After three years of development, Richard Mille has taken the wraps off the new Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal, a trio of extra-sporty automatic watches that feature a special mechanism for the winding system that allows the wearer to adjust the winding activity based on their current level of activity. The whole feature is tied to an automotive-themed “sport mode” button that disengages the winding rotor on demand to prevent over-winding the movement.
We’ll get to the buttons and modes in a moment, but the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal is offered in three versions, including Carbon TPT (black for case and case band, shown in many of the included images), blue and white Quartz TPT, and a version in Carbon TPT with white Quartz TPT. Sizing is the same for all three models and comes in at 43.15mm wide, 13.15mm thick, and 49.95mm lug-to-lug. Water resistance is 50 meters, and yes, the price is much heavier than the watch.
For this outing of what the brand calls the “Baby Nadal,” the party piece is the aforementioned sport-mode button that is located at seven o’clock on the case flank. While there is a more complicated explanation for this special “Butterfly Rotor” system, the conceit is that the winding rotor’s ability to harness gravity can be mitigated by pressing the sport button. The rotor has been designed to have two halves hinged at the center. When sport mode is engaged, the two parts fan out, removing the ability for the rotor to spin as the weighed elements are now evenly distributed across 180 degrees. Confused? Check out the mechanism animated below. See? Not that hard to understand (at least, at a functional level).
The idea here is that when you’re planning to do something sporty – such as playing professional tennis – you can enable sport mode to suspend any additional winding of the movement. Looking at the dial side, there is an indication as to whether or not automatic winding is active (on/off), and the system aligns with the function selector that we’ve seen on other RMs that allows the user to cycle between three modes – “H” for time setting, “N” for neutral, and “W” for winding.
This functionality is supported by the RMAL2, a fully skeletonized automatic movement that displays hours, minutes, and seconds (along with the functions mentioned above). The movement’s bridges and baseplate are made of grade 5 titanium, and it ticks at 4 Hz with a power reserve of 55 hours. That power reserve is supported by a double-barrel system that can meter the torque from either barrel for better timekeeping.
While Richard Mille watches are constantly being offered in more and more shapes and sizes, the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal feels like a core offering from the brand. The intensity of the design, the wild case materials, and the adherence to a gimmick-like sport mode – all classic Richard Mille
As the fourth in the “Baby Nadal” series, the Richard Mille RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal adds a fun and superfluous function via its butterfly rotor system. While I suppose we could argue the need for such a system, I think that might be out of scope for such a watch. For engagement (both literal and emotional), I kinda dig the idea of having the ability to shut off the automatic winding on my watch. In modern, high-performance cars, programmable modes (like sport mode) have become a major feature set, so I also get the connection to the lifestyle and experiences of the people who are in the market for a quarter-of-a-million-dollar Richard Mille. Their cars are full of buttons that allow them to control various elements of the experience; why not their watch?
But a Richard Mille watch need not be treated like a literal thing. Like a supercar, these watches are not valued for their practicality or, I’d argue, outright functionality. Rather, these are objects of emotion, collectability, and raw fascination, and I can’t think of any watch in which a sport mode feels more appropriate. If you can, let me know in the comments.