Richard Mille RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough
Pablo Mac Donough was born in Buenos Aires in 1982. It was at the age of 3 or 4 when he first mounted a horse, and a mallet was placed in his hands as soon as he’d learn to keep a steed under control – little did he know, he was about to embark on a journey towards the pantheon of competitive polo. At just 14 years old, he had won the Potrillos Cup, the most prestigious youth tournament in the world. His ascent to the top accelerated in 2003, when he joined Ellerstina, with whom he played 8 seasons and won the 2010 Argentine Triple Crown. Mac Donough’s greatest moment, however, was when he had won the final of the Argentine Open with La Dolfina, cementing a place in the history books as the first team in competitive polo to win the Triple Crown three times in a row.
It was no surprise then that Mac Donough was picked up by Richard Mille to join the brand’s squad of watch-wielding sporting heroes. The first watch bearing his name was the RM053, an armour-plated watch that is unorthodox in design even by Richard Mille standards. This year, Richard Mille’s project of putting a tourbillon watch on Pablo Mac Donough’s wrist in what is a game of physical, rough and sometimes violent contact has reached a new height. Enter the RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough, now without armour plating but still virtually indestructible.
Shocks and trauma arising from a polo match (e.g. falling from a horse, or a mallet blow at full gallop) are often great enough to break bone, let alone wreck a timepiece. The RM 53-01 was designed specifically to protect it’s own movement from these violent impacts. It is equipped with a glass of laminated sapphire crystal, a new patented sapphire crystal and a world premiere in the field of watchmaking. Measuring only 2.40 mm thick at the centre, it comprises two sheets of sapphire crystal separated by a polyvinyl membrane. In case of impact, the glass may crack, but under no circumstances shatter – much like a car’s windscreen – thereby protecting the movement. Importantly, it also allows the ‘dial’, hands, and movement to be showcased, not hidden within a titanium carbide shell like in the seminal RM053.
The case of the new RM 53-01 is in Richard Mille’s signature tonneau shape. Measuring 49.94 mm from lug to lug, 44.50 mm in width, and 16.15 mm in thickness, the watch has an unmissable presence. But in spite of its chunky size and complexity, the watch is supremely light – so light, it feels surreal on the wrist. One might be tempted to think it’s plastic but we all know Richard Mille is all about tech. The tripartite case of the RM 53-01 is crafted in a material that is a favourite of the brand: Carbon TPT. Visible are its trademark damascene patterns. The case, which consists of hundreds of layers of Carbon TPT, is renowned for its excellent resistance to micro-cracks and splits, and therefore perfect for a game of polo. On the flank is a large crown which the manufacturer describes as “torque-limiting”, with a security measure put in place to prevent accidental over-winding. It looks a little toy-like but does allow for easy winding and time-setting.
From the sapphire crystal, to the case and straight on to the movement. We’ve skipped the dial because there isn’t one; what you see in front is the movement. And what a movement! In all honesty, it is more a marvel of (civil) engineering and architecture than of watchmaking. On the surface, the Calibre RM53-01 that powers the watch is a time-only, hand-wound tourbillon movement with a maximum 70 hours of autonomy. Dig a little deeper and you will realise that it is filled with space age tech, designed to reduce weight and mitigate shock. Take for instance the bridges and the highly atypical double skeletonised baseplate: both are made of Grade 5 titanium, which is remarkably resistant to corrosion, strong, lightweight, and offers optimal shock resistance.
The Calibre RM53-01 is then further protected by Richard Mille’s ingenious cable-suspension mechanism. The movement in its entirety rests on two braided steel cables just 0.27 mm in diameter. The tension of these cables is made possible by the 10 pulleys and 4 tensioners affixed to the peripheral baseplate and to each side of the main bridge. The pulleys ensure that the tension of the cable remains constant and therefore that the system is balanced. According to Richard Mille, the movement is capable of withstanding shocks exceeding 5,000 g’s. For reference, race car drivers are briefly subjected to over 100 g’s of force during crashes. As you can imagine, the Calibre RM53-01 is pretty robust. And if nothing else, the suspended movement makes for a breathtaking sight.
