Why the new Richard Mille RM 35-03 is the perfect match for Rafael Nadal Why the new Richard Mille RM 35-03 is the perfect match for Rafael Nadal

Why the new Richard Mille RM 35-03 is the perfect match for Rafael Nadal

Zach Blass

Brand ambassadors and partnerships are abundant in the watch industry, but the most successful pairings are born from a true tie-in to the timepiece and its functionality. Since 2010, Rafael Nadal has had a strong partnership with Richard Mille. While Nadal is known to sport RM 27 collection pieces during competitive play, the RM 35 is a space for mutual exploration and intrigue. That being said, the two new Richard Mille RM 35-03 Rafael Nadal Automatic watches introduced this past December are arguably the most fitting and capable timepieces to withstand intense match play, even if they did not debut on his wrist for his 21st Grand Slam title win at the 2022 Australian Open. Here’s why…

The RM 35 collection is known for being both super lightweight with its Quartz TPT® and Carbon TPT® case and calibers made of grade 5 titanium, yet also super robust. The watches are tested to withstand accelerations of up to 5,000g, which, for example, would equate to a shock equivalent of falling one metre (or a little over three feet) onto a hard surface –  more than enough to handle the forces generated during match play by Nadal. Ironically, RM 35 watches designed for Nadal have been dubbed “Baby Nadal” watches, but these timepieces certainly do not need to be babied. The dimensions of the watch also do nothing to suggest the “baby” nomenclature, the 50 metre water-resistant cases clocking in at 43.15mm in diameter, 13.15 mm thick, and 49.95mm lug-to-lug across the wrist – a similar size experience to an Omega Seamaster 300M diver on rubber for perspective.

Aesthetically speaking, there are two Richard Mille RM 35-03 Rafael Nadal Automatic variants to explore, one in White Quartz TPT® and Carbon TPT® with the caseband in Carbon TPT® and another in Blue Quartz TPT® with the caseband in white Quartz TPT®.

The White Quartz TPT® certainly draws the eye, through its incorporation of a hot colour of the moment: turquoise (0r at least light blue). The tone can be found not only in the accented knurling of the crown, but also the entire textured rubber strap.

Richard Mille timepieces are known for having supercar-like identities, both technically and visually. The open-worked dial quite literally lets you look at the hi-tech engine inside, and even has indications akin to what you would find in a car. At the 2′ position of the case, you have a function selector pusher that, like a stick, allows you to shift gears so to speak. This pusher corresponds to an indication at the 2′ position on the dial, a small red hand conveying the mode you are currently set in. With each push of the function selected pusher, you can toggle between neutral (N), winding (W), and hand-setting (H) modes. In neutral, rotating the crown will have no effect. When set to winding or hand-setting, however, the crown will function to wind the movement or set the time respectively. But the feature that sets this duo of RM 35 watches apart from everything else Richard Mille has introduced is its “sport mode” capability – indicated by an on/off arrow hand at the 6′ position of the dial.

Richard Mille RM 35-03

It is this very feature that I believe makes it the best design for Rafael Nadal they have ever made. With sport mode, a new patented butterfly-rotor is introduced. This, according to Richard Mille, marks the first-ever user adjustable variable inertia winding rotor in a wristwatch.

Richard Mille RM 35-03

“The butterfly rotor is made up of two weights in grade 5 titanium and metal. In their initial position, the weights cause a radial displacement of the center of gravity, generating the necessary torque to wind the barrel. With a simple pressure on the pusher at 7 o’clock, a gear train dedicated to the rotor deploys the two weights at 180°. The center of gravity is then brought back to the centre, bringing the rotor into balance, canceling its winding power and thus any excessive winding of the calibre.” – Richard Mille

Richard Mille RM 35-03
Left: OFF mode – both weights are deployed. The rotor is no longer functional. Right: ON mode – the rotor is joined and winds the barrel.

Simply put, this ingenious invention by Richard Mille allows the wearer to enact control over the movement’s winding mechanism on demand. This sport mode functionality is clearly indicated on the dial, so all you have to do is press the pusher at the 7′ position of the case to engage either setting. When watch winders are discussed, some collectors believe, left unchecked, winders can potentially do more harm then good – placing continuous and unnecessary wear on the comments which self-wind the watch. Richard Mille explains: “Too much activity or a lack of activity can have detrimental effects on the power held within the winding barrel. A correct power supply in the barrel is essential for a watch’s optimal functioning.”

Rafael Nadal wearing his RM 27-04 at the 2022 Australian Open. Creator: Clive Brunskill | Credit: Getty Images

As you can imagine, the continuous movements of a tennis player’s arm, especially one as energetic and powerful as Nadal’s, would impose a ton of stress on the rotor mechanism over the course of play. With the ability to effectively disable or disarm this functionality of the watch at will, the user can protect the integrity of the caliber and, in turn, maintain its top level of performance. This makes the RM 35-03 collection vastly more equipped, in my opinion, to handle the groundstroke forces and service shocks of gameplay than any of the other RM watches built in Nadal’s name. The RM 27-04 you regularly catch Nadal wearing during his matches, including at the 2022 Australian Open, is a manually wound tourbillon watch, so there is no winding system to protect. But, as Philippe Dufour would say, your wrist is the tourbillon – a complication born in the era of static resting pocket watches. The new sport mode and its user adjustable variable inertia winding butterfly rotor, however, was born for the purpose of surviving the tennis court or other scenarios of comparable forces and stresses. So, while he sports his RM 27 pieces typically on the court, I would argue that these new Richard Mille RM 35-03 timepieces are ultimately the more perfect match.

Richard Mille RM 35-03 Rafael Nadal pricing and availability:

Richard Mille RM 35-03

Case Materials In white Quartz TPT® and Carbon TPT® with the caseband in Carbon TPT® and in blue Quartz TPT® with the caseband in white Quartz TPT®
Case Dimensions 43.15mm x 49.95mm x 13.15 mm
Thickness 14.4mm
Water-Resistance 50 metres
Dials Openworked
Straps White and turquoise rubber straps
Movement RMAL2
Power Reserve 55 hours
Complications Hours, minutes, seconds, patented butterfly rotor, sport mode and function selector
Price $220,000 USD (at time of launch)