RM50-03 Split-Second Tourbillon Chronograph: Richard Mille, McLaren combine material science, cars and timekeeping in one watch

Currently the lightest chronograph in the world of watchmaking, Richard Mille has certainly upped the ante in the game for its competitors.

Jan 25, 2017 | By Staff Writer

For the new Richard Mille RM 50-03 McLaren F1, which just so happens to be a split-seconds chronograph with tourbillon, the firm even uses a first-of-its-kind material. The WOW team handled the actual watch in Geneva at the SIHH 2017 and can safely report that it is as mind-boggling as it looks. It will also divide opinions, particularly its weight, but that is ok since it is limited to just 75 pieces. Each one is accompanied by a miniature model of the McLaren-Honda racing car that was driven by Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. Wonder what makes this timepiece, with a 70-hour power reserve, so special? Well, we’ll get right to it.

Alongside carbon TPT, Richard Mille also uses graphene to create a timepiece that boasts ‘outstanding mechanical performance’. The ingenious material called graphene is an allotrope of carbon that is effectively two-dimensional; it is in the form of hexagonal lattices and represents the structure of well-known materials such as graphite and charcoal. It was first (re)discovered in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, an achievement that earned them the Nobel Prize six years later. With a little help from the University of Manchester, McLaren Applied Technologies and North Thin Ply Technology (TPT stands for thin ply technology), the Swiss watchmaker was soon able to craft a timepiece that weighs in at only 40 grams; this weight reportedly includes the strap so this might indeed be the lightest mechanical chronograph in the world.

Also known as the Graph TPT, graphene is, for the moment, exclusive to Richard Mille and is said to be six times lighter than steel yet 200 times stronger; graphene itself is famously 200 times the strength of the best and strongest steel. Graph TPT also makes an appearance in the rubber strap where the nano-martial is used to increase the elasticity and resistance to wear.

Graphene is in fact so remarkable that McLaren Honda is looking to include this into its cars for the Grand-Prix as early as the coming 2017 season; the material is already in use in batteries, semiconductors and electronics. Back to the watch though, the materials are compiled in an appropriately distinctive way. First, the Carbon TPT is made from 600 layers of parallel filaments before being infused with a super-charged resin that contains graphene. With the help of a CNC machine, the orientation of the fibres is shifted by 45 degrees between the layers. Next, it is heated at a temperature of 120 degrees Celsius after which McLaren Applied technologies conducts various control and validation tests. The final result is a three-part case that features a seven-gram movement with extreme skeletonised components.

The Carbon TPT is also used to create the traverse cage that takes its inspiration from the wishbone suspension of the McLaren Formula One car. This cage is fixed to the case band that then supports the RM50-03 calibre and eliminates the casing ring, which is responsible for helping the timepiece withstand shock loadings. Other elements of the McLaren Formula One cars are seen in the pushers that are reminiscent of the air intakes of the race car. As a bonus, they handled quite nicely in the version shown at the SIHH.

With a cool price tag of USD$980,000, it will only be made available in Richard Mille boutiques. For those who see it as just another run of the mill Richard Mille (pun not intended) timepiece, the amount of time and effort spent on incorporating the graphene and the unique design that the material seems to justify the cost. If nothing else, a watch that marks the entry of graphene into watchmaking is worth considering. Graphene is certainly going to find ever greater applications, even in watchmaking so you might just be looking at Patient Zero, so-to-speak right here.

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