The other innovations in the movement focus on improving performance. A noteworthy example is the fast-rotating mainspring barrel, which makes one revolution every 6 hours instead of 7.5 hours. This type of barrel diminishes periodic internal mainspring adhesion and possesses a more desirable mainspring delta curve, translating to better performance. Moreover, it is equipped with a barrel pawl with progressive recoil, which permits a 20% winding gain and is also helpful in distributing the mainspring’s internal tension.
From a finishing standpoint, a modern approach was taken – to nobody’s surprise – for the Calibre RM53-01. The baseplates and bridges are afforded a contemporary black and grey PVD treatment with plenty of polished anglage (done by hand) to show for. Meanwhile, the steel parts feature either microblasted or satin-finished surfaces – also with polished anglage. The wheels are decorated with circular graining on the surfaces and rhodium-plated to stand out against the blackened bridges and baseplates. Overall, the movement finishing and decoration is neat and attractive. It won’t receive any acclaim for aesthetic detail but let’s be honest, the Calibre RM53-01 was never about winning beauty contests to begin with. It’s about going to war against external forces that threaten to dysregulate or outright obliterate it.
The Competitive Landscape
The Richard Mille RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough has no peers outside of the brand’s own portfolio of watches. Carbon TPT? Laminated sapphire crystal? Braided cables? There really isn’t anything else that hasn’t been stamped ‘Richard Mille’ that is like it. Also, being priced a cool USD900,000 is a factor. In the realm of luxury watches, prices are never going to match up close with a product’s true value, but that disparity is often obscene when it comes to Richard Mille timepieces. Are they overpriced? No, because they clearly are selling. In fact, when it comes to Richard Milles, stratospheric pricing is a feature, not a bug. Limited to only 30 pieces, the RM 53-01 will be seen as the ultimate status symbol for the brand’s well heeled clients.
But let’s entertain the notion where one wishes to play polo and have his/her timepiece survive the game. Wearing the RM 53-01 would be the next best option to not wearing a watch at all, though not exactly the most financially viable one. Fortunately, for those who, for some reason, need to have a timepiece on but lack the spending power, there are alternatives that are kinder to the wallet.
First and foremost, there is of course the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso – the prototypical polo watch, the first of its kind. The story goes that the Reverso was designed in the early 1930s to withstand the polo matches of the British Army officers in India. French designer René-Alfred Chauvot patented the now-iconic pivoting case of the Reverso that -when reversed – allows the sapphire crystal and dial to be concealed and protected from possible mallet strokes. The Grande Reverso 1948 Ultra-Thin (pictured below) is a shining example of a Reverso at its peak form. The watch was first introduced in 2014 and charmed its way to the hearts of enthusiasts with its modern blue-on-white design. At around USD10,000 (90x less than the Richard Mille), the Grande Reverso 1948 Ultra-Thin is one of the more interesting watches at its price point even if you discount the fact that it could survive the polo grounds.
If wearing a Richard Mille or Reverso for a polo match gets you breaking out in cold sweat, then perhaps the Casio G-SHOCK GA-700 can be relied on instead to scratch that itch to be “wristed”. At the expense of being judged by your purist friends for wearing an industrial product with a quartz movement, you essentially have here a “Grand Complication” timepiece that can take a serious beating. For just SGD169 (or USD120), you get all-in-one access to a world timer, split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar, and best of all, LED illumination at the press of a button. Save for a direct mallet blow to the mineral glass, the GA-700 is virtually invulnerable thanks to its tanky case design. And even if the watch does receive a blow through the glass, dial, and movement, it can easily be replaced… at less than half the cost of a Jaeger-LeCoultre leather strap.
The world of ultra high-end watchmaking is stark raving mad with its pricing, but the thing is, at that level, the clients barely blink at the tag. At the very top of the top, it’s all about being the best and most outrageous – and the RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough certainly fits the bill. The RM 53-01 is brazen in its pricing and marketing but it is also a technical tour de force. It takes a heroic level of technology and innovation to put a tourbillon regulator timepiece on the same playing field as 1,000-pound horses and flying mallets. Design and aesthetic preferences notwthstanding, the RM 53-01 is, quite frankly, faultless. Dare we say that it even deserves an ovation of sorts for the ingenuity and innovativeness that it has brought along to the industry.