To say Rafael Nadal is a gifted athlete is an understatement. As a young boy, he was equally adept at football and tennis. At age 12, he was forced by his father to make the painful decision to choose between football and tennis. He chose to pursue the latter. Three years later, he turned professional. By 17, he had his first one-on-one success against Roger Federer.
In 2005, barely past his 18th birthday, Nadal reigned supreme in clay courts worldwide, smashing his opponents into submission and winning 24 consecutive singles matches along the way to breaking Andre Agassi’s Open Era record of consecutive match wins for a male teenager.
When the decade was crying out for a worthy challenger to the all-conquering Federer, it was Nadal who usurped the top-seeded Federer at the semi-final game of the French Open. The score? 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. But Nadal didn’t stop there. He went on to win the final and was crowned the French Open men’s singles champion. The victory was his first career Grand Slam title. A more remarkable feat was that the entry into the French Open was the first time Nadal had participated in the tournament.
Subsequently, Nadal earned the moniker “The King of Clay” after coming out on top numerous times in tournaments such as the French Open and the Monte Carlo Masters. He dominated and outlasted his competitors on the dusty surfaces. However, the accolade was seen as somewhat of a backhanded compliment. Early in his career, he would defeat his fiercest rivals on clay courts only to come second best to the same contestants on other surfaces. But Nadal was determined to evolve to become a well-rounded player, drawing upon his fortitude and inner strength.
It was evident that he was never short of talent and that it was not the impediment that was stopping him from taking the next step to conquering grass and hard courts; it was about technique and experience adapting to the demands of playing on them.
In the Wimbledon final of 2008, finally, he was not to be denied as he trumped Federer in five sets, winning his first grass court Grand Slam title. He then became the first man to win Grand Slam titles on clay, grass and hard courts in the same year in 2010 when he clean swept the French Open, the Wimbledon and the US Open singles titles.
Standing firm in the face of adversity is what Nadal has done throughout his career. He has had to defeat greats like Federer to cement his spot in the tennis folklore. This is a noble trait shared by watchmaker Richard Mille. Despite only founded in 1999, what Richard Mille lacks in history, it makes up the ground through unwavering boldness and innovative spirit.
Within its portfolio are innovative materials such as Quartz TPT, Graph TPT, NTPT, among others. They are used not just for the sake of showcasing its savoir-faire but to increase the watches’ durability in all conditions. That has contributed tremendously to its respected standing today. Richard Mille is dubbed the secret billionaire’s handshake because it commands appreciation and recognition among serious watch collectors.
Their collective story started in 2008 when Richard Mille himself was introduced to Nadal through a mutual friend. Although they immediately got on, watch was not Nadal’s passion, much less wearing one during a match.
“But when Mille proposed to make me a watch that was light, robust and comfortable, I was interested in his initiative, although I was reluctant to wear it on the court!” recalls Nadal. “He came to my house in Majorca and we were on the same wavelength. As soon as I tried the watch, I loved it. It was like a second skin for me.”
“But the relationship between Mille and myself is more than just a watchmaking partnership,” Nadal explains before adding, “he is a really positive person and wants to drive the watchmaking industry forward, not just sit back and enjoy his success.”
“He seeks excellence, which I respect. In tennis, I always try to be better and I work hard for that. Richard Mille has also been working alongside me for several years to support the Rafa Nadal Foundation, which helps disadvantaged children and teenagers,” says Nadal.
The RM 027 Tourbillon introduced in 2010 marked Richard Mille’s first entry into tennis. The watch was worn by Nadal on court. In order to provide Nadal with the same mobility and without constraining his movement, the watch had to be made as lightweight, robust and durable as possible. The movement’s baseplate of the RM 027 Tourbillon is made from titanium and Lital alloy, a high lithium content alloy containing aluminium, copper, magnesium and zirconium. The Lital alloy is used in the construction of the chassis of an F1 race car as well as the body of a Eurofighter.
