Richard Mille’s deep-rooted connection to the automotive industry is undeniable. Its stalwart dedication to racetracks, backing teams and drivers, particularly women in the sport, set the perfect stage for the brand’s early and continued engagement with the Le Mans Classic. Each edition since 2008 has seen the creation of a watch tailored to reflect the event’s colours, and the latest edition is no different. A tribute to the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race’s centennial, the RM 72-01 Le Mans Classic, limited to 150 pieces, encapsulates the prowess of the competing cars, mirrored in the double lap of the dial on the 13.626 kilometre Le Mans circuit.
The watch is powered by a skeletonised movement with automatic bidirectional winding, boasting functions like hours, minutes, small seconds, date, flyback chronograph, function indicator, and stop seconds. Intriguingly, the chronograph function operates independently of the daily timekeeping, thus ensuring the base movement’s smooth operation even when the chronograph is active.
Both the baseplate and the bridges are meticulously crafted from grade 5 titanium, a remarkably rigid, highly corrosion-resistant and biocompatible alloy, enabling seamless gear train function. The alloy composition includes 90% titanium, 6% aluminium and 4% vanadium, a blend that enhances the mechanical properties of the alloy, leading to its extensive usage in aerospace, aeronautics, and automotive industries. A fusion of micro-blasted grade 5 titanium with a grey electroplasma treatment lends rigidity to the entire assembly and ensures impeccably even surfaces.
The skeletonised baseplate and the bridges underwent rigorous validation tests to maximise their resistance capacities. Richard Mille’s patented flyback chronograph ingeniously distributes the torque generated across the various counters of the chronograph. As a result, the chronograph’s seconds wheel operates independently of the minutes and hours display.
The chronograph’s performance is nothing short of stellar. Powered directly from the barrel, the mechanism energises the chronograph’s three counters. The enhanced energy is relayed to the chronograph train by a coupling system involving two oscillating pinions positioned on rockers, managing the start, stop, flyback and reset functions.
The rockers are driven by a 6-column wheel, a construction that assures simultaneous actions, proper function latching, and durable settings. A red underline adorns the 16 on the hour counter, referencing the traditional kickoff time of the endurance race. The function indicator, similar to a car’s gearbox, allows the wearer to identify winding, neutral and hand-setting positions as the crown is manipulated.
The watch’s design and execution embody a comprehensive approach towards the movement, case, and dial conception. Everything is crafted following stringent specifications—for instance, a casing ring is dispensed with, and the movement is mounted on chassis mounting rubbers (ISO SW) secured by titanium screws, highlighting an uncompromising commitment to superior quality.
The watch case is constructed from Quartz TPT, a material composed of over 600 layers of parallel filaments obtained from silica threads. These layers, no more than 45 microns thick, are impregnated in a white or green resin developed specifically for Richard Mille and woven on a special machine that alters the direction of the weft by 45° between layers. Subsequently, it is subjected to a 120°C heat treatment and a pressure of 6 bars in an autoclave, akin to those utilised for manufacturing aeronautical components. After this treatment, the material is ready for machining at Richard Mille’s case factory.
With its detailed engineering that mirrors the intricate mechanics of racing cars, the Richard Mille RM 72-01 Le Mans Classic Chronograph echoes the thrilling spirit of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The captivating blend of rigorous craftsmanship and innovative materials makes the timepiece not only a celebration of the race’s centennial but also a marker of the enduring legacy of Richard Mille’s automotive ties.