December 9, 2021
In the current haute horlogerie arms race, brands have spread their ambitions beyond increasingly intricate skeleton movements and complications, and set themselves to work developing more durable, reliable iterations of these complex creations. Richard Mille is leading the charge for this new generation of more rugged ultra-luxury timepieces, pioneering immense shock resistances and variable geometry winding rotors to limit the strain of intense physical activity on its movements. For its latest release, Richard Mille takes this variable geometry concept to its logical conclusion. This new model streamlines the process of adjusting the rotor, evolving it from an intensive fine-tuning process only available at the factory to an on-the-fly selection made with a case side pusher. The new Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal incorporates some of the brand’s most intriguing engineering concepts to date, showcasing a new approach to reducing movement wear.
Available in a pair of colorways, the 43.15mm integrated tonneau case of the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal takes a sporty, ridged approach to the brand’s signature sandwich case design. The bolder of the pair is undoubtedly the blue case variant, with a bezel and caseback in deep striated royal blue Quartz TPT, while the mid-case is rendered from more of the brand’s proprietary Quartz TPT material in a pure optic white. Topped by an intricately finished crown with bright red rubber accents, this athletic colorway gives the already dramatic design an added punch in initial images. The second variant takes a more monochromatic approach, with a central case in the brand’s layered black Carbon TPT material. To complement this darker center, Richard Mille renders the caseback and bezel in a layered blend of white Quartz TPT and black Carbon TPT. The end result is a striking zebra-stripe effect in initial images, deftly highlighting the complex case construction while imbuing the design with an added sense of drama. To keep the stark black and white color palette from becoming too harsh, Richard Mille gives the crown a powder blue rubber accent ring. All of this may seem familiar to the brand faithful, but it’s the pushers that identify the RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal as a new evolution for the brand. The black Carbon TPT pusher at 2 o’clock, like several previous models, acts as a function selector for the crown, swapping between winding, time setting, and neutral positions. At 8 o’clock, however, the matching Carbon TPT pusher is all new. Playfully engraved with a “Sport Mode” inscription, this allows the wearer to cycle between the movement’s variable geometry rotor positions at will. Given the design’s ultra-high-tech approach to reducing weight and protecting the movement from wear, however, the case’s mediocre 50 meter water resistance is more than a little disappointing.
In typical Richard Mille fashion, the dial of the RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal is skeletonized and intricate, prioritizing visual complexity over artistically framing individual movement elements. Both case variants share the same dial layout (barring slight differences in highlight colors), with a sharply sloping rehaut featuring a mix of printed wedge hour indices and aggressive, futuristic printed Arabic numerals. The actual skeleton design itself is dominated by an X-shaped skeleton bridge, stretching across the length and breadth of the movement and featuring a brushed titanium finish to stand out against the backdrop of black PVD movement elements. The main handset follows the classic Richard Mille pattern, with a broad faceted skeleton design and unique tapering lume plots. Despite the complexity of the skeleton bridges beneath the hands, the retrograde subdials are both easily legible thanks to their vibrant red lume fills. At 2 o’clock, the retrograde indicator marks out the current selected crown function, and just above 6 o’clock the “Off/On” display marks whether the rotor-disengaging Sport Mode is currently active.
The in-house Caliber RMAL2 automatic movement is the centerpiece of the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal. The brand’s major innovation with this new powerplant is the butterfly rotor system. The butterfly rotor is an on-demand variable geometry and variable inertia system, intended to protect the mainspring and other movement components from unnecessary winding strain during high-intensity physical activity. To achieve this, Richard Mille uses a dual skeleton rotor design, with both rotors joined side-by-side and spinning freely under normal conditions. When “Sport Mode” is engaged, the two rotors lock together at a 180 degree angle opposite one another, shifting the movement’s center of gravity back to the central rotor pivot. In this position, the inertia from the titanium oscillating weights is not transferred to the mainspring, saving the movement from unnecessary wear and tear. The rest of the Caliber RMAL2 has no shortage of advanced components as well, with elements like a Gluycdur balance wheel and a balance spring in high-tech elinvar material. Thanks to a pair of twin mainspring barrels, the movement manages a solid 55 hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. In terms of finishing, the Caliber RMAL2 is a complex web of skeleton bridges and movement plates, finished in a mix of brushing, sandblasting, and black PVD for a purposeful ultramodern look in images.
Richard Mille finishes the RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal with a tapering integrated rubber strap. Flowing directly into the lines of the case, with dramatic side cutouts and stylized perforation reminiscent of high-performance automotive hood vents, this strap smoothly echoes the aggressive high-tech spirit of the case in initial images. For the blue-cased variant, the brand opts for a strap in clean white, while the white-cased model instead features a crown-matching strap in pale powder blue.
With a quick-adjust variable geometry rotor that condenses the previous generation’s complex factory procedure into the press of a button, the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal stands as another major technological leap for one of the most innovative nameplates in modern haute horlogerie. Both variants of the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal are available now through authorized dealers at an MSRP of $220,000. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.