The following year, RM 035 Rafael Nadal was introduced and its claim to fame was that it was the first Richard Mille watch to achieve the Chronofiable Certified status. The Chronofiable test was developed in the ‘80s by the Centre de Contrôle de la Fiabilité de L’Horlogerie Suisse. The test was devised to expose timepieces to an accelerated ageing test simulating over 21 days, equivalent to six months of effective wear. Moreover, the case is from an extremely rugged and light alloy called magnesium-aluminium, before it was given an electro-plasma oxidation treatment, leading to a watch case that boasts improved hardness, scratch resistance and anti-corrosion properties.
In 2013, the Tourbillon RM 27-01 Rafael Nadal was released. The watch can resist accelerations of over 5,000Gs without detriment to any aspect of its performance despite weighing only 19g. For its case, carbon was chosen.
The RM 35-01 Rafael Nadal issued in 2014 was among the first Richard Mille watches to utilise NTPT carbon as the preferred material of its watch case. This high-tech material consists of multiple layers of woven carbon filaments with an average thickness of 30 microns, stacked with a change of fibre orientation equalling 45 degrees between every two successive layers, making the case extra rigid as well as visually appealing. In addition, the RMUL3 calibre was also tested under extreme conditions where the movement was subjected to shock tests of over 5,000Gs.
In the run-up to the 114th French Open in 2015, Richard Mille unveiled the RM 27-02 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal which housed the manufacture’s first skeletonised baseplate known as “unibody”, in which the caseband and the baseplate were fused into a single piece, removing the need to attach the two components together.
With every iteration, there is always a technological breakthrough to look forward to. Hence, after nine years of a fruitful relationship, comes the birth of RM 27-03 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal, limited to only 50 pieces worldwide. The watch is not just an embodiment of technical mastery but also of aesthetic excellence.
The colour scheme of the RM 27-03 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal, with the striking red and yellow hues of its Quartz TPT case, pays homage to Nadal native country, Spain. The intense burst of colour is achieved by impregnating fine layers of silica just 45 microns thick with tinted resin according to a proprietary process developed in Switzerland that stacks the filaments in layers before heating them to 120°C.
When it comes to releasing a new shade of Quartz TPT, achieving colour stability compliant with Reach standards while resolving issues of biocompatibility and durability represents a tremendous display of prowess on the part of the engineers at Richard Mille and North Thin Ply Technology (NTPT). And once the composite is produced, there remain many hours of milling and finishing operations to produce the case and components.
The quartz fibres used in this case, which is water resistant to 50m, offer a very advantageous strength/weight ratio, as well as being anallergic and highly resistant to UV rays. But the main innovation of this extraordinary watch lies in the capacity of its tourbillon calibre to withstand shocks up to 10,000Gs.
This new threshold has been attained thanks to years of research and development and countless hours of testing, particularly ‘pendulum impact testing’ which simulates the linear acceleration that occurs due to sudden movements or shock to the wearer.
This virtual indestructability is vouchsafed by assembly of the ultralight tourbillon calibre on the skeletonised unibody baseplate of Carbon TPT with a precision to the nearest micron, while the reduced number of components in this configuration permits additional weight savings, lightening the whole watch.
The rapid winding barrel provides an unvarying flow of energy for the full 70 hours of running time.
The magnificent finishing of the RM 27-03 calibre presents hand-polished tapered anglage and graceful satin surfaces that set off the sparkle of finely microblasted elements. The RM 27-03 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal offers an impressive play of volumes. Highly stylised, the sharp, streamlined curves of the skeletonised bridges encircling the barrel, the great wheel and the mechanical winding tourbillon beating at 3Hz together evoke the forward-facing head of a bull.
A symbol of Spain, this animal is also Nadal’s chosen emblem. As a playful nod, winding and hand setting are conducted using a torque-limiting crown of Quartz TPT in the shape of a tennis ball.