The Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari: Fact vs. Fiction
Last week, Richard Mille broke the world record for the world’s thinnest mechanical watch… Surprise!
The race to make thinner and thinner watches has traditionally been between the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept and the Bulgari Octo Finissimo. And it seemed like every other year, one or the two brands would announce that they had shaved micro-millimeters off of the previous record.
Recently, however, it seemed like the maisons had reached the limits of how thin a mechanical watch could be. In March, right before the 2022 edition of Watches & Wonders, for example, Bulgari presented the Octo Finissimo Ultra, which, at 1.8mm thick, reclaimed the trophy from the 2mm thick Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept as the thinnest mechanical watch in the world. At that time, the Bulgari team told the press that they could not make an Octo more streamlined without sacrificing function.
Then Richard Mille dropped the RM UP-01 Ferrari last week, measuring just 1.75mm “thick.” Did the RM UP-01 Ferrari win the race to take up less space? It’s hard to say, but Richard Mille throwing its cap in the ring did make the race to be thinnest suddenly a lot more interesting.
Fact: We Should Have Seen It Coming
Richard Mille timepieces have often been described as race cars for the wrist. So, just as motorsport relies on radical reinvention to shave a few seconds off of an automobile’s lap time, the manufacture decided to reinvent the wheel with the RM UP-01 Ferrari.
Of course, Richard Mille is famous for innovating with unconventional movements and materials. But the brand has explored the world of ultra-thin watches before now, with the most notable example being the 3.6mm thick RM 67-01 Automatic Winding Extra Flat. Still, when folks think of Richard Mille, they think of watches with voluptuous tonneau-shaped cases.
The RM UP-01 Ferrari vs. The World
So, how does the RM UP-01 Ferrari compare to the Octo Finissimo Ultra and the Altiplano Ultimate Concept as the thinnest mechanical watch in the world?
When Bulgari’s team voiced their skepticism about a thinner watch being possible, both Piaget and Bulgari did (and still do) employ a movement that uses the caseback as the base plate.
Richard Mille took a more traditional tact with a 41.45 × 28.85mm movement that is only 1.18mm thick and sits inside the case. The reasoning behind this construction is that it provides improved shock resistance. And as a result, it can amazingly withstand accelerations of over 5,000 Gs.
To keep this traditional construction thin, the hand-wound calibre the RM UP-01 Ferrari employs a skeletonized base plate and bridges composed of an alloy that is 90% Grade 5 titanium, 6% aluminum, and 4% vanadium. Interestingly, this exact mixture of titanium, aluminum, and vanadium (Ti-6Al-4V) is a titanium alloy with such high strength and excellent corrosion resistance that this alloy is most commonly used in the aerospace industry.
However, the most exciting advancement of this hyper-flat movement is the patented design of the entirely redesigned escapement.
But Ferrari wasn’t the only conspirator Richard Mille had at the RM UP-01 drafting table while coming up with its brand new escapement architecture. Indeed, engineers from Audemars Piguet Le Locle laboratories helped develop the new escapement featuring a balance wheel made of titanium. This balance wheel drastically reduced the calibre’s thickness while still being able to provide the same protections as a conventional Swiss anchor escapement.
First, a disclaimer: While we’ve experienced the Octo Finissimo Ultra and the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept in person, we have not yet worn the RM UP-01 Ferrari. Although we know from past experience that, for all their boldness, Richard Mille’s watches are super comfortable on the wrist. Still, from photos, we can tell that the RM UP-01 Ferrari is unlikely to wear like other RMs.
So, while most Richard Mille watches hug the wrist like a race car hugs the curves on a track, the architecture of the 51 × 39mm RM UP-01 Ferrari is, for lack of a better word, unique.
Piaget’s and Bulgari’s wafer-thin calibres are (of course) exceptional examples of engineering, but they are still stacked so that the designs look like a watch. In contrast, working in collaboration with the Ferrari team, the RM UP-01 chose to distribute the inner workings across a broader surface area. This layout also precludes a traditional movement with superimposed gears and hands.
Richard Mille has also integrated a “function selector” into the bezel. Located between 10 and 11 o’clock, this allows one to select the winding (W) or the hand-setting (H) function with a simple rotation of the crown. And once the function you want is selected, setting the time or winding the barrel to its full 45-hour power reserve is possible by turning the second crown between 7 and 8 o’clock. Two black ceramic inserts surround the crowns, protecting the bezel from friction and ensuring a 10m water resistance.
The main criticism of the RM UP-01 Ferrari is from people who believe brand aesthetics have been sacrificed in the name of engineering or (worse) glory. For instance, complaints range from the Ferrari logo occupying as much real estate as the dial itself to the idea that it looks more like a security card than a watch.
These are valid observations. Yes, the Ferrari logo is not by any means hidden. And, yes, the flatness combined with the broadness of the RM UP-01 Ferrari would suggest that it might feel like you are balancing a board on your wrist.
However, these are opinions, not facts.
The truth is that double-branded dials are nothing new in the watch industry, and there are plenty of nods to Richard Mille’s signature design DNA, such as the 13 visible Grade 5 titanium screws on the face and the tonneau-shaped (although flipped horizontally) silhouette.
Besides, the brand has always been about creating new aesthetic codes and pushing tech specs, which means Richard Mille’s avant-garde designs are not built for all tastes. And while we can’t speak for the entire watch community, Watchonista is happy that the RM UP-01 Ferrari exists because it suggests that there is still room to compete in the super skinny space.
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(Images © Richard Mille)