When I think about Richard Mille watches, the first word that comes to mind is “aggressive.” There’s always something a little bit in-your-face about RMs, and the watches wholeheartedly embrace this distinctive attitude. From the tonneau case shape to the skeletonized movements to the use of color and texture, these are watches that beg to be looked at. So, as you can imagine, when the RM 17-01 Tourbillon Carbon TPT showed up on my desk, I paid attention.
I’ll be honest with you: Until this watch arrived, I’d never seen it or heard of it. Richard Mille quietly added it to the collection back in September 2019, simply posting it to Instagram, avoiding the usual press-release-and-event fanfare. Only 10 pieces have been made and they’re available at Richard Mille boutiques across the globe. There happened to be one in New York City, so I got my chance to spend a day with the RM 17-01 before it disappeared into someone else’s safe. Lucky me.
The RM 17-01 has been around for a while in various forms, but it’s a watch based on an even earlier Richard Mille model, the RM 017. The RM 017 is a rectangular watch with an ultra-thin profile and a skeletonized, hand-wound tourbillon movement. It’s long been an outsider in the RM catalog, with its slim, geometric profile. The RM 17-01 takes that same movement and mounts it in a more familiar, thicker tonneau-shaped case. It’s the same technology, presented in a more recognizable Richard Mille package.
What makes this limited edition special is that case, which is rendered here in Carbon TPT, the carbon composite that Richard Mille has favored over the last number of years. It has a look somewhere between that of traditional carbon fiber and Damascus steel, with waves and grains in the dark grey surface. The bezel, caseback, and case band are all made of Carbon TPT. It’s matte, but it actually catches the light quite nicely due to all those surface variations, so you get a bit of reflectiveness without the full-on shine of metal.
Another major upside to Carbon TPT is that it’s super light. Like, really light. Despite measuring in at 48.15mm x 40.1mm x 13.8mm, this doesn’t feel like a big watch to me at all. The caseback is also curved, so on the wrist the watch wears much easier than you’d expect. It sits low, hugs the wrist, and doesn’t feel like an anchor. It’s not going to tuck under a cuff very easily, but if you’re buying a Richard Mille you’re probably not hoping to hide it. Every time I strap an RM on my wrist, I’m surprised all over again by how comfortable they are. The latest RM 17-01 is no exception.
I want to go back to that caliber RM017 movement for a minute though. To call the movement “skeletonized” would almost do it a disservice. It doesn’t look like a traditional caliber with sections cut away. Rather, it looks like something that was designed from the ground up to be as minimal as possible, leaving tons of space for light to pass through and eschewing extra material that would just add weight to the watch. There’s really no dial to speak of (it’s a 0.3mm-thick piece of sapphire), with the indicators seeming to float over the movement components and the lume plots anchored to the inner bezel (which also contains the minutes track). For something so open, I found the dial easy to read, with the sharp rose gold hands standing out nicely against all the titanium components. The indicators looks like a bright yellow in certain light and like a muted gold in other light, adding some interest to the watch.
In terms of functionality, there’s a lot packed in here, especially for what is essentially a time-only watch. There are the hour and minute hands, an indicator for the 70-hour power reserve at two o’clock, and a function selection indicator at three o’clock that tells you whether the crown is in the winding, neutral, or hand-winding position. There is also a one-minute tourbillon, prominently displayed down at six o’clock. Because of the industrial styling of the RM 017 and the emphasis placed on the angled bridges, you’d be forgiven for not noticing the restrained tourbillon cage at first, but it’s there and it’s kind of the star of the show here. Putting tourbillons in sport watches like this is an RM signature, and it’s well-executed here as you’d expect.
As with any Richard Mille, this one doesn’t come cheap. The RM 17-01 will set you back a cool $300. There are a lot of truly incredible watches that you could buy with that money (I mean, hell, you could buy three or four really awesome watches for that sum), but Richard Mille doesn’t really position itself as being in competition with anyone else. It’s one of the brand’s strengths. If you want an RM, you probably only want an RM and aren’t really worried about comparison shopping.
Now, you might be thinking, “Stephen, do you really like Richard Mille? You? The guy who wears small, three-hand watches with monochromatic dials? Seriously?” The answer is a simple and earnest “yes.” I really do. I can’t help it. Against my usual tastes, I find RMs really compelling. In a sea of sameness, Richard Mille makes watches its own way, going against the grain of what most other watchmakers think “high-end watchmaking” should be. While I can’t see a world in which I would want to trade out of my vintage Explorer for an RM Tourbillon as a daily wearer, I certainly wouldn’t mind having a killer Richard Mille in my watch box for those days when I’m feeling a bit extra.
Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and your regular patterns is an important thing. It’s important in life, sure, but it’s also important in any hobby or pursuit, whether that’s a love of cars, art, or watches. This is a watch that pushes me outside my comfort zone. It forces me to think actively about what I like and why, what I think “high watchmaking” means and why, and what makes a mechanical watch interesting in the 21st century. So although I only got to spend an afternoon with it, the RM 17-01 Carbon TPT will surely leave its mark in my memory.