Timing that one 'true' swing: a review of Richard Mille's RM038.

Nov 29, 2011,13:24 PM

[Bubba Watson at the French Open this year wearing the RM038 prototype on one of its first outings.]

About a year ago, I learned that Richard was about to enter the world of golf. It seemed a strange departure after Formula 1 and tennis, but as with all of Richard's ventures into sponsoring a sport ambassador, the proof was going to be in the watch and who was wearing it. And while part of the thought was: another sports watch: so what? There is also the fact that this is the first watch specifically designed for a golfer to wear in play. Being a Richard Mille tourbillon I knew that there would be more to the watch than meets the eye.

While some of the forces acting on a watch as part of being worn by a tennis player are also there for the golfer, there is a difference in the impact force for the watch as part of the wrist. A tennis racquet connects with a ball that is essentially soft, with netting that also has an ability to ‘give’ at the point of impact. This still does not negate the fact that about 400G’s are impacted on the watch mechanism each time a backhand is played on the wrist of Rafael Nadal.

For golf, the forces are less frequent, but arguably more severe. In a drive, a golf club plus the wrists holding it accelerate to when the club head connects with a solid(ish) ball the impact force on the club is transmitted through the club and hands to the wrist and watch. Once the ball is hit, there is the de-acceleration of the club to the top of the swing. The watch had to be comfortable on the wrist, lightness, and with extreme shock resistance. If ever there was a need for an impact resistant escapement that could also cope with the changes in forces, then who better to design that than Richard.

[The titanium back plate of the RM038 mechanism with winding gear in place.]

The mass of a golf ball is just less than 46 grams and the standard acceleration of a golf club by a professional player is about 100 mph or 44.73 m/s. This speed of the club, when it connects with the ball, produces a speed for the golf ball which on average is about 170 mph or 76.08 m/s. The moment of impact lasts for 5 milliseconds, or about 0.005 seconds. With me so far!? One way to measure the force of the impact is to express it as a Newton. A Newton is equal to the amount of net force required to accelerate a mass of one kilogram at a rate of one meter per second squared; or to put it another way 1 N is the force of Earth's gravity on a mass of about 100G. Running through the calculations, the force applied to the ball (through the driver) is around 695 Newtons; or the equivalence of approximately 1400 earth’s gravities. Although that is not the entire force of the club on the watch, the watch would feel part of the impact through the golf club and wrist. It would represent a significant 'jolt' to the mechanism. That is probably more than the original design of a mechanical watch mechanism was designed to withstand; with or without a tourbillon escapement!

For that reason, Richard set out to design a watch that could cope with such forces. For the watch case, Richard returned to what he had learned developing the RM009 and RM027. The cases for the latter two watches were built for different purposes. For the RM009, the objective was a light metal capable of withstanding direct impact if necessary (although hopefully not!). For the RM027, the casing had to be even lighter, although the impact properties were not as severe as the ones required for the RM009.

For the RM038, Richard employed another esoteric metal alloy that allowed other properties of case manufacture to be explored. Magnesium lithium alloy is a cast alloy and this made it easier to deal with as the basic tonneau shaped parts could be cast and then machined into the iconic Richard Mille case shape. Magnesium is the lightest structural metal and magnesium alloys have a hexagonal lattice structure, which affects the fundamental properties of these alloys. Cast magnesium alloys are used for many components of modern cars, and magnesium block engines have been used in some high-performance vehicles. The designation AZ91 means that it is a magnesium alloy where roughly 9 percent of the magnesium alloy is aluminium and 1 weight percent is composed of zinc.

The coating given to the watch casing was electro-plasma oxidation treatment named Titalyt II (R); the white colouring was from the cristalline oxide ceramic with a high ratio of high resistant composites such as MgAl2O4 spinels. It all sounds very technical and cutting edge, but the practical applications of this process are that it improves both the hardness and scratch resistance of this alloy: its wear resistance and corrosion resistance. The MgAl2O4 spinel is a more technical way of saying that the atomic structure of the coating is a very regular hexagonal pattern. Material bonding that has such a regular hexagonal shape is very tough as the bonds between atoms are very strong in such a lattice structure. What appears hyperbol and marketing speak actually has a very real application: a very tough and durable coating to the metal that becomes part of the metal itself.

