Richard Mille RM 27-05 Flying Tourbillon Rafael Nadal

The Incredible Lightness of Being: Richard Mille’s RM 27-05 Flying Tourbillon Rafael Nadal

We can’t help but wonder if Richard Mille’s latest collaboration with the legendary Rafa might not be the apogee of the brand’s quest for unprecedented lightness and heightened precision.

By Laurie Kahle

As Rafael Nadal left the court at Roland-Garros, a.k.a. the French Open, on Monday, following his first-round loss to Alexander Zverev, the King of Clay made what is likely his final exit from the venue wearing Richard Mille’s new RM 27-05 Flying Tourbillon Rafael Nadal on his wrist.

For the past two decades, the Spaniard has dominated the French Open, winning 112 of 115 matches and 14 championships. And since 2010, he has played wearing a Richard Mille tourbillon watch.

“I still remember the day in 2008 when Richard contacted me to discuss working together,” Nadal said in the press release. “It was unthinkable for me, as I’d never worn anything on my wrist.”

He recalled how Mille visited him in Mallorca in 2010 and presented him with a heavy platinum watch as a joke. “When I reacted as you might expect, he quickly held up a prototype of the RM 027: a surprisingly light watch with spectacular lines,” he said.

Since then, the duo has collaborated on 11 RM 27 models, an impressive horological portfolio that concludes with this month’s RM 27-05 Flying Tourbillon, which is limited to 80 pieces and carries a price tag of $1.15 million.

Weighing just 11.5 grams (excluding the strap) and resistant to accelerations of over 14,000 g – both world records for a manual-winding tourbillon – the RM 27-05 culminates the brand’s quest for unprecedented lightness and heightened precision worthy of tennis nobility on and off the court.

Material World

“All the research into materials contributed to this record resistance and lightness,” said Julien Boillat, Technical Director of Casings, in the press release. “Credit for this achievement is also due to our use of a crystal made of PMMA, a polymer with an anti-scratch treatment. Sapphire was too heavy for the challenge.”

The brand’s signature tonneau-shaped case, measuring 37.25mm x 47.25mm x 7.20mm, is fashioned from a new composite, Carbon TPT B.4, developed over five years with Mille’s Swiss partner North Thin Ply Technology (NTPT).

This next-gen version of the Carbon TPT material that Richard Mille has frequently used in the past is similarly fabricated, with hundreds of layers or parallel carbon filaments (each no more than 50 microns across) impregnated with a new high-performance resin.

These layers are then stacked using a special NTPT machine that modifies the fibers’ orientation by 70° between layers to create a specific weave that maximizes the material’s strength-to-weight ratio. Finally, the composite material is heated to 120°C at a pressure of 6 bars for subsequent machining at Richard Mille.

Compared to Carbon TPT, Carbon TPT B.4 is 4% denser, the fiber is 15% stiffer, and the resin is 30% stronger. Given its unique properties, it is possible to machine the case in ever-thinner cross-sections, reducing weight without sacrificing rigidity.

The monobloc case sculpted from the solid Carbon TPT B.4 shaves off every possible fraction of a gram. In this pursuit, the movement is directly mounted onto an X-shaped ridge on the interior caseback, with the calibre positioned 5/100ths of a millimeter from the base on six support points, enhancing the watch’s stiffness.

Rather than using screws, the movement is secured by the bezel and flange pressing down on it to hold it in place. Additionally, as noted by Boillat, the crystal is not the typical sapphire material, as it would be too heavy. Instead, the crystal is a Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) polymer that has been given a scratch-resistant coating.

Form Meets Function

Mille’s team invested 4,000 hours of work in designing the calibre and case that exhibits an aesthetic return to the RM 27’s roots with its dark presence.

The movement is based on the ultra-thin RM UP-01 calibre, measuring 3.75mm thick and weighing a mere 3.79 grams. Moreover, the calibre powering the RM 27-05 delivers a power reserve of about 55 hours and incorporates a flying tourbillon that oscillates at a frequency of 3 Hz.

The flying tourbillon is mounted on a single side, eliminating the need for a conventional upper bridge and expanding the views of its distinctive architecture while further reducing weight.

“Thanks to a base fitted with ball bearings, the tourbillon retains its performance while making it possible to do away with a bridge,” said Salvador Arbona, Technical Director for Movements. “Making the barrel fly likewise fit with our need for lightness. Its extreme thinness, 0.72mm thick, helped us to develop an extra-flat caliber with volume. The barrel was thus pressed into service of this singular aesthetic, a masterpiece of traditional craftsmanship.”

The movement’s baseplate and bridges are micro-blasted and PVD-treated grade 5 titanium, a highly corrosion-resistant and remarkably rigid alloy that optimizes the function of the gear train, and the V-shaped gear train bridge is machined from Carbon TPT, which is exceptionally resistant to cracking and splitting. Ultimately, the pairing of titanium and Carbon TPT endows the whole assembly with great rigidity, while the flatness of the surface further enhances gear train function.

“The RM 27-05 is a testament to both this long friendship and our shared enjoyment,” said Alexandre Mille, Commercial Director. “And, looking to the future, the techniques used to develop the RM 27-05 will undoubtedly benefit all our future creations.”

And with that, it’s game, set, and match for the RM 27 series.

For more information about the RM 27-05 Flying Tourbillon Rafael Nadal, visit the Richard Mille website.

(Images © Richard Mille)

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