Richard Mille has art on his mind

The radical magician of modern watchmaking loves contemporary art, making for some unusual partnerships. From famous institutions to renowned artists, Richard Mille stakes his own unique claim to some uncharted creative territory.

By Olivier Müller

Sunday 30th June, Chantilly, North of Paris. A castle dating back to 1358, an immense park and gardens designed by Le Nôtre, filled with impressive hats and families wearing their Sunday best. With each step, they pass a vintage Bugatti, a forgotten Facel Vega or a McLaren prototype. What could be mistaken as a background of a Dali is habitual for Richard Mille. The Richard Mille Arts & Élégance car competition is (largely) his own creation. It was founded by his friend Patrick Peter (from Peter Auto, a leader in classic car races) after a discussion together. But the 2019 event offered a unique twist, placing art and mechanics on an equal footing.

In the beginning, a soupçon of Picasso

New observers might have been surprised: Richard Mille, the high priest of 21st century watchmaking, champion of mechanical sports, apostle of the ultra-high-tech … converted to patron of the arts? The truth is more complex. But not, however, entirely unexpected. There were a few clues. The Éditions Cercle d’Art publishing house was one of them. Part of the Richard Mille group, it is the long-standing publisher of many monographs on contemporary artists, including Picasso, who was an early supporter. Then there’s the brand’s several partnerships with artists from diverse backgrounds. One of these is Cyril Kongo. A true work of art for the wrist, his RM 68-01 Tourbillon transposes his world and the language of street art to the heart of a watch movement. His extraordinary work of art required nearly a year of research simply to develop the airbrush and paint that was needed!

Transposing an artistic vocabulary onto the infinitely small is a common denominator with the creations of another Richard Mille artist, the actress Michelle Yeoh, who was also the brand’s first female partner. Her RM 051 illustrates the legend of the phoenix on the wrist. Adorned with diamonds, it snakes around the movement, binding the barrel, powerreserve indicator and tourbillon together in an eternal cycle. Poetry and fascination emanate from this work of art, whose extreme complexity transcends feminine elegance.

Company status
Independent company
Senior Management
Richard Mille, President
Dominique Guenat, Co-President
Number of employees
Around 170
Flagship collections
All 70 collections
RM 11-03, RM 07-01, RM 037, RM 016
Retail prices
From CHF 54,000 to 2,077,500
Annual production
Around 5,200 timepieces in 2019


Sitting down with the greats

Even this boldness was not enough to satisfy Richard Mille. After some other very targeted partnerships (Pharrell Williams, the actress Margot Robbie and the choreographer Benjamin Millepied), the watchmaker sat down with some of the world’s greatest artistic institutions. But don’t expect to find Richard Mille at the Louvre, it’s much too historic! This man keeps his gaze looking far ahead to the future. First it was Frieze Masters and Frieze London, then New York and Los Angeles. Frieze is the most important global platform for modern and contemporary art for connoisseurs, collectors and the general public. Richard Mille immediately found his place there, for each of his watches is, in its own way, a work of art, design, sculpture and architecture.

Each ‘Richard Mille’ stimulates the perception of collectors, offering a new interpretation of the art of watchmaking in exactly the same way that a work of modern art questions traditional art, unhesitatingly questioning genres and conventions. More recently (in February 2019), Richard Mille laid a further claim to artistic territory through a partnership with the Palais de Tokyo, Europe’s largest centre for contemporary art, situated in the heart of Paris. With a three-year commitment, Richard Mille will be in direct contact with the 640,000 visitors that come to this international institution each year which, like the watchmaker, knows how to blur the lines between exhibitions, meetings, film projections, concerts, performances and book shop, all within a spectacular building. Innovating and upsetting conventions in an unparalleled modern setting: this could almost be the definition of a Richard Mille watch.

‘A work of art for the wrist’, the RM 68-01 Tourbillon Cyril Kongo was created in collaboration with the French street artist.
Cyril Kongo has brought his graphic world to the heart of the movement, using a specially developed airbrush to spray on the colours drop by drop.

Kongo, or ‘Mr Colorful’, creates 30 unique pieces

Few watch enthusiasts had heard of Cyril Kongo before Richard Mille gave him carte blanche. When the RM 68-01 Tourbillon was presented in 2016, it was impossible to say if it was a Kongo graffiti on a Richard Mille watch, or a Richard Mille watch serving as a canvas for Kongo. Today, it might seem like the perfect fusion of watchmaking and street art, but at the time it was far from self-evident. The Richard Mille movement has been completely skeletonised, proportionately reducing the surface available for the artist. It is entirely hand-painted, mainly using an airbrush. Extremely light paint and a specific airbrush were developed to avoid compromising the functioning of the minuscule components, and the chosen colours were sprayed with the greatest delicacy, drop by drop. Each watch is individually worked on by the artist, making them truly unique pieces. Although more used to gigantic murals, Kongo has nonetheless successfully reproduced his art on these microscopic components. It is an unequalled tour de force.