F=ma

Angus Davies revisits his physics lessons, whilst reviewing the Tourbillon G-Sensor RM 036 Jean Todt Limited Edition by Richard Mille.

The term “g-force” is a misnomer. If you speak to any student of mechanical mathematics, they will inform you that “g” or gravity is a measure of acceleration or deceleration, 9.81 metres per second squared when expressed to two decimal places.

Disciples of Sir Isaac Newton will explain that force is the mass of an object multiplied by the acceleration it is subject to. To illustrate this point, imagine a man has a mass of 100 Kilograms (Kg) and he is braking in a high performance car from 100 (kph) to rest as quickly as possible, he is decelerating at 1.5g (1.5 x 9.81 metres per second squared). The force of his body pressing against the seat belts is 1472 Newtons (N).

If he drives a Formula One car, his mass does not change but he is now exposed to greater acceleration or deceleration and by default greