As he smashed his way into a record 13th win at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal probably expected this year’s tournament to be a special one—it would be his his 999th career win. The Spanish tennis player currently places at world number two, and won his first French Open at the tender age of 19—that was in 2005. This year he took home the trophy once again, biting on it for the million-dollar shot as he always does, after facing arch-rival Novak Djokovic in the finals.
Bounding all over the court dressed in powder blue, custom Nikes featuring a bite-mark on the swoosh, and accessorising with coral pink sweat bands, Nadal really stood out against the burnt-orange of the clay court. Even his watch—a new million-dollar Richard Mille tourbillon—was colour-coordinated to this outfit.
Nadal is one of the very few tennis players in the world crazy enough to be wearing a watch on the court. It’s seriously crazy if you think about it: why would one of the world’s top champions choose to encumber his wrist with a watch (of all things) on the court at a Grand Slam tournament? Other than a bold fashion statement, it makes no sense.
Unless said watch could actually keep up with the aggressive baseliner’s powerful serves and almost brutal forehand. Though he’s a left-handed player and thus wears the watch on his right wrist, there are points in the game where he goes for a two-handed fore or backhand. And that’s when the watch—a tourbillon, no less—gets put through the ultimate stress test.
But here’s the thing. Despite the pretty baby blue strap and fancy case with exposed spline screws accented in pops of red, the RM27-04 is actually built like a fortress, albeit an ultralight one. It’s the fifth Richard Mille tourbillon developed in collaboration with Nadal and is built to resist accelerations of up to 12,000g’s, which is the greatest of any watch by Richard Mille to date.
Also making a debut in the RM27-04 is the new case made of TitaCarb, the latest in Richard Mille’s stable of ultra-high performance materials. With a mix of sandblasted and polished surfaces, this state-of-the-art polyamide has been reinforced with a 38.5 per cent carbon fibre content, which provides a boost in tensile strength—370 megapascals, which is almost like steel (400MPa.)
And it’s not enough just to case the watch in one of the most resistant polymers in the world; the movement architecture also needs to be thoroughly rethought. Although Richard Mille didn’t have to look very far for inspiration.
“When I’m on court, Richard and I have one very clear aim: to make sure every piece is extremely light and fits my wrist perfectly. These two features are essential, and the teams have been able to provide them, while also creating watches that are amazingly resistant, because tennis can involve very violent arm and wrist movements.” —Rafael Nadal
The RM27-04’s movement is suspended within the case and entirely supported by a micro-blasted mesh just 855 square millimetres in surface. All of it is constructed from a single braided steel cable measuring just 0.27mm in diameter, held in place by two tensioners in PVD-treated 5N gold. Whether seen from the front or the back, it reminds one of the strings of a tennis racket.
Completely unprecedented in watchmaking, the cable wires are an evolution of an idea already introduced in an earlier Rafael Nadal limited edition, the RM27-01. Here, the watchmaker anchors the steel cable to one tensioner and creates the mesh, tying each of the main strings before adding the cross strings. Weaving above and below the main strings, the cable passes 38 times through the hollow bezel before finishing in a tensioner positioned at 10 o’clock.
The movement is secured diagonally and connected to the mesh by five grade 5 polished and 5N gold PVD-coated titanium hooks.
Says Nadal, “After 10 years of partnership, and having spent time with Richard’s teams, I’m still fascinated by the talent, passion and unrelenting quest for excellence that are the hallmarks of the brand. Only a few people in the world are capable of achieving such a level of technical prowess.”
Nadal’s fiery spirit also pushes Richard Mille to continually innovate. Since the first limited edition RM027 in 2010, it’s been nothing but a series of highs as the watchmaker raises the bar for high performance timepieces.
Here’s a look at some of the most memorable models created over the years.
The first watch ever created for Nadal, RM027 symbolises Richard Mille’s victory in his battle against every superfluous gram. Its skeletonised movement in titanium and LITAL® weighs only 3.38 grams. Nadal won three Grand Slams in 2011 wearing this watch.
The RM 035 adapts to all weathers and all conditions. Its calibre, a skeletonised, manual-winding movement weighing only 4.3 grams, can resist accelerations of more than 5,000 g’s and is the first collection to be Chronofiable® certified.
The lightest tourbillon watch ever made (18.83 grams, including the Velcro® strap), RM 27-01 is nonetheless able to resist shocks of more than 5,000 g’s. Its movement, suspended by four micro-cables, is a genuine technical and aesthetic feat. Nadal won Roland-Garros and the US Open that year.
“I wasn’t at all sure I could wear a watch while I was playing a match, I worried that it would affect my game. Richard came to my home, in Majorca, and made me try on a watch, saying: ‘This is the model we created especially for you.’ The watch was made of platinum, so it was very heavy. I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t realise he was just pulling my leg. And when I tried on the real watch, I was really surprised, because I felt comfortable with it straight away, much more so than I had dared to hope. We were on the same wavelength and we shared the same goal: to enable me to play with a watch that was as fully adapted to my discipline as possible.” —Rafael Nadal
The very first watch to have a case made of Carbon TPT®, thus it is even more durable, and extremely comfortable to wear. Its skeletonised movement evokes the spirit of RM27-01.
Mille unveiled the world’s first skeletonised ‘unibody’ baseplate, in Carbon TPT®. RM 27-02 fused the caseband and baseplate into a single piece, eliminating the need for fixings between the two components. Inspired by the principles of a racing car chassis, the solution improves rigidity and resilience to shock.
RM 35-02 is the first model in the Rafael Nadal collection to possess an automatic calibre. This would have been impossible without an absolute certainty, and extensive testing, that the rotor could not be dislodged by a violent shock. The model also focuses on aesthetics, offering a choice of either Carbon TPT® or a red Quartz TPT® with streaks of white.
With its striking yellow and red case, a tribute to Rafael Nadal’s homeland, the RM 27-03 is no wallflower. Its skeletonised unibody baseplate in Carbon TPT®, which can resist shocks of up to 10,000 g’s, provides a guarantee of near-indestructability. Nadal scored his tenth Roland-Garros win that year.