What makes Richard Mille so different? What makes Richard Mille so different?

What makes Richard Mille so different?

Russell Sheldrake

Richard Mille is unlike nearly every other watch brand in the world. The watches they produce stand out on red carpets, on stage, and on the sports field, thanks to their unique case shapes and innovative materials and movements. But it’s not just the watches that make this independent brand singular. What has intrigued me about this brand recently, more than its use of hi-tech materials or modern aesthetics, is the way it approaches and deals with its clients and partners. While these watches are hard to get due to scarcity, we don’t hear the complaints aimed at other brands of prospective clients having to jump through hoops to get the watch they want, they are simply limited by production and selective by cost.

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To answer my questions about how Richard Mille is able to deal with its clients in such a positive way, I was invited on a trip with them that was described as a “ski clinic” in the luxurious surroundings of Courchevel 1850. It’s fair to say that I am a novice when it comes to skiing, however, when given the opportunity to hang out with multiple athletes and world champions in various disciplines such as skiing, snowboarding, biathlon, and free diving, that was one I cannot pass up.

Besides ensuring I didn’t break any bones on the slopes the week before Watches & Wonders, my main aim going into this trip was to figure out what exactly Richard Mille does that makes it so different in the eyes of its clients. Given that the level of entry is so high to become a customer of the brand, there must be a reason that certain collectors are so loyal beyond the product itself. Something I discovered before boarding my flight, was that this trip was technically taking place twice, once for press and then straight after for clients. While we, as members of the press, are relatively familiar with the idea of the press trip to discover a brand or a certain product, the concept of holding a similar trip just for clients where they are given access to senior members of the Richard Mille team and the brand’s partners is a new one to me.

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Tim Malachard and Amanda Mille welcoming us to Courchevel.

But this is standard practice for Richard Mille. Speaking with the brand’s Marketing Director, Tim Malachard, he explained: “we try to invite all of our clients to events such as this. Whether they have just bought their first watch with us or they have been buying from us for 20 years. We like to show the same level of trust in them as they have shown in us.” Malachard even spoke about one client he remembered who took out finance to buy his first Mille watch. It stuck with him that this person wanted the watch so badly they were willing to pay off a loan for half a decade just to get it, and so Malachard wanted to make sure this client, and every other one, felt that trust was being repaid.

Another aspect of Richard Mille that I was unaware of before this trip was how deeply they are connected to snow sports. I had seen them in Formula 1, on the wrist of Nadal winning Grand Slams, and out on golf courses, but I had never made the connection to the world of skiing and the wider winter sports. On this trip, myself and a handful of other journalists were able to mingle with, chat to, and learn from Ester Ledecká, Johannes Thingnes Bø, Alexis Pinturault, and Arnaud Jerald, who between them, have 12 world championships and seven gold medals, and counting. An impressive haul by any stretch of the imagination, but what does Richard Mille have to do with winter sports and why go to the bother and expense of bringing all of these talented people, journalists, and clients together nearly two kilometers above sea level?

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Our hosts and some of the brand’s partners out on the slopes.

Well, the first half of that question is easily answered by the brand’s constant push to test its watches in the most extreme conditions. This means having Ledecká hitting slalom posts with her RM 07-04 Automatic Sport at over 80 miles per hour or Jerald taking his RM 032 down to a record breaking depth of 122 metres in a single breath. Just as F1 drivers used to wear their Mille watches while competing (before the FIA stopped them), and Nadal would always have his RM Tourbillon strapped to his wrist when taking to the court, all of Richard Mille’s “friends of the brand” and “brand partners” are required to wear their watches while they compete. And they often do so with relish.

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Johannes showing how its done with his RM under those yellow gloves.