For the RM038, the purpose of the coating was two-fold. First, the coating gave the watch a distinctive look. Usually, the cases for Richard Mille watches, the case had been a finished precious metal, titanium, or some form of alloy or composite that was dark (read black or grey) in colouring. For golf, a decision was taken to produce a sports watch that was different; something that would be distinctive and match the more colourful attire favoured by golfers. Second, the coating was highly scratch resistant and bio-compatible: this would make it hypo-allegenic and not feel metallic against the skin. The material eschews moisture making it comfortable on the wrist. It was the ideal coating for a sports watch.

As with most of Richard’s innovations, the original inspiration came from auto engineering at the front end of the science. Usually such finishing (Titalyt) is found on the outside of pistons (the coating is almost self lubricating) to reduce friction. However, we also use such coatings on more mundane everyday household good as irons (the underside of the iron that is in contact with your clothing) or the coating of outer shells on mobile phones.

For the baseplate and bridges Richard returned to using titanium. Titanium was chosen over the other esoteric metals Richard had used in the past as the bridges in particular had to be rigid and strong enough given the sudden pressures that would be applied to the mechanism. In particular, a special lattice bridge was designed and manufactured to not only hold the mechanism in place but to also hold the pin for the hour and minute hands.

Basically, the design of the lattice bridges at the front of the mechanism is a '3-bridges' design. There is the top bridge to hold the winding barrel, the bottom bridge to hold the tourbillon escapement, and the middle bridge holds the hours and minute hand pin in place. But it is the design of the bridges to allay the forces acting on the watch mechanism that makes the RM038 different. On the left hand wrist of the right-handed golfer the dynamics of the bridges form a ‘wedge’ against the forward motion and impact of the golf club. The middle bridge holds the hours and minute hand pin in place (against the forward motion); the top and bottom bridges form the same pattern. All are anchored against the ‘back wall’ of the case.

Never one to shrink from the challenge, the RM038 was Richard’s answer to the problem of employing a watch on the wrist of the player with the hardest hitting swing in the game of golf in on the professional circuit today. Bubba Watson has distinguished himself on the professional golf circuit, with victories in a number of tournaments, but one of his claims to fame is that he has the longest hitting drives. Self taught, and with something of a 'healthy' attitude towards accepted paradigms, he is one of the few golfers not to mind a watch being worn during play. Admitting that the closest he had been to a watch in the past was only ones with a battery in it. Bubba has since become something of a Richard Mille watch enthusiast buying other Richard Mille watches by choice.

Over the past 6 months the RM038 has been worn continuously by Bubba in practice and match play conditions and the watch has been ‘tweaked’ by the watchmakers to understand how the pressures on the watch have affected the mechanism. There have been no problems and recently, when at Richard Mille in Les Breuleux, the RM038 watches were being made. The movements are just about finished; each one undergoing timing tests. Once cased, the watches will undergo further testing for shock resistance, after which some lucky Richard Mille collectors will have the chance to enjoy a ‘white’ RM038 Christmas!

[The RM038 movements being made and tested]

Andrew H This message has been edited by AnthonyTsai on 2011-11-29 13:55:04 This message has been edited by AnthonyTsai on 2011-12-20 12:36:39

More posts: Rafael NadalRM009RM027RM038

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rm 038

 By: joeblo : November 29th, 2011-14:40
great post thanks for all this feedback; somehow you would not expect RM's to be affected by the extremes they're being put through, would you?

