Rafael Nadal is deservedly credited for making Richard Mille famous, and so it is only right that there is a steady stream of new watches from the ultra-high-end watchmaker to honor this longstanding and fruitful collaboration. The latest to join the pack at a smidge under a quarter million dollars is the latest “Baby Nadal,” the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal watch, now in “Carbone TPT.”

Ariel went hands-on with the RM 35-03 and explained it in great detail here. In essence, the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal (or RM35-03 Baby Nadal) is a typical Richard Mille watch in the sense that it combines bonkers looks with lightweight materials and, importantly, a whimsical and unique mechanical complication inspired by the intended use scenario — sports, in this case — of the timepiece.

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On either side of the case, there is a button, one marked “Selector” and the other marked “Sport.” Both of these are linked to the self-winding mechanism of the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Rafael Nadal watch. Fans of Richard Mille will know that RM’s often have what is called a variable geometry self-winding rotor where the inertia of the rotor can be adjusted so that it winds more vigorously — replenishing the power reserve more quickly if worn by those living a less active lifestyle — or more gently — to minimize the wear on the mechanism in case the watch is frequently worn while playing sports. To make this change, the watch had to be opened up and a watchmaker had to adjust the rotor.

The RM35-03 takes this to a new level with a butterfly rotor that can be separated into two opposing sectors or one connected circular sector. Press the “Sport” pusher to adjust the shape of the rotor, where the split layout is the one intended for sports as it more evenly spreads its weight therefore reducing wear on the bearing. To quote Ariel’s hands-on impressions: “The butterfly rotor system works as elegantly as promised, and it also happens to be fun to play with.”

The mechanism also reminds me of a split-seconds chronograph (a rattrapante), because it relies on a small (actually not so small, by watchmaking standards) spring, in this case not to reconnect (as with the rattrapante) but to forcefully pull these rather heavy components apart. As cool as I find the overall design, I want an RM 35-03 just to have this little spring; it is so satisfying to see the way it is curled around a pinion against which it can act. On the dial side, right above 6 o’clock, a small “OFF” and “ON” display with a red hand indicates whether the self-winding system is in operation or, by selecting “Sport mode,” it has been switched off completely, in preparation for some bumpy, mechanically stressing activities.

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The other pusher, labeled “Selector,” enigmatically does not communicate what it is that it “selects.” It is amusing how watchmakers and engineers continue to at times fail to think with the mind of the user — in this case, it could say “Crown” or “Function” to more clearly indicate what this button is a “selector” of. In this instance, it selects the function of the crown, which can be “W” for winding, “N” for neutral, and “H” for time-setting. Near 3 o’clock, there is another smaller red hand and display, where the hand points at the correct W-N-H marking to indicate the currently available function of the crown. You could, perhaps, just have a screw-down crown that pulled out, but then you would lose out on all the fun of pressing a beautifully milled, decorated, and labeled titanium-carbon button.

The case measures 43.15mm by 49.95mm by 13.15mm, which is as thick as a featherweight watch can get before it gets cumbersome on the wrist while playing sports. The Richard Mille RM 35-03 “Baby Nadal” watch is available in three versions: Blue Quartz TPT® with a white Quartz TPT® caseband, white Quartz TPT® and Carbon TPT® with a Carbon TPT® caseband, and full Carbon TPT®. These are all lightweight materials, which work in tandem with the grade 5 titanium movement baseplate and bridges to ensure ideal wearing comfort while playing tennis or other competitive sports. The Richard Mille RMAL2 movement powers the RM 35-03 Nadal watch, providing 55 hours of power reserve and operating at a frequency of 4 Hertz.

Carbon TPT® and Quartz TPT® are composed of multiple layers of parallel filaments obtained by dividing carbon fibers or silica threads. These layers, with a maximum thickness of 45 microns, are impregnated with resin and then woven on a special machine that modifies the direction of the weft by 45° between layers. Heated to 120°C at a pressure of 6 bars, these materials are then ready to be processed on a CNC machine at Richard Mille’s case factory. The case is then assembled with 20 spline screws, all also in grade 5 titanium, and abrasion-resistant washers in 316L stainless steel.

The Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal watches cost $238,000 in any of the three versions, including this new one in Carbone TPT®. You can learn more at the brand’s website. 

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