Hands (and Mind) On the RM UP-01 Ferrari from Richard Mille
Spending time with the controversial new timepiece yielded some insights that I wasn’t able to glean from the press pictures. Not only is it a fully functioning watch, but it also manages to capture the aligning spirit of the inventive Richard Mille and the legendary Ferrari in every respect. Now, was that so hard?
It may be the “disruptor” tendency inside me, but I absolutely love a timepiece that causes controversy. It may not end up being my cup of tea, but a watch that polarizes normally rational people? I can’t get enough.
To that end: Long ago, in journalism school, I learned the importance and delicate process of distinguishing between critique and reportage. Of course, good reporting can carry an element of personal criticism. But good criticism must be backed-up with reporting.
However, in the off-the-cuff world of instant social media, everyone thinks they’re a critic.
So, when it came to the peanut gallery’s reaction to the RM UP-01 Ferrari from Richard Mille, Instagram posts or stories delivering messages of “Why?” or “Nope” or “I don’t get it” seemed unsatisfying, overly facile, and, well, lazy.
Is It a Game Changer?
The RM UP-01 Ferrari debuted over the summer, and while Richard Mille is not claiming any official accolades, at 1.75mm, it became the thinnest mechanical watch ever created.
Definitionally, that makes it a game-changer. However, given some thought and exploration, it becomes apparent that Richard Mille is playing a much bigger game than just an “-est” competition.
While some of the most commonly associated design cues of Richard Mille watches revolve around color, transparency, and depth, the RM UP-01 Ferrari doesn’t really possess any of those elements. It is a 51mm by 39mm flat metallic presentation with a simple Velcro/rubber strap.
However, another rallying cry for the watchmaker (albeit it is lesser well-known) could just as easily be: “Expect the unexpected!”
In-Line Goes Non-Linear
The ultimate thinness of the timepiece is really almost a side-effect of the in-line approach of the manually wound calibre (developed in partnership with Audemars Piguet and the Ferrari team over no less than 6,000 hours of development and testing). Remarkably, the overlapping and stacking components were left out of this movement. So, other competitors in the thinness contest have limited themselves to more traditional watch forms and formats and cannot make that claim.
For instance, watchmakers like Bulgari and Piaget have chased thinness by using the caseback as the movement’s base plate. In contrast, Richard Mille’s nod to the more traditional is that the calibre RM UP-01 rides between a protective case front and a caseback, adding to the execution’s security and rigidity. Fun Fact: The RM UP-01’s movement is rated to withstand accelerations up to 5,000 Gs.
Furthermore, according to Richard Mille, the concept for this kind of revolutionary movement – which provides about 45 hours of power reserve, by the way – began before the brand’s partnership with Ferrari was even formed.
So, drawing lines to the automotive/brand connections, even drawing lines to the creation of other ultra-thin watches, becomes a more philosophical meta-exercise.
Is It a Kind of a Man-Cuff?
Of course, the curved rectangular dashboard-y format of the RM UP-01 Ferrari is eye-catching. But, given the proviso that I am blessed/cursed with a larger wrist, I wouldn’t say that this timepiece crosses the line into jewelry in any way. More than that, the RM UP-01 is exquisitely genderless in appeal.
Neither does the RM UP-01 Ferrari feel too wide or too long on the wrist. Intrusion of the leading edge into the flex point of the wrist is similar to, say, the crown of a traditional large-diameter timepiece. By which I mean: it’s minimal.
I can hear the influencers now: “But it doesn’t look like a watch!” Well, you can clearly tell that it is by the steering wheel-inspired, cardinal-indexed, red two-hand dial on the upper center and the similarly sized beating balance wheel right next to it. The curved rectangular titanium case sports high-polished edges, so it even has a bezel, non-traditional as it is.
Finally, to add to the automotive connective tissue, the RM UP-01 Ferrari comes with its own “key.” This key allows you to make basic time adjustments to the crown mechanism. Simply: Press your key down on the selector on the upper left corner to choose between hour-setting or winding, then do the same on the selector on the lower left corner (which winds in one direction and sets the time in the other).
Interestingly, you can use your thumb in place of the key, but it's just more fun, not to mention precise, to use the gorgeous tool that comes with the watch. Plus, pulling it out in public? It’s like flashing a mini key-fob that only the initiated and in-the-know will recognize. Besides, Richard Mille is by no means the first watchmaker to move crown mechanics off the outer edge of a timepiece case.
So, to make a long story short, it’s light and comfortable, but it wears and looks like a watch.
Is It Going to Bend?
You have no doubt seen a lot of discussion, photography, or photoshop in the watch community presenting the RM UP-01 Ferrari over or under or compared in some way with an American Express Platinum Card. It’s a cute meme.
But when we were shooting the timepiece for this article, we avoided that comparison because it doesn’t really hold much weight for two reasons.
First, the watch is significantly thicker and more rigid than a Platinum Card. And second, the RM UP-01 Ferrari takes up much less real estate on your wrist than if you strapped a traditional credit card to it with a rubber band or something.
Without getting into a mini-physics lecture, torsion is a function of the surface areas of the contact points of the opposing materials, i.e., your wrist and this watch.
So, while those with thinner wrists may experience a bit of overhang top and bottom, you’ll notice that the tapered rubber strap of the RM UP-01 magically and securely connects with almost the entire lateral edge of the case, top and bottom. Thus, any downward force is spread out evenly over the entire surface of both your wrist and the watch case.
Furthermore, the base plate of the 1.18mm thick, 41.45 by 28.8mm, in-line movement is sandwiched between titanium case layers that are made from 90% Grade 5 titanium, 6% aluminum, and 4% super-rigid vanadium. That’s the composition of the titanium alloy used in the aerospace industry.
To be fair: If you were crazy enough to drill-press, say, a railroad spike into the RM UP-01 hard enough, you might get it to bend. But you could say that about almost any watch, right?
What Makes It “Ferrari”?
Often, a timepiece/automotive collaboration tells the story of the partnership with direct lines that link the car or car maker with the watch. Richard Mille’s collaborations with McLaren’s F1 racing efforts and production cars and its earlier Ferrari-inspired collaborations are chock-full of very visible, very direct livery, engineering and structural references to the automotive world.
In the past, Hublot’s collaborations with Ferrari have done much the same, especially in 2013’s MP-05 LaFerrari, which presented a complicated 11-barrel movement in the form of the visible rear-engine tradition that started with the Ferrari Enzo supercar in 2002.
An Ode to Inventive Spirit
So, while the RM UP-01 does sport a subtle Ferrari “prancing pony” in the lower right corner on its dial-side, and it is reminiscent of a metallic dashboard, I think this timepiece is more spiritually akin to classic vintage Ferrari GTOs.
The watch (like the vintage GTOs) has a distinct, disruptive exterior, to be sure, but its inherent “Ferrari-ness” is invisible under the hood. However, getting a good look at a GTO’s 12-cylinder power plant may prove to be a damn sight easier than viewing the “in-line” engine of the RM UP-01’s movement.
Does this all add up to justifying a sticker price of $1,888,000? Well, that’s a decision very much “in-line” with buying a Ferrari automobile and is better left to the potential owners.
Please note that only 150 of the RM UP-01 Ferrari will be made. You can find out more on the Richard Mille website.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)