille: Not all, but certainly many actually do. This has been a novel impulse in the woman’s watch market for the last 8 years or so. The topic saying that women don’t care about technic is completely wrong.
BHS: Along those same lines do you think complications for women's watch need to cater more to their nature? I think your Tourbillon Fleur makes that argument beautifully.
Mille: Yes, no, maybe….I mean, it is very interesting to see that we have actually sold a few of the Fleur watches to men; we have women buying big flyback chronographs and wearing them with bright colored straps, and women who are only attracted to the jewelry pieces, all this next to the regular ladies’ collection with its automatic movements, ceramics and added functions….So I guess all I can say is that women want choices and do not want to be placed only in a jewelry, or a girlie, or a ‘macho’ category. They want to decide themselves what to wear, and my job is to give them great possibilities to choose from.
BHS: What are your thoughts on the arrival of the Apple watch? Do you think the industry is going to relive the drama of the 1970s when the arrival of Quartz watches was a paradigm shift for the industry?
Mille: No, I don’t see drama on the horizon at all; this is a different animal altogether. We work with a different kind of object: one is consumable and the other corresponds to a long lasting object; which on one part is a piece of art and on the other hand a mechanical marvel so it’s impossible to compare the two objects.
BHS:What direction do you see the industry going in over the next five years?
Mille: I think we will see an even bigger increase in the use of new materials for creating watches and lots of new styles evolving along with those developments.
BHS:What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten and who gave it to you?
Mille: I think it was a quote of Heraclitus (who I of course never knew personally!): “There is nothing permanent except change”. It is the driving force behind everything I do; never sit still and when one thing is completed I am off to the next challenge – a constant evolution driven by change.
BHS: Why did you decide it was time to open a store at Bal Harbour Shops?
Mille: As always in my approach, I want to offer all my clients possibilities to choose from. This same ideal drives my approach to the retail sector and the environments a client can select to experience my timepieces. Some prefer a broad retail environment, others a dedicated, brand driven world to visit. Both are valid and part of my philosophy. So when a beautiful location came up at Bal Harbour, we were able to quickly make a decision, and we are very happy with how it was turned out.