Belgian chanteur Jacques Brel had a song about bringing his sweetheart candies because they’re just “so delicious”. Richard Mille has taken this message to heart with its latest Bonbon collection, a mouthwatering array of lollipops, marshmallows, sugar canes and candied fruit packed into ten limited editions of 30 pieces each, with four “flavours” in the Sweets line and six in the Fruit line. As is often the case with Richard Mille, fans are hailing this latest collection as a stroke of genius and drooling at the idea of fastening one of these treats to their wrist. Rumour has it that virtually all 300 pieces have been gobbled up already, pace all those who were quick to poke fun at this watchmaking whimsy.
The women in the family
Something no-one is poking fun at is the extraordinary success of a brand that has made a signature out of extreme solutions. “We may be a young brand, no-one has more technical experience than us!” claims Richard Mille, who with friend Dominique Guenat founded the namesake brand in 2001. These extreme solutions in terms of movements and materials, matched by a surgically honed aesthetic, have worked wonders thus far, as financial results for 2018 demonstrate. The brand ended the year with revenue in excess of CHF 300 million (CHF 260 million in 2017) after producing 4,600 watches (4,000 the previous year). This year’s target: 5,200. “We have an excellent dynamic,” explained Mille in an interview to Swiss financial daily, L’Agefi. “While we’re increasing production by 15% a year, demand is growing at a higher rate. The average retail price of our watches is above CHF 200,000. This puts us in a market segment whose limits are hard to define and for which there are no precise statistics.”
Richard Mille's women's watches have everything it takes to be first across the finish line and dazzle at the winners' cocktail after.
Even if the brand has no intention of allowing demand to dictate production, it has every means of maintaining its highly enviable 15% growth rate over the long term. “Richard Mille is a sought-after brand because we treat it with respect, and because there is a genuine coherency to our strategy,” continues Mille. “We intend to carry on with a high level of creativity, limited production and selective distribution.” First off, the women’s segment has been a focus of attention in recent months. With production in the region of 900 watches a year, it currently accounts for around 25% of the brand’s sales and continues to grow. True to form, the brand has welcomed world-class women athletes into its “family”, including the Czech snowboarder and alpine skier Ester Ledecká and the Ukrainian high-jumper Yuliya Levchenko, to prove that its women’s watches have everything it takes to be first across the finish line and dazzle at the winners’ cocktail after. Design-wise, artistic director Cécile Guenat has been in charge since last year. After triumphing with the Talisman collection, “her” Bonbon watches delighted visitors at January’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.
Art is a matter of precision
As its second option, the brand is further developing its ties with the art world, and just announced a three-year partnership deal with Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art space in Paris and the largest centre for contemporary and experimental artistic creation in Europe. “Ultimately, we make objects that coincide with the notion of art in the aesthetic and etymological sense of the word,” commented Mille in the January issue of Entreprendre magazine. “When a customer acquires a Mille watch, they are purchasing an artwork of which only a small number exist.” In keeping with this vision, the brand can already list a deal with Frieze contemporary art platform, which has fairs in London, New York and Los Angeles, alongside collaborations with the choreographer Benjamin Millepied and the street artist Kongo. It also bought Editions Cercle d’Art, a publishing house founded by Pablo Picasso. To be a disruptive force in fine watchmaking, as Richard Mille can be, is to be “inventive”, in the words of the Palais de Tokyo team when announcing the partnership, adding that “working with art is also a matter of precision!”.
Last but not least, selective distribution, where there are still many untapped opportunities for growth. The brand is in the process of pulling out of multi-brand retailers – there are still around twenty that represent it – in favour of its own boutiques. By the end of the year, Richard Mille watches will only be sold at the forty-some Richard Mille stores. The latest to date is also the biggest, extending over 390 sq. m. (4,200 sq. ft.) in the heart of Manhattan and, according to Richard Mille, already smashing records. Don’t expect a rush of openings though, given that the brand can barely keep pace with demand as it is. In the medium term, Beijing, Boston, Washington, even Dallas, Houston and Kobe are on the radar – bearing in mind that at the present time Richard Mille has just one boutique in China, Latin America is only partially covered, and Africa, Eastern Europe and India not at all.