July 10, 2017
by David Bredan
In the world of automobiles, cars that have immense performance, but appear near stock and hence rather unassuming on the outside, are called sleepers. Well, if there has ever been a “sleeper” Richard Mille, the Richard Mille RM033 is definitely it.
This is the second Richard Mille watch that I get to review and wear for several weeks – the last one was the RM011 NTPT last year, reviewed here – and on both occasions I have them on the wrist as much as I can, to gauge not only how it performs as a watch, but also to see what sort of reactions, if any, they attain in different parts of the world.
This is interesting because us, watch nerds, all know Richard Mille watches to be extremely high-tech and unapologetically expensive. The thing is, though, these attributes we tend to think so much of do not completely (or often at all) define the wearability of the watch – both in the traditional and the “lifestyle” aspect of the word.
Over the last few weeks when I had the RM033 around, event invites and travel schedules worked out in a way that I ended up being on the road a lot and consequently meeting many new people – mostly journalists working in the watch or fashion industry, but also watch industry insiders. On these occasions, once everyone is past the “How was your flight?” round of petty small talk, things come to either complimenting the easily identified iconic watch of the person sitting nearby, or, if it looks interesting at all, the ever-green silence-breaker question arises: “So, What Watch Are You Wearing?”
With the RM011, I was hardly ever asked this question. In Hong Kong I was greeted twice with “Ooh, you’re wearing an expensive watch!” being shouted at me – and in other, more discreet settings, still everyone with anything to do with the watch industry knew more or less what the watch was. The Richard Mille RM033 is a completely different story.
Soon after starting his brand in the early 2000s, Richard Mille understood and with great discipline followed the (not-so-)secret recipe to luxury watch brand success: be bold and immediately recognizable. I mean, just look at any one of the most successful luxury watches ever made. Take the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak as a most fitting example: the Royal Oak was stupid expensive in 1972, but had an exterior unique enough that rich people consciously or subconsciously started (and very much continue) to gravitate towards it as they understand or at least sense how the Royal Oak, like no other watch at the time and still few today, exhibits excess wealth. For some fun reading on a related topic, check out this article on how the most iconic watches can be recognized just for their hand designs.
Richard Mille made the unique-looking RM011 into its flagship piece. With its decidedly over-engineered, skeletonized dial and tonneau shaped case bent in every spatial dimension known to man, the RM011 became the 21st century Quint-Essential Ultimate Luxury Watch – the fact that it has since been copied across the financial food chain further proves the success of the design. It should go without saying, Richard Mille is smart enough to know that the recognizable design and stratospheric price tag has to be accompanied by cutting edge technological innovation – so the RM011, once you see, or even better, wear one, you’ll understand was designed from the get-go to be in its own little microcosm, safely guarded away from the competition. Its design, technical innovation and pricing rendered it largely incomparable to the deservedly famed old farts like A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron, or Patek.
There is a very specific Richard Mille way of doings (not to be confused with The Rolex Way™) both in terms of product design, and branding alike. Having met the man a few times, a few weeks ago at last I could chat with him a bit more – not much about watches but rather branding, ambassadors, partnerships, cars, even athletics (in relation to some of their future plans). What really stood out for me once again was this immense energy radiating from him and sort of magnetically transferring to his audience – he flew in the same night from Taipei to Nürburg (not exactly a transfer hub) and yet bright and early he was already around, catching up with his colleagues and guests of the event. I’m virtually useless, let alone presentable after an intercontinental flight, so I could appreciate his tireless energy and intense enthusiasm for whatever the topic even more.
All this noted, thanks to the aforementioned Magic Mixture of pricing and recognizability, the RM011 became the “go-to, f**k-all rich watch” of our time – and while the uncannily amazing wearing comfort and the balance of design is what makes it the grail Richard Mille for many, it may at this point be a bit too ubiquitous (as much as a $150,000-dollar watch can possibly be). Therefore, I imagine there to be a growing group of buyers who desire all that Richard Mille as a watch brand can offer, but without the immediate attention and all that comes with that. And that’s where a sleeper Richard Mille comes into the picture.
The Richard Mille RM033 belongs to what is an exclusive, though slowly expanding group of Richard Mille watches: that of the round ones. If you really, really know watches very well, then you’ll probably be able to tell from the other side of the dinner table that this is a Richard Mille – but the absolute majority of people I have met, even those who are in the watch industry, couldn’t tell that this was “an RM.”
The Richard Mille branding at 12 o’clock is almost microscopic and while the large, futuristic looking Arabic numerals are very much an RM design, they from afar I presume are difficult to tell apart from the busy looking, skeletonized movement right behind them. There is another version of the RM033 with bold Roman numerals all around the dial – that is a more often seen iteration of the RM033 that I guess a few more would have recognized from a distance.
So, while Richard Mille’s tonneau shaped watches are, rather deservedly, said to be watches that many wear not only for themselves, but just as much for others to see, the brand’s round watches, and especially this very RM033, is the exact opposite of all that.
At 45.70mm wide and available in titanium, or 18k white or red gold, the Richard Mille RM033 is just 6.30mm thick, all cased up. Although that renders it one fantastic object to hold in the hand, such filigree dimensions also allow the RM033 to slide under shirt sleeves with ease. The RM011 is well over twice as thick and hence a hundred times less likely to slide under even a loose sleeve of a shirt or jacket. Wearability we’ll talk about in just a bit, but since we are talking exterior, let’s take a closer look at the quality of execution.
Despite its slim case, the RM033 has fantastic volume to it. The “spline screws” that hold the bezel, case-band and case-back together force the case-band to have protruding tunnels for the screws to go through, while everywhere else on the case’s side, plenty of material has been removed. This negative space actually adds volume to the RM033 – with bare eyes, or even looking through a high magnification loupe or macro lens at smaller segments of the case, there is just so much to look at and appreciate.