The combination of greased-up hands, the hum of the engine and the smell of gasoline is enough to take me to paradise. That cars are my world is difficult to overstate. But on the dock of Gustavia Harbour, as I watch the yachts sail away, I now know that pleasure is found in other forms of transport.
It’s fishing day, and the ocean is calm. The schooner gently bobs up and down on the lapping waves. I am eighteen years old, and for the first time in my life, I am on board a boat. A surge of seasickness grips my stomach, and the absence of a swell is almost worse than its presence. At this point, heaven for me could be summed up in four letters: L.A.N.D.
I am an inexperienced sailor. Others might be veritable sea dogs, but I strive simply to stand on two feet. Add to that my preference for wheels as opposed to waves, and a roaring passion for technology, and there you have my life in a nutshell. At the age of eighteen, my life was a blank page. I studied marketing in Besançon before beginning my career at Matra Hologerie. I fine-tuned watches for the explorer Jean-Louis Etienne and the astronaut Jean-Loup Chrétien. I liked the work, but it seemed to me as though commercial agents penalized the development of timepieces. That was my Eureka moment: one day, I vowed to create my very own brand. In the meantime, I cut my teeth at Mauboussin. Here I met Renaud and Papi, manufacturers specializing in the development of complications, and who were one day to become my business partners.
2001 was the year of my renaissance. It was then that I launched my brand, and laid the foundations of the RM 001. Like Facebook for social media and Airbnb for vacation rentals, Richard Mille arrived at precisely the right moment. With its innovative materials, cutting-edge techniques and prestigious partners, the brand became something of a peculiarity in the watchmaking industry. As our influence gained weight, our complex mechanisms became lighter.
I’m very much drawn to the idea of wandering off the beaten track, of imagining futurist designs, using new materials—such as carbon nanofibers—or creating a sort of labyrinth at the heart of a mechanism, inviting the client to lose themselves in its complexity. My watches are produced in the quintessentially Swiss village of Breuleux, characterized by silence, cows, and the Richard Mille production plant on its industrial park. It’s difficult to imagine a world more distant from that of my watches, which straddle the realms of aeronautics and architecture.
Juggling paradoxes is the story of my life. So when, in 2009, my friend François Tolède launched the Voiles de St-Barth, and asked me to be the principal sponsor, I agreed, although nothing predisposed me to accept. Richard Mille is closer on paper to the automotive world than to sailing, but I don’t rule anything out. I have been a partner since its inception, and it has led to the clear orientation of several collections towards the maritime. The brand has never been more involved in the nautical sphere than in 2015, when it unveiled its first model dedicated to high-sea navigation, the RM 60-04 Regatta Flyback Chronograph. This was the watch won by the crew of Rambler 88, led by the American George David after taking cumulative pole position in the Maxi 1 and 2 races in this April’s Voiles de Saint-Barth.
Sometimes, life is turned upside down. At 18, I would have given anything not to be on that boat that made my stomach lurch. A few decades later, I tend to be soothed by the rolling ocean. It must be a question of vocabulary. I was made to weigh anchor and head out to sea.