While we can see these top athletes competing on TV, Richard Mille wants us and its clients to get a close look at them using these watches in action, but without disrupting the athlete’s busy schedule. As Amanda Mille, brand and partners director and daughter of Richard, explained, “we don’t impose on any of our partners while they’re competing. Instead, we like to bring them and our clients and press together outside of competition, to places like this where it is far more enjoyable for everyone, and the quality of the time you all spend together is far higher.” And that is certainly the case here. I’ve done countless press junket interviews where you get 20 minutes with the interviewee while the next journalist is waiting in the doorway behind you, desperate to get in and start their interview. Here, the pressure was off as we had three days to interact with these guys, whether it was over a good meal or drink, or out on the slopes, the conversations were constant and free flowing between everyone there.

It is this free flowing conversation and relaxed nature which made this trip stand out to me. There was no pressure for the brand partners to give certain lines about the watch while speaking with us. In fact, speaking with Thingnes Bø, he still keeps in touch with some of the clients that he has met on this trip in the past. An incredible perk, being able to befriend a world-beating athlete.

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Johannes and Alexis having a chat over lunch having just come off the slopes.

Something that Malachard said to me during the trip could easily have sounded incredibly cringe-worthy if uttered anywhere else, but here it felt appropriate, is that all those who are invited on these trips are treated like family while they are here. We’ve all heard of the toxic boss claiming the work culture at their company is like a family, but here it felt genuine, and a sentiment that was carried from the very top of the company down to the newest of clients. With stories of the man, Richard Mille himself, attending trips in the past and being so personable with everyone there, forming connections with those he had invited because that is exactly what he wants from those who have placed such a high level of trust in him and his product.

One of the core memories that I’ll take away from this trip will be the lunch we had out on the slopes, with the brand representatives, brand partners, and press all intermingled having just spent the morning fighting through a blizzard at the top of the mountain. During this lunch there was no mention of deliverables, facts or figures, it was just everyone chatting, getting along like we had known each other for years. It was clear that even the brand partners enjoy and value this time. None of them had been dragged away from competing, and they even had the chance to bring their family with them, so it was clear they were completely relaxed here, under no pressure to perform for us or the brand. Getting to see this calibre of athlete in such a state is a very rare thing. We are normally only granted access to them during competition or in a stressful press junket.

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Arnaud perhaps considering swapping out his RM 032.

Malachard shared a story with me about an event the brand held with its newly acquired partner, Kimi Räikkönen. “He is famously not a fan of doing interviews. We did a limited edition with his team at the time, and his press man was all expecting just a normal press junket. But instead, we went into the archives and pulled out all the imagery of him growing up in karting, and put on this display that he was actually really touched by. As we all know he is quite an outspoken person, but he came up to me after and said, ‘it’s so nice to be with you guys, so different from the other brands.’ And he ended up staying with everyone, doing selfies and stuff. So, he ended up really enjoying himself.” But you don’t need to be the Iceman to be subject of Richard Mille’s hospitality. It’s clear they treat all of their partners the same.

But how does the sixth largest watch brand in the world, by turnover (according to Morgan Stanley and LuxeConsult), manage to keep such personal connections with all of its clients in order to not only invite them to such events, but make a connection at the same time? Well, it starts at the point of sale. Richard Mille now has 40 global boutiques and was one of the first brands to embrace verticalisation, pulling out of all multi-brand and third-party retailers. This means any person that sells you a Richard Mille watch is an employee and has been trained by the brand.

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This enables the brand to have a direct link to every person who has bought a watch from them, and establish a connection which can be used to help grow brand loyalty. This is just the genesis of the brand’s client strategy, as I got to witness first hand, the generosity they are willing to show those who buy watches from them seems to know no bounds. While they want to put watches in the hands of those who will wear and love them for a long time, the brand also recognises that people need to part ways with their watches for a myriad of reasons. And so, they have their own pre-owned boutiques in all their markets, such as Ninety in Geneva and London, where pre-loved Milles can find new homes with the security of staying inside the brand ecosystem the entire time.

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All of this builds into the picture that was painted for me in three days at Courchevel. Richard Mille does not do anything by halves, especially when it comes to its personal relationships, and I use the word personal for a reason, as there seems to be very little to do with business in all of this. It all comes down to that human element that we journalists love to romanticise so often when talking about watchmaking, but Richard Mille has made it into a reality.