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Richard Mille’s quest for innovation: hi-tech materials


Richard Mille timepieces are expensive, actually very expensive.

But in the case of Richard Mille products the high prices are not just the consequence of the exclusive image that the brand was able to create over the years.

In fact, the development and the production of these immediately recognisable watches involves a lot of research and high manufacturing costs.

Richard Mille’s quest for innovation can be noted in advanced mechanical engineering solutions and new production methodologies as well as in the use of unconventional and often unprecedented materials, which are the focus of this article.

Many of the advanced materials used for Richard Mille’s timepieces are drawn from the worlds of automobiles, aeronautics and sailing.


Developing and working on these materials is extremely challenging, requiring cutting edge machinery and expert operators to be manufactured.

Large corporations spend several years of development and invest impressive amounts of money to use these materials in the production of cars, airplanes or yachts. Now, imagine applying the same processes and technologies to the production of a 35-piece limited edition timepiece. It is easy to understand that huge investments like these on relatively small projects have an unavoidable impact on the final price of the product.

But the result is a product where exclusivity is not simply coming from the value of the brand but also from intrinsic values.

Let’s consider some of the materials that Richard Mille uses for its cases and movements and their main characteristics.



Titanium

Titanium is relatively common compared to other materials that can be found in Richard Mille timepieces but still one of the brand’s favourite because it is just as strong as steel but much less dense, which makes it extremely light.

The RM 67-01 model is an example of a timepiece whose case and part of the movement are crafted from Grade 5 titanium, which has excellent properties that combine strength with resistance to extreme temperatures and corrosion.




NTPT carbon

NTPT carbon is a composite material that was originally developed for the sails of racing yachts and then used also for F1 car chassis and in aeronautics with exceptional physical properties but also a truly unique appearance.



Once machined, NTPT composites have a top quality finish and a unique look with amazing shades and reflections that reminds us of high quality wood appearance.


The distinctive undulating pattern is due to the fact that it is composed by multiple layers of parallel filaments obtained by dividing carbon fibers.

These layers, with a maximum thickness of 30 microns, are impregnated with resin then woven on a special machine that modifies the direction of the weft by 45° between layers. After being heated to 120°C at a pressure of 6 bars, NTPT is then processed using special CNC machine in Richard Mille’s ProArt case factory.

NTPT stands for North Thin Ply Technology, the name of the Swiss company who patented this technology which improves the mechanical properties of composite materials. Compared to other composite materials, NTPT carbon is even more resistant and light improving the rate of occurrence of breaking stresses by 25% and of micro-cracks by 200%.

Among the others, NTPT carbon was used for the case of RM 35-01 Rafael Nadal model introduced in 2014.




TPT quartz

In partnership with long-term partner North Thin Ply Technology who patented the NTPT carbon that we described above, Richard Mille’s engineers have also developed TPT quartz, a new material composed of hundreds of layers of quartz filaments piled on top of each other.

No thicker than 45 microns, these silica layers are inserted between layers of NTPT carbon. The manufacturing process is similar to the one described above for NTPT carbon with the particularity that, in this case, the various layers of TPT quartz and NTPT carbon are revealed at random, ensuring that each machined component is visually unique.

This material is characterised by extreme strength, transparency to electromagnetic waves and exceptional resistance to high temperatures. Furthermore, it is non-allergenic, it does not yellow in sunlight (UV) and it is resistant to a range of chemicals that the watch could encounter during its lifetime.

NTPT's quartz won the Luxury category of the JEC World 2016 Innovation Awards which identify, promote and reward the most innovative composite solutions worldwide.

In the picture below,  detail of the Tourbillon RM 27-02 Rafael Nadal model whose bezel and solid case back are crafted from NTPT carbon/TPT quartz and attached to a revolutionary unibody baseplate in which the caseband and baseplate have been fused into a single piece supporting the bridges in Grade 5 titanium.




Gold NTPT carbon and Gold TPT quartz

Richard Mille also created watches with Gold NTPT carbon and Gold TPT quartz, two variations of the hi-tech materials described above where the layers of NTPT carbon and TPT quartz are alternated with dozens of gold leaf layers no thicker than 10 microns.



Presented for the first time in two models for Ladies - the RM 07-01 and the RM 037 - these materials enhance the resistance to shocks of the watches but also, or we should say in particular, their exclusivity. Looking completely different from anything else, these timepieces are instantly and easily recognised.




TZP-N black ceramic

TZP (Tetragonal Zirconia Polycrystal) is an ultra-tough black ceramic material with a beautiful matte finish which is pleasure to admire and touch. Its low density (6g per cm3) combines extreme resistance to scratches and corrosion with a very low coefficient of thermal conductivity. Another excellent characteristic, its surface allows for a perfect finish with brushing or microblasting and hand polished anglage.

We have recently seen this material in the RM 68-01 Tourbillon, a 30-piece limited edition painted by the graffiti artist Cyril Kongo.

In this model the asymmetric case, comprising an NTPT Carbon caseband with TZP-N black ceramic bezels, tapers in two directions, in thickness from 9 to 3 o’clock and in height between 12 and 6 o’clock.





ATZ white ceramic

ATZ stands for Alumina Toughened Zirconia, another ceramic material in a bright white colour. Highly scratch resistant, it is used for the RM 011 Le Mans Classic and several other models.




Carbon nanotubes

Richard Mille uses a special polymer injected with carbon nanotubes to protect the movement (and in particular delicate components like a tourbillon) from shocks.

Carbon nanotubes offer extreme strength (two hundred times stronger than steel). These miniature cylindrical carbon structures are capable of absorbing far stronger impacts than traditional carbon fiber due to their structure with its excellent surface-volume ratio.

Their name is derived from their size, since the diameter of a nanotube is on the order of a few nanometers (approximately 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair), while they can be up to several millimeters in length.

The monoblock case of the Tourbillon RM 27-01 Rafael Nadal was created by injection molding carbon nanotubes under high pressure into a grey anthracite polymer.

The result is a case that guarantees perfect resistance to shocks and scratches as well as absolute comfort thanks to the incredible lightness.




Carbon nanofibers

Richard Mille also utilises high-density carbon nanofibers to construct the baseplate of some movements.


Carbon nanofibers are created under 740 bars and a temperature of 2,000 C, a process which makes the thermally insensitive, highly stable and resistant to shocks. Thanks to these properties and to exceptional strength and lightness, a baseplate crafted from carbon nanofibers helps obtaining excellent chronometric results for tourbillon based movements.


On the other hand, manufacturing such baseplate is challenging and expensive because it is extremely difficult to cut and drill with the accuracy required for watchmaking.



The development of complex components made from these high-tech materials in such small volumes is only possible through in-house production. Richard Mille demonstrates a rare capability to innovate in this area through research and development, long-term partnerships and the creation of state-of-the-art manufacturing sites.

This continued focus on innovation has proved to be a strong and effective way for Richard Mille to differentiate  itself while also tracing a path for other brands to follow in experimenting with novel materials.
Name

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Time and Watches: Richard Mille’s quest for innovation: hi-tech materials
Richard Mille’s quest for innovation: hi-tech materials
Richard Mille Innovation. Hi-tech materials. Richard Mille’s quest for innovation can be noted in advanced mechanical engineering solutions and new production methodologies as well as in the use of unconventional and often unprecedented materials, which are the focus of this article. Titanium. NTPT carbon. TPT quartz. Gold NTPT carbon. Gold TPT quartz. TZP-N black ceramic. ATZ white ceramic. Carbon nanotubes.
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