With its yellow circle, two oval eyes and a wide, upturned mouth, the ‘Smiley’ – drawn by Franklin Loufrani over 50 years ago – is the embodiment of positivity, joy and sharing, and has played a major role at the heart of pop culture across several generations. These are the very same values Richard Mille intended to capture with the emotion-driven RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley.
Brimming with fun and enthusiasm and demonstrating true mastery of the infinitely small, an array of miniature sculptures takes possession of the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley’s movement – whose creation was a technical challenge of the highest order, with attention to detail and perfection taken to the utmost, breathing life into a veritable smile mechanism. It is no wonder that this new, highly technical and creative in-house automatic took three years to develop, and that the Smiley timepiece is limited to only 50 pieces.
The smile, a universal symbol of positivity and joy, and fundamental to our social interactions, is an expression of our innate desire to connect with others. Like the little yellow face that appeared in 1972 in the pages of French newspaper France Soir (which rapidly went viral at the time), the Smiley conveys positive energy. It is a symbol of communication that comes to life today in the effervescent world of the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley.
Each of the watch’s decorative elements are cheerful emanations of the Smiley world: a blossoming flower, the warm rays of the sun, a delicious pineapple, a blooming cactus, a pink flamingo, and a brightly coloured rainbow – a neon pop scene to be savoured.
At the same time, the RM 88 Smiley bears witness to a succession of technical and aesthetic challenges that were successfully overcome. The dimensions and weight of the gold micro-sculptures created by engraver Olivier Kuhn required particular care, as the assembled parts, each weighing less than a gram, must withstand every type of shock. It was then necessary to determine how to arrange the objects in the three-dimensional space around the central motif, the Smiley, not only to maximise their effect but also to facilitate their insertion by the watchmaker.
The solution was to equip the RM 88 with two baseplates: one technical, to support the movement, and the other auxiliary, to secure the ornamentation on the left-hand side of the dial. This second baseplate was subsequently mounted onto the movement and serves to present the objects on an inclined plane for added volumetric effect.
The second challenge faced was the conception of a movement that allowed enough free space to display the multiple protagonists of this scene with optimum impact, as befits the level of finishing bestowed on them. The new CRMT7 calibre, a skeletonised automatic tourbillon movement with hour, minute, and function displays, was developed completely in-house. Its bridges and micro-blasted baseplate are made of grade 5 titanium, to ensure rigidity and flatness. The bridge of the explosive micro-blasted, bevelled and drawn-out tourbillon is graced with a complex double PVD coating in black and gold, a finish that is replicated on the bridge at the back of the baseplate, accentuating its lightning bolt form.
With every minute, the figurative small-seconds hand alternates between rain and fine weather. It glides its way over the ARCAP cloud affixed to the tourbillon and then hides beneath a small cloud in microblasted and satin-finished white gold. It re-emerges once again at the foot of a cheerful rainbow designed in four different types of gold. The rainbow itself has an alternated microblasted and drawn-out finish and represents 25 hours of craftsmanship.
The striking Smiley figure in microblasted and painted yellow gold, presides over this landscape from atop the additional motion-work bridge in microblasted ARCAP with polished anglage –also referred to as chamfering or bevelling – and drawn edges. Featuring a larger echo of the rainbow motif, it gleams with faint reflections thanks to hand-applied varnishes, contrasting with its anthracite-coloured rhodium plating.
No effort has been spared in the finishing of the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley, down to the tiniest detail of each element in this display. The cocktail glass is an assembly of four parts, all in gold. The umbrella, the olive (1.7mm in height), the 0.4mm-diameter grooved straw – all polished – and the glass itself, its base micro-blasted to create the chilled glass, weigh a total of just 0.4g. The gold flower above is mirror-polished, its petals brushed and rhodium-plated. The pink flamingo (0.2g of red gold) also underwent multiple processes: its wings are polished and its feathers traced with the tip of a Dégussit grinding stone; its eye is made using the smallest beading tool in existence; its pedestal is micro-blasted and the part that depicts the grass and water is polished. The component was given a metallic pink PVD coating before the beak was painted black using a brush.
The quest for perfection is ever-present, as demonstrated by the green PVD-coated leaves, the microblasted and polished surface of the pineapple, the microblasted spines of the cactus in yellow gold, polished one by one to remove the PVD coating, and the sun, in microblasted gold with polished rays. In keeping with the finest watchmaking tradition, all finishing operations on the RM 88 Smiley are carried out by hand.
Such splendour of colour and scenography, both front and back, deserved a setting that would do justice to the composition. The case is made of white ATZ ceramic – well known for its resistance to scratches, shocks and abrasion, as well as for its eternal whiteness – whilst red gold was employed for the caseband. The crown bears the precious Smiley sculpted in yellow gold.
With its three-dimensional aesthetics and vivid colours, the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley is at once a masterpieceand a playful tribute to the art of horology.