That’s how it wears, but let’s get back to the details. Having visited so many manufactures and seen many more crazy watches, Richard Mille still is the absolute best in its segment as it not only exhibits extremely fine details and high-tech production techniques, but is remarkably consistent down to the smallest features, regardless if it’s a watch for pilots, drivers, polo players, or whoever else can afford them. While a nicely finished gold case can be a truly wonderful thing to behold (look at this for a leading example), the sheer complexity of the RM 039’s case is a wet dream for anyone who’s played with LEGOs and/or has an appreciation for innumerable pieces fitting together flawlessly.
I want to clarify that if traditional movement-, dial- and case decorations you are after, you will have to look elsewhere – like Greubel Forsey or Bexei –, but when it comes to space-age tech meeting complex mechanical watchmaking, Richard Mille is in a league of its own in terms of diversity and consistency.
Getting back to it and speaking of innumerable pieces fitting and functioning together: the Richard Mille RM 039 Tourbillon Aviation E6-B has a movement that comprises 740 components, 71 jewels, and measures a whopping 38.95mm wide and 7.95mm thick. Those are the measurements of a moderately sized dress watch case. Richard Mille has a tendency to disclose a fantastically random selection of specifications, including the 11.50mg.cm2 moment of inertia and 53° angle of lift for the balance wheel and escapement, or a barrel shaft in nickel-free Chronifer (DIN x 46 Cr 13 + S), and yet they have literally not a single word about the tourbillon, apart from adding it into the name of the product.
The hand-wound movement is a mind-bending array of milled components. I want to know how many layers these all add up to vertically, but I’m guessing dozens. The RM 039 movement has a power reserve of approximately 70 hours, something you can keep track of on the dial’s numerical scale at the 2 o’clock position. Also typical for Richard Mille, the baseplate and bridges are all in Grade 5 titanium, something that helps keep the weight to a minimum, further enhancing wearing comfort.
Okay, well… the functions. Flyback chronograph, countdown, oversize date, UTC, bi-directional bezel and fixed bezel, E6-B slide rule function, logarithmic scale, units of measurement converter, altitude scale, power reserve, crown function selector, crown function indicator… oh, and a tourbillon – and I have a sneaking suspicion I left something out.
What is missing, at first glance, is an actual dial. What you have instead is a sea of matte and shiny grey parts from inside the movement smiling back at you – not exactly the sight you are looking for when you are Harrison Ford and you are about to crash your historical Ryan PT-22 (I admittedly get a bit crazy with analogies sometimes, but that actually happened).
At second glance, though, you will see that there is a rather complex sapphire disc levitating above the movement, with cutouts for the hands and different indications. As it happens on every Richard Mille I have ever photographed, unlike the external crystal that never does this, this internal sapphire disc shows a deep blue reflection in images when the light hits it from the “right” angle. A neat detail I particularly like are the tiny lume pips that extend from the black-coated titanium flange ring and levitate a fraction of a millimeter above the sapphire dial. I bet that was an easy part to source.
I guess we should discuss a bit about the actual functionality of the above-mentioned features. Notably, the majority of them will remain largely unfathomable for anyone unfamiliar with the E6-B slide rule. The E6-B, which is part of the RM 039’s full product name, is essentially a flight computer that was invented by U.S. Naval Lieutenant Philip Dalton in the 1930s. The slide rule was based on a rotating bezel that allows for calculations linked to flight times, ground speed, altitude, fuel burn, wind correction, and also fast(-ish) conversion of units of measurements. Namely, in the case of the Richard Mille RM 039 Tourbillon Aviation E6-B, it can convert between kilometers (KM), nautical miles (NAUT), and statute miles (STAT); or between liters, US gallons (US GAL), and imperial gallons (IMP GAL); or meters (Meters) into feet (FT); and kilograms (KG) into pounds (LBS) – and vice versa.
There is also a fixed bezel with a logarithmic scale from 10 to 99 to read off conversions of measurement and an hour scale from 1 to 9 o’clock to “solve any problem related to distance, speed and time” – just be sure to check this bezel if your flight is late and all will be taken care of! At 9 o’clock, there is a yellow transfer in thousands of feet from 0 to 30 and a temperature scale from -70°C to +50°C, and lastly, at 2:30, an altitude indication where read-off is facilitated by the addition of a movable indicator in the edge of the case-band.
I am ready to admit that it would be a stretch to say I could figure out how any of this works anytime soon. But then again, while I use only a fraction of the functionality of my G-Shock or my laptop, I still appreciate (and stand amazed by) their high-tech capabilities. Richard Mille is not your typical brand for more reasons than one could list in one breath, but the world of watches would be that much more of a boring place without an oasis of crazy, cool fun like this. I hope to meet the designer and movement engineer of the Richard Mille RM 039 Tourbillon Aviation E6-B and respectfully ask what sort of stupid one-up betting they got themselves into that led to a watch like this – and I will shake their hands in admiration for actually making it a reality.
Styling, pricing, and branding are all down to everyone to go with or object to, but let me just say this – if you don’t like this watch for what it is, then your “purist”/snob self is really getting the best of you. It’s complicated, it’s technical, it’s linked to aviation, and since it’s a friggin Richard Mille, in the metal it really is bonkers-cool… and benchmark-comfortable for a watch of this size. Price for the Richard Mille RM 039 Tourbillon Aviation E6-B is €1,042,500 including 20% tax – better not forget to get your tax refund at the airport. richardmille.com