Thanks! The idea behind Richard's watches is that even

 By: 219 : December 2nd, 2011-05:53
if they have to go through extremes, they will come out the other side still ticking! Thanks for reading Andrew H

Great review Andrew

 By: BluNotte : November 29th, 2011-16:48
And enjoyed it very much indeed! Nice shots! Although with regards to the case material and the coating process utilised for the RM038, was it not changed to the Magnesium alloy WE54 and the coating to Miarox instead of Titalyt II? Cheers Stephen

You might be right - I am checking with RM as I was 'playing'

 By: 219 : December 2nd, 2011-05:58
with the prototype (which is also the one on Bubba's wrist). However, looked up the other materials, and the same arguments apply. The interesting question is why! Thanks Andrew H

Great post, Andrew!

 By: KIH : November 29th, 2011-16:57
Thank you for the report on the development of 038. It is very good for WIS to know how such unique models are developed. Very informative and I see how innovative one has to be to come up with such models for an extreme purpose. I with it had darker colo... 

Thanks Ken. For Richard Mille watches there is always more

 By: 219 : December 3rd, 2011-02:31
than meets the eye. What looks a relatively simple change has deeper thought beneath the surface. Cheers! Andrew H

Thank you !

 By: squadra : November 29th, 2011-17:22
It was a pleasure to read this detailed review. I really appreciate to see all the thinking process behind a watch.

Fantastic Andrew

 By: chris4 : November 30th, 2011-00:38
Great write up, really interesting stuff indeed, thanks for taking the time to post all that up. I think the Bubba looks great,as a matter of interest what size is the 38?...is is basically an RM002 case?, if so I quite fancy putting a white strap on my 2... 

Thanks Chris. I think I am right in stating that this is a

 By: 219 : December 3rd, 2011-02:44
slightly larger case than the RM002. RM038 case: 48 mm x 39.70 mm x 12.80 mm RM002 case: 45 mm x 38.30 mm x 11.95 mm Not sure if that will make a difference for the lugs for the strap. Good luck! Andrew H

Thanks Andrew

 By: cisco : November 30th, 2011-01:02
One of the super technical and expermimenting RM , something very special at RM I love. Along with the RM006, RM009 alusic, RM027 Nadal... Another dream watch from RM. (I could add the 012 but the platinum choice is something I didn't understood on this w... 

I would agree with your choices. That said, the RM012

 By: 219 : December 3rd, 2011-02:47
was a different technical exercise. It was more a case (no pun intended) that Richard was experimenting with the suspension of a movement using struts rather than a traditional plate anchored to the case. My personal preference though is for the RM006, 9,... 

Thank you Andrew

 By: RahulR : November 30th, 2011-11:01
What a phenomenal read. The more I learn about RM, the more I love the manufacture!

Very interesting and informative post.

 By: docsnov : November 30th, 2011-22:19
Mille chose the golfer who is going to put the most strain on the watch, which is not suprising since he likes extremes. Of the top 50-100 golfers in the world, Watson swings the club as hard as anyone and hits the ball as far as anyone. Thus he would app... 

Generally I would agree with you. From an early Purists interview

 By: 219 : December 3rd, 2011-02:50
with Richard, when there was only 4 models in the line up, Richard stated that his passion for his watches comes in the love of technique. What the watch can be built to withstand. Have a read if you have not already done so: www.thepurists.com Th... 

I used to wear a PP 5167A when playing golf

 By: samwan : December 2nd, 2011-02:12
but was quickly advised not to... Nowadays I wear a quartz Tag Heuer (with most of the proceeds going into Tiger Woods' pockets). I will now rethink. Bubba is the only golfer I've known using a driver on the fairway - he plays with a lot of character. Tha... 

Good advice! Glad to hear the Patek survived. Take a look

 By: 219 : December 3rd, 2011-02:52
at the RM038 - it has a certain uniqueness that has grown on me. Cheers Andrew H

Stop the presses !!!!

 By: RobCH : December 2nd, 2011-13:34
One of these beasties landed at the RM boutique in Geneva THIS AFTERNOON...surely one of the first! Absolutely awesome piece, I was blown away much more than with the RM027 or the RM018 even !!!! Thankfully quite a bit 'whiter' than the proto seen at SIHH... 

