I have been following the various discussions over the last few weeks with interest and I must say that certain terms such as ‘overpriced’, ‘marketing product’, ‘poor quality control’, have disturbed me greatly as I have always aimed at an approach which couldn’t be further away from these descriptions.
That said, it is true of course that with such radical technical ideas, there will always be certain amount of fine-tuning necessary after production. However, I do believe that these problems have been grossly exaggerated but as I have an idea as to what is behind these ‘grotesque’ reactions, I would nevertheless like to take this opportunity to explain my position.
Before I start, it is worth mentioning that since the creation of the brand in 2001, we have delivered thousands of watches and the percentage returned to us doesn’t exceed 5%. Nevertheless I recognise that we have had some difficulties, in particular with the RM 005, and this has naturally exasperated some of you. I will explain the reasons for these problems and the solutions that have been put in place.
I want my watches to be extremely sophisticated and full of technique. For me it is of utmost importance to push the boundaries of technique and to be as innovative as possible. This is not without risk however and requires a great deal of development and different manufacturing processes as well as quality control. As my strategy does not include large volume production, this is a huge investment for a very limited number of watches.
Many of my competitors, whom you name, work with much more traditional processes and have done so for many years. Their developmental risks therefore are minimal. On top of this, many of these same manufacturers have an industrial manufacturing process so they are also able to produce a far higher volume - this is not the case for me. It is almost true to say that for the majority of models we make fall into the bespoke category, assembled by real human hands, something which is very important to me.
We reject around 40% of our production for one reason or other. This is because the majority of pieces are finished by hand and not by machine. If I had wanted machines for finishing the watches I would have been able to divide this level of rejection by 10, but this is the way I want it and this is why each piece is unique. No watch will perform the same way as another even though they may share the same model reference. I do not want my watches to become industrialised. This is true for the tourbillons as well as for the automatic RM 010s, RM 011s, RM 016s and RM 007s – and just for the record, we reject about 70% of the automatic baseplates. Those of you who are awaiting delivery for any one of those models will know what I mean! I don’t know any other manufacturer, who would be hugely enthusiastic about using titanium baseplates with a pvd treatment, but I consider it an absolute necessity to use a rigid material in a baseplate and therefore I have to accept the level of wastage. I am not masochistic however!
My philosophy is also to develop new and sometimes extreme models irrespective of their cost and of course, when you take this course of action the risk involved is huge. I’ll be honest with you – with the reputation we have managed to build up, I could easily develop a ‘high street’ calibre without too much trouble. Something in brass, without any innovative features, but something that nevertheless had the RM ‘look’ and could be sold at an affordable price. This would be easy to produce, boost my sales no end, make much more profit and give me fewer headaches. However, this is not my philosophy at all. Let’s look at the new models I’m introducing this year – the RM 018 of which each wheel in precious or semi-precious stone is a nightmare to manufacture, and the RM 020 of which the crown alone is a technical innovation (the chain and crown are made up of 165 pieces …)
And then there are the RM 004s and RM 008s; the complexity of these models is such that only a few watchmakers are capable of assembling them. For your information, the development of these models started in 1999! One of the challenges we face is a build up of static electricity between the sapphire glasses. The steel hands magnetically charge between the glass and start going mad! To correct this we are developing titanium hands which we will use for all new models as well as replacing those already on the market. Another problem which concerns these two models is related to the large diameter crown which allows the watch to be easily overwound. This results in too much stress on the spring endangering the barrel. We are now using a dynamometric crown to avoid overwinding. In finding the solution to these two problems we have eliminated around 80% of all the quality issues we have encountered with these models. It is fair to say that we are dealing with complex mechanics here with most of the movements comprising several hundred different parts many of which cannot be seen with the naked eye. They are in fact the Formula 1s of the watch world but are used more like 4x4s as Mille watches are more often than not worn and not left in the safe. However - let me use the RM 004 as an example once again - what other brand would invest huge sums of money, thousands of hours of developmental time to produce only 30 or so watches per year? I can assure you that we are as far away as possible from manufacturing a ‘marketing product’. So far as my margins are concerned, I am fully aware of the margins being applied by others and I can assure you that mine are well within the norm, not outrageous, and in fact totally necessary in order that we can continue to innovate and develop. You will also grant me the fact too that so far as developments and innovations are concerned, these have been many and numerous. I repeat with the greatest of pleasure that it would be wonderfully easy and a lot more profit making if I produced commercial products. As far as the Mille models are concerned, it’s true that they cost money but I would say that the word is ‘costly’ rather than ‘expensive’.
It is also fact that we have had certain problems with the RM 005 and RM 010. The oil used on the stones would not adhere and as result simply dispersed. This is what has caused this phenomenon of what some people call ‘tarnishing’ and this is entirely the wrong word for what is happening. It is in fact a coating made up of a mixture of oil and other material that has hardened to a reddish paste and has started to cover the joints, rotors, etc. as the oil spreads away from the stones. It has taken us several months to fully understand why this was happening until we found the answer. This was the reason why models were coming back, being cleaned up and coming back again. The solution lies in fact in rinsing or bathing the parts in a treatment called a ‘bain de passivation’. We have also had issues with the straps because the joint between the strap and the case is extremely complex. We have had problems with the date change on the RM 011 which stopped the watch completely and our folding buckle has also been the object of some recent modification. As our friend Teo Matheus has already said, we have been taking care of these issues, we are not just ignoring them and, contrary to the impression a few may have, the problems are not quite as numerous as you may have been led to believe. I am totally aware of the responsibility I have towards my customers and because of our low volume, we are able to carry out upgrades reasonably easily. Our distributors and sales outlets are dedicated to the brand and they know they are witnessing an historic moment in watchmaking. As in the case of the RM 011 recently sold in New York, one only needs to look at the second-hand watch sales on auction sites to see that the sale prices of Richard Mille watches remain reasonably high (bought for 60,000 US dollars and sold for 56,000 US dollars). And this during a period of economic crisis! You will also notice that of the thousands of watches we have delivered (over 5,000 since 2001) only a few have ever come up at auction which would indicate that our customers like to keep their babies!
One of the others reasons which compelled me to participate in your Forum was the fact that I could not accept the criticism directed at our fantastic watchmakers, production and after-sales team in Les Breuleux, at Renaud-Papi and Vaucher. They do an incredible job and are dedicated to the brand. Many of these extremely talented watchmakers have left ‘quiet’ jobs to join us in this great adventure which is the Richard Mille story. They don’t count their hours and have a totally responsible and impeccable work ethic of which I am proud.
To conclude, I humbly believe if it was not just by a stroke of luck that I had the great honour of receiving the L’Aiguille d’Or at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie in Geneva and that receiving a further award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie, Asia Edition, one year later is recognition of the efforts and work we have dedicated to watchmaking.
Although I have given some of you a few serious headaches recently, the majority of Mille owners I meet tell me frequently that they love their watches, some of them own several, and they are not, to my knowledge, masochists!
Watch connoisseurs say that we are living through an important moment in watchmaking history. Auctioneers don’t hesitate to say that Richard Mille watches represent a rupture in watchmaking and are a good investment, despite the fact that the brand is still young, and this investment like good art can only increase in value.
One last thing before I sign off – I’m not out of surprises yet so keep an eye out for what’s coming next!
This message has been edited by 219 on 2008-10-27 07:44:54 This message has been edited by AnthonyTsai on 2008-11-08 15:35:36