The coming together of Giants

This article first appeared in Options, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on April 25, 2022 - May 01, 2022.
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Richard Mille and Rafael Nadal’s meeting a decade and a half ago was written in the stars. United by a commitment to excellence in all aspects of their lives, the duo’s partnership has been immortalised in a series of design and performance-driven timepieces that reflect the enduring nature of their union. The ultimate expression of their collaboration? The new RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal, fitted with a patented butterfly rotor that is equal parts playful and practical

It was in 2010 that Rafael Nadal and Richard Mille began to write history together. When they first met two years prior, Nadal would not even consider wearing a watch during his matches. More than a decade later, as each of them pushes the boundaries of his discipline ever further, their partnership has seen the birth of several exceptional models.

“From the beginning, I fell in love with this brand and the people who represent it,” says Nadal. “We both strive for excellence in our respective fields. Richard has been very successful, but he has remained a humble, relaxed and approachable person. We speak the same language ... Both of us are equally passionate about our work. Keeping the passion for what we do every day intact is essential for me. Even if I don’t wear the models from the RM 035 collection in competition, it is always a pleasure to feel the trust that he and the teams show in me by allowing me to contribute to this adventure.”

Richard Mille shares a similar sentiment for his old friend, saying, “Rafa and I are linked for life. We are together, rain or shine. It’s more than just watchmaking: it’s life!”

The fruit of this partnership, that has developed into a solid friendship over the years, has grown into the RM 027 collection — watches Nadal wears on the courts — and the RM 035 series, all of which feature treasured timepieces symbolising the perpetual quest for innovation both men share. The latest model to be unveiled, the RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal, once again offers proof by example of an enduring relationship, but which also expresses a sense of playfulness, creativity and technical excellence so typical of the man and the maison.

Inspired by the collection of RM 027 tourbillon watches worn by Nadal on the tennis courts, the

RM 035 collection — often referred to as “baby Nadal” watches — have been designed as a concentration of technology at the service of performance and those who deliver it, to be worn without moderation and without compromise. The RM 35-03 demonstrates this same thirst for innovation, expressed as constant improvements to the horological drivetrain.

The fourth watch in the RM 035 Collection, this timepiece inaugurates a new winding mechanism christened the butterfly rotor. This patented invention hands direct control of the automatic movement’s winding to the wearer. It is a new way to stay in touch with your watch under all circumstances. After all, at Richard Mille, the watch has always been considered a practical accessory that should be useful and totally reliable, whatever its owner may be doing. Inspired by the collection of RM 027 tourbillon watches worn by Nadal whilst in play, the RM 035 Collection of baby Nadal watches has been designed as a concentration of technology at the service of performance and those who deliver it.

Richard Mille engineers achieved this by focusing on the movement’s winding mechanism. The RM 35-02, with its RMAL1 calibre, already incorporated the manufacture’s patented variable-geometry rotor, a signature feature of Richard Mille’s automatic movements. With the RM35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal, the firm’s engineers revolutionised the notion of variable geometry with a complication that is in equal measure playful and practical.

The variable-geometry rotor makes it possible to adjust the calibre’s winding speed to a wearer’s level of activity. Positioning the rotor’s two vanes towards the periphery modifies the inertia of the oscillating weight by displacing its centre of gravity, which has the effect of speeding up the barrel’s winding, useful if the wearer is not very active. Conversely, winding is slowed when the two vanes are positioned near the rotor’s axis, in the event of intense sports activity. However, any modification to the rotor’s geometry must be made by an accredited watchmaker.

“We wanted to optimise this system by giving the wearer the chance to directly control the winding of their watch,” explains Salvador Arbona, Richard Mille’s technical director for movements. “Just like a driver can adapt the responsiveness of the car to suit urban use or boost performance on the track by deactivating or activating the sport mode.”

In automatic-winding movements, once the spring has been fully wound by the rotation of the oscillating weight, the bridle affixed to one end slides along the inside wall of the barrel to prevent harmful overwinding. “The less this bridle comes into play, the more we extend the life of the barrel and its spring,” says Arbona. “Obviously, however, this principle is for naught if the rotor continues to turn at full speed when the watch is worn by someone practising a sport. Reflecting on this put us on the track that led to the butterfly rotor.”

Technically, the new butterfly rotor is an extension of the variable-geometry rotor. It consists of two arms in Grade 5 titanium bearing weight segments made of heavy metal, activated by an independent gear train that is controlled by a push-piece. In their initial positions, the weights cause a radial displacement of the centre of gravity towards the periphery, which generates the torque required to wind the barrel from every movement.

At a press of the push-piece at 7 o’clock, the gear train fans out the two weights to 180°, bringing the centre of gravity to the rotor’s axis. With the two weights cancelling each other out, the balanced rotor loses its power to wind the watch. When passing from one mode to the other — from the normal mode that winds the mainspring to the sport mode which suspends the rotor’s activity — the function responds to pressure applied to the push-piece with haptic feedback that lets the wearer feel the unfolding of the two weights in the wrist.

In addition, a winding indicator located at 6 o’clock on the dial makes it possible to see whether the oscillating weight is active (ON) or not (OFF). A function selector, located at 2 o’clock, completes the movement’s control system. With a press of the pusher at 2 o’clock, the user passes from winding (W) to the neutral position (N) and to time-setting (H).

The exterior of the RM 35-03 perfectly complements these technical criteria with its elegant and ergonomic aesthetic. Available in two versions — blue Quartz TPT with a caseband in white Quartz TPT or white Quartz TPT and Carbon TPT with caseband in Carbon TPT — the model has recesses like those of the RM 27-04 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal. Fully skeletonised, the movement can be admired from both sides through its front and back sapphire crystals.

The Grade 5 titanium, baseplate and bridges, of highly stylised design, are treated with grey electroplasma and PVD to accentuate the watch’s visual characteristics. The open-worked hands point towards a flange also made of micro-blasted Grade 5 titanium, punctuated with the numerals 3, 6, 9 and 12, which slant inwards to create depth. This elegant exterior highlights the technical aspects of the RM 35-03 Rafael Nadal.

“This new function, which you can actually feel in the wrist when the two weights instantly unfold on activation by means of the push-piece, has given rise to a truly innovative approach to the watch,” says Arbona. “The styling of the case, the transparency of the movement ... in this RM 35-03 which, in technical terms, represents a major step forward in the RM 035 collection, all the characteristics typical of Richard Mille are to be found.”