One comes from the world of fast cars, the other from haute horlogerie. But French racing giant Jean Todt and Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille both hold a high regard for impeccable engineering and precision performance.
While professions may set them apart, the camaraderie between both men is hardly surprising. Mille is, after all, a well-known collector of fast cars and automotive memorabilia and Todt is one of motorsport’s most recognisable names. But it was really the 71-year-old’s son Nicolas who brought about this friendship, when he introduced Todt to Richard Mille’s fantastical world of avant-garde timepieces. The rest, as we know, is history.
“Richard has become a friend; he’s a part of the family. He’s a creative genius who has succeeded in doing something with technology that no one had mastered until now,” says Todt of the watchmaker, before singling out the example of the technical breakthrough Richard Mille achieved with its Rafael Nadal timepieces, which are fitted with a tourbillon of a mere 18.83g.
As much as Mille is a master of his trade, so is Todt. His achievements over the years in the automobile industry are as impressive as the horological marvels Mille produces. Calling him a motorsport legend would hardly be an understatement. The Frenchman, who is president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), started out in the industry as a professional rally co-driver before becoming Director of Peugeot Talbot Sport in 1982. Following an illustrious stint at the motorsport team, Todt went on to run Scuderia Ferrari for over 15 years, before leaving his post as a board member to take up his current role in 2009.
It is befitting that Richard Mille debuted a timekeeper bearing Todt’s name in 2012: The RM 036 Tourbillon G-Sensor Jean Todt. Drawing on Todt’s involvement with the FIA Action for Road Safety, Mille set out to craft a watch that would offer a tangible solution to road safety issues. As such, he worked with Todt and his team to develop a mechanism to help interpret physical constraints experienced by the human body due to rapid deceleration, in order to make drivers become more aware of the dangers on the road.
Developed and patented by Renaud Papi exclusively for Richard Mille, the G-sensor system comprises over 50 parts but measures a mere 17mm. It translates the movement of a small internal mechanism into an indicator that visually displays the number of G’s accumulated by the wearer, on a scale on the dial. This scale also features a colour range, which indicates if the deceleration is safe (green zone) or unsafe (red). Only 15 units were produced for this watch, which was officially unveiled at an FIA awards ceremony in Istanbul, with sales profits going towards two initiatives closest to Todt’s heart: The FIA Action for Road Safety global campaign, and the ICM Brain and Spine Institute.
Its success led Richard Mille to release a second ticker in the man’s honour soon after. The RM 58-01 World Timer Jean Todt alludes to Todt’s hectic travel schedule and features a world time function with 24 time zones on its dial. Interestingly, unlike most other time zone watches, RM 58-01 does not require the pressing of a pusher to switch between time zones. Instead, the time is set by simply rotating the bezel anti-clockwise and shifting the name of the current city at the 12 o’clock position. Furthermore, a 24-hour scale engraved on the flange is split into white and black to indicate day and night hours respectively. Its impressive 10-day power reserve also makes this timepiece especially handy for frequent travellers. Only 35 pieces of this watch was released.
To mark Todt’s 50th year in motorsport, Richard Mille turned out not one — but three timepieces in his honour. The trilogy is headlined by the RM 056 Jean Todt 50th Anniversary, a visually arresting model featuring a completely transparent case machined from a single block of solid sapphire crystal. Sapphire crystal is not easy to work with, hence every case took more than 1,000 hours to create, with nearly 430 hours spent on grinding it to the desired shape and another 350 hours to polish it to a high shine. Fitted with a manual winding calibre RMCC1, this skeletonised timekeeper also offers a split-seconds chronograph function and is regulated by a one-minute tourbillon. Also on its dial is a power display (the watch has a reserve of about 70 hours) and a torque indicator that supplies information about the mainspring’s tension. Only three units of this timepiece will be available.
There is also the RM 050 Jean Todt 50th Anniversary, which bears a TPT Quartz case in blue, Todt’s favourite colour. Extremely light yet robust, its chassis is derived from stacking 600 layers of silica, each about 45 microns thick, which is then injected with blue resin and heated at over 120 deg Celsius. Like RM 056, this is powered by the RMCC1 calibre, although it is 20 percent lighter (9.5g, to be exact) due to an extremely skeletonised baseplate and bridges, and ultra-lightweight materials such as carbon nanofibre and titanium. The watch comes in only five pieces.
Rounding up the collection is the RM 11-03 Flyback Chronograph Jean Todt 50th Anniversary, first presented at the brand’s Chantilly Art & Elegance festival last year. Inspired by automobiles and their rich histories, it is equipped with an automatic flyback chronograph. At the 12 o’clock position is an oversized semi-instantaneous date display window that offers an automatic adjustment for months of 30 or 31 days. Powered by twin barrels, the timepiece offers up to 55 hours of reserve. All this is housed within the same blue TPT Quartz case as the RM 050 Jean Todt 50th Anniversary. It will be produced in 150 pieces only.
As they say, legends are made, not born. And watches like these provide admirers opportunity and reason to cherish and relive the journey to greatness.