Please do Rob!

 By: BluNotte : December 2nd, 2011-19:16
ANd show a poor soul like me who will probably NEVER get to see it in reality! Much appreciated! Stephen

I think you are first Rob - thanks for sharing. I asked to get

 By: 219 : December 3rd, 2011-02:29
pictures of a finished watch before I went to press, but no luck. So if you could post some pictures, that would be great. Enclosed some pictures of the prototype that I had taken earlier this year for comparison: Thanks Andrew H...  

Rob - can you also confirm BluNotte's post above on the

 By: 219 : December 3rd, 2011-02:53
change of materials for the case and coating? The arguments do apply in either case, but was wondering WHY the change. Thanks Andrew H

Very instructive and ... attractive.

 By: Mark in Paris : December 3rd, 2011-07:10
I particularly like the research and imagination behind the shape of the bridges. Thanks Andrew ! Best, Mark

Thanks. The more I found out about the watch, the more fascinating

 By: 219 : December 4th, 2011-02:54
the details that might appear ordinary, but below the surface is a great deal of research and work. Thanks Andrew H

Pics !

 By: RobCH : December 6th, 2011-08:26
Voila... Bluenotte is correct, the composition of the case was changed between the proto and production of the 1st pieces to Magnesium WE54 : 89% Mg still, but now 6% Yttrium and 5% Rare earth elements. (Yttrium is sometimes referred to as a rare earth to...  


 By: chris4 : December 6th, 2011-08:37
Interesting pictures Rob, thanks for posting. Not sure on the Bubba looks wise, think I would have tosee one in the flesh to make up my mind. One thing I do find odd at RM is this persistancy to keep using the same base winder, again it just looks like a ... 

I'm glad to see it is THAT WHITE!

 By: BluNotte : December 6th, 2011-14:42
A very nice watch, although it would have been nice if the crown wasnt that greyish to spoil the overall effect! Cheers and thanks for confirming the tech specs Rob! Stephen


 By: RobCH : December 7th, 2011-00:51
I can kinda see your point re the Ti crown guys. I guess it may have been technically possible to create a surface treatment to make it white, but it would surely have been a major headache to match the 2 shades of white? And having previously spent time ... 

I gotcha there on the crown getting dirty :) [nt]

 By: BluNotte : December 7th, 2011-16:19
No message body

Outstanding Rob! Many thanks and dont be too harsh on yourself

 By: 219 : December 7th, 2011-05:44
with the picture quality. Looks great and the watch definitely has more 'pop' to both the look and the depth of the movement. Have to say that is typical Richard as he always looks to improve the watch. Thanks again Rob. Andrew H

Looks Great!

 By: Chris Agostino : December 7th, 2011-16:37
You can really see the difference between the yellowish white of the strap and the bright white of the case. Any interest in putting a black vented rubber strap on it Enjoy it! Chris


 By: amhh : December 10th, 2011-11:19

REALLY! Wow - and many congrats! Thanks for posting here and

 By: 219 : December 11th, 2011-01:34
enjoy wearing the watch - the mirror of the RM027 - and thanks for sharing with us all here. Andrew H


 By: BluNotte : December 11th, 2011-07:44
I think the best i can do is HEHE congrats you! Thanks for showing us what you can really do! Ciao Stephen

Bravo amhh!

 By: RobCH : December 12th, 2011-05:49
You are one of my role-models !

Fantastic post !

 By: cisco : December 11th, 2011-13:15
Thanks Andrew the Bubba Watson is along with the Nadal, the two recent masterpieces following a tradition of super technical pieces which makes RM so special.

Where'd those impact calculations come from?

 By: BDLJ : December 12th, 2011-19:30
They don't make much sense. Not that they need to, I chop wood wearing a mechanical watch all the time. This message has been edited by BDLJ on 2011-12-12 19:31:02

Fantastic post

 By: nautilus : January 3rd, 2012-05:34