Known for hyper-masculine performance timepieces that present technical know-how with innovative, cutting-edge materials, Richard Mille has been gaining fast and steady ground with women for watches that offer technical prowess with the watchmaker’s distinct brand of edgy femininity. And Cécile Guenat, Richard Mille’s Creative and Development Director, is the person to thank for a lot of that.
Her debut collection of 2018, the RM 71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman, set the bar high with its easy marriage of looks and function. The watch’s gem-studded tribal design not only placed it far apart from the pack aesthetically, but also served to showcase its slim in-house automatic tourbillon skeleton movement—resulting in a watch that stands as a flashing beacon of the watchmaker’s commitment to producing ladies’ watches that sit comfortably, and confidently, within its haute horlogerie stable. But if there’s one collection that showed Guenat’s intent to shake things up, it was the Bonbon collection launched less than a year later. Inspired by the world of candy, the polarising collection tapped on childhood nostalgia with miniature lollies and candied fruits that saw fans setting up camp firmly on both ends of the love-hate spectrum. It was like nothing that the brand had ever released before (leaving many loyalists disgruntled), but the gamble paid off, with the entire collection reportedly being snapped up within two days of its launch. Guenat is clearly in tune with what the Richard Mille audience desires—as she should be, being the daughter of Dominique Guenat, Co-founder and Co-president of Richard Mille.
This year sees the brand diving headlong into an exploration of colour with the release of a capsule collection of three watches. Available in a limited edition of just 50 pieces each, the RM 07-01 Automatic Coloured Ceramics watches break new grounds for the brand with a multi-material guilloché dial bearing ceramic and geometrically patterned rubber inserts—a first for Richard Mille. Guenat tells us more.
What is the story behind the RM 07-01 Automatic Coloured Ceramics watches?
My main source of inspiration was Memphis Design, an Italian design movement that was a true cultural phenomenon of the 1980s. Memphis revolutionised the creative energy of the design world; it broke down creative boundaries previously dictated by the industry and imposed new shapes, materials and patterns. Explosive colours, proliferating decorations, intrepid asymmetries… all these were totally new at the time. I had that in my mind when I drew the collection, and at the heart of the design process was the idea of juxtaposing these colours in materials such as ceramic and patterned rubber. We played with different geometric shapes and materials in the same way that an object was designed in the Memphis movement. I felt quite quickly that the entire design concept would be deeply enriched by weaving the ancient craft of guilloché dial making into the design—this creates a new symbiosis of the ultra modern and the traditional in watchmaking. The result is a watch that combines contemporary, elegant, playful and extroverted lines into a new form.
What sparked the creation of this collection? And how is this collection for the “now”?
We all live in a complicated time where many important human values are under pressure and the significance of tradition is oftentimes forgotten. My hope was that by creating a very contemporary visual code incorporating a handicraft from centuries past, this collection would be a joyful inspiration for how we can look to the future. We want to make sure that the brand always creates watches that are simultaneously very technical and innovative as well as joyful and surprising. We also want to help our clients go through the day with a smile every moment they look at their timepiece. Even the straps have become part of this playful approach.
What was the most challenging aspect of producing this collection?
Ceramics, and even rubber, are actually very difficult to realise in many subtle shades and colours. Simply put, it’s not just a question of adding a few drops of a colouring agent during the production process. So, one of the first challenging aspects was to establish the exact colours I wanted to use and then set about having them produced.
Looking at the results, what are you most proud of?
The harmony you see in each timepiece! As a designer, moulding the many stylistic and architectural visual cues, guilloché patterns, colours and ideas present in the case, movement and dial into a harmonious creation is a very delicate balancing act, and the kind of challenge every designer must face. When the final product works exactly as you imagined it would, you have every reason to be very happy.
This collection has a decidedly unisex feel to it. Was that intentional?
Traditional gender boundaries are shifting and eroding every year, and both women’s and men’s viewpoints on what can or cannot be part of their fashion ensemble are being constantly redefined. It also happens regularly that men visiting the Richard Mille boutique fall in love with a watch originally released for women—and vice versa too, I must say. For my part, it is clear that clients choose what they feel passionate about and as a designer, it is my job to offer them as many alternatives as possible.
How does this complement the brand’s current ladies’ offerings?
Thematically, the women’s collections inhabit various areas of inspiration from the arts, especially architecture, as well as different locations, periods and cultures. Of course, the RM 07-01 Automatic Coloured Ceramics collection has its initial inspiration. However, I see this collection’s essence more as a playful expression of colours, patterns and materials to create a sense of joy and pleasure.
This year marks 20 years since Richard Mille launched its first watch, the RM 001 Tourbillon. How has the brand evolved since then?
For me, the brand feels totally organic and coherent, like a plant that has grown from the seed of an idea, growing with leaves of many different colours. And although all the leaves of this plant each have different hues, you can still clearly see that they are all part of a total plan and pattern. Every watch created by the brand has a unique character, yet they all belong clearly to the same family in every respect—they have remained true to all the basic codes, principles, methods and philosophies embodied by Richard Mille in the brand’s first tourbillon watch, the RM 001, which you mentioned. The essence and multi- faceted ideas within this watch are so powerful, they still resonate today.