December 27, 2017
by Ariel Adams
From a technical complexity standpoint, level of visual finishing, and use of exotic “new” materials, Richard Mille stands out in many ways. Given that they routinely do things no one else does allows them to control what those things cost. This is very important to why Richard Mille watches are so expensive, because even if you feel that a $500,000 watch could be priced less, the reality is that nothing similar is available for less. This form of product exclusivity is vital to the Richard Mille product value proposition experience. It also acts to keep the brand releasing new products that further galvanize its customers to take interest in new watches (further helping the business sell timepieces).
Richard Mille the man is not only a legitimately chill guy, but he exudes a relaxed confidence that serves as a personality beacon for the company. Richard famously expressed to me one time that he doesn’t have stress. Whether or not that is accurate, the statement itself evokes at least a little bit of envy. It isn’t unreasonable to respond with the feeling of “I’d like to not have stress, too.” Mille lives in a large estate in France, has a watch company whose customers are the world’s wealthy elite, and is so visibly relaxed in otherwise stressful public settings like trade show environments that his calm confidence is easily something his customers want to acquire.
Richard Mille also authentically lives the lifestyle that the brand’s products are influenced by. He travels all over to car and boat races, spends time on high-end private jets which inspire his aviation watches, and hangs out with a long list of celebrity actors and athletes that wear his watches. As long as Mr. Mille continues to be part of the world his company claims inspired their latest products, he will have an authentic sense of legitimacy when speaking about the products with customers. This might seem obvious, until you notice how other luxury watchmakers appear to have thinner marketing relationships with such people and events (as opposed to real perceived interest or sophistication).
As a young brand, Richard Mille is fortunate to still have the actual Richard Mille person around. If Mr. Mille is lucky, his brand will survive him one day. No one will ever be able to fill in his shoes (which are typically fun and kind of flamboyant actually), but if the brand is smart, it will find someone else who can inherit this position and continue to live the Richard Mille lifestyle. Again I mention this because at so many brands this doesn’t happen. If you agree with the argument that people who buy Richard Mille timepieces are in a sense buying Richard Mille, then you agree that being personality-driven can be very successful for a watch brand. Notice then how few other luxury watch brands are personality-driven, especially after their namesake founders pass on. These companies get entirely corporate, often with no face behind their operations, let alone their products. It would be good advice for more luxury brands to consider the value of being personality-driven with the presentation of a strong creative leader (like Richard Mille) at the helm.
The most famous celebrity relationship Richard Mille has had is with brand ambassador Rafael Nadal. The world tennis champion made international headlines when he was spotted routinely wearing a Richard Mille tourbillon watch while professionally competing during tennis matches. World audiences were shocked not only that Nadal would choose to wear a seemingly unnecessary item that could impact his performance, but also that it was a several hundred thousand dollar timepiece. Watch enthusiasts were additionally compelled by the idea that the watch contained a tourbillon mechanism, which is known for its delicate fragility.
Later, Richard Mille performed similar stunts by putting his watches on race car drivers (this actually happened early in the brand’s lifespan), golfers, runners, and other performance-oriented athletes and professionals. While audiences gawked at the seemingly irresponsible treatment of such precious items, the message to the world was very clear – Richard Mille watches are as confident as the man. In this sense it didn’t even matter if a fair number of these watches broke. The confidence that the brand had in both its products and its relationship with its ambassadors was made impressively clear to the world.
Speaking simply, Richard Mille treated its brand ambassadors not only as visual personalities, but played with the idea of them being both product testers (to challenge new types of designs and concepts) while at the same time communicating to his elite clientele that his watches don’t need to be babied. Few things are more appealing to high-end watch consumers than a super impressive status watch that they are encouraged to wear during sport and play.
Confidence, playfulness, and authentic exclusivity together make up the special sauce that allows Richard Mille watches to be so expensive. As I’ve explained above, it matters little whether or not Richard Mille watches need to be priced where they are. The fact remains that you simply cannot get the precise Richard Mille experience in any lesser-priced product, and Richard Mille customers do benefit from knowing that they aren’t likely to see someone out there in the world with their same watch who isn’t equally as successful as they are. richardmille.com