At the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH 2012) luxury watch show last week, seventeen brands showed off hundreds of new timepieces; but only one was the most talked about piece of the fair. The Richard Mille Tourbillon Split Seconds RM 056 Felipe Masse Sapphire. The RM Sapphire features the typical high-tech, skeletonized Richard Mille movement, but with a never before seen sapphire crystal watch case.
A sapphire crystal is a 9 on the mohs hardness scale, whereas a diamond is 10, so the case will not be prone to scratching. However, due to the makeup of sapphire, it is extremely brittle. If you drop this watch on the ground, the case could easily shatter.
The RM 056 movement is based on the characteristics of the RMCC1 caliber. It is a manual winding tourbillon movement with hours, minutes, split-seconds chronograph, power reserve and torque and function indicators.
To offset the additional weight of the sapphire case, the movement weight was reduced by 20%, requiring more than 400 new parts. The baseplate is skeletonized and uses grade 5 titanium for strength and lightness. A fast rotating winding barrel, balance with variable inertia, function indicator, torque indicator and split seconds mechanism with improved performance are only a small selection of what the Richard Mille engineers did to create this extraordinary watch, a cutting edge timepiece.
“A unique evolution of this tourbillon split seconds Chrono Competition RM 056 Felipe Massa is that its entire case -front bezel, caseband and back bezel- is cut and milled from solid blocks of sapphire, a feat of engineering and a strong visual statement. The production of this sapphire structure took years of research and testing in order to ensure an adequate response to the demands of strength and comfort. This is the first time that such a complex case design has been realized in this material. Sapphire is known as a particularly scratch-resistant material and one of the hardest materials on Earth, with a Mohs rating of 9.0. Made of aluminium oxide (Al2O3) crystals, it is transparent thanks to its molecular composition.
The machining of such components was the biggest challenge faced by Richard Mille, a challenge made all the more difficult as the sapphire machining process is exceptionally delicate. Although extremely tough, sapphire does not allow for even the slightest error during milling and cutting. Creating a case of this quality took over 1000 hours of machining, of which 430 hours were spent on pre-forming the case components and 350 hours on polishing the whole watch case. The cutting tools must be specially designed and tipped with diamond.
For excellent optical properties, bezel case parts have been treated with an anti-glare coating. The tripartite case is water resistant to 50 meters, ensured by two Nitril O-ring seals. The case is assembled with 20 Spline screws in grade 5 titanium and abrasion resistant washers in 316L stainless steel.”
The Sapphire crystal is available in a limited edition of only five pieces; and unsurprisingly, all are sold. The price is $1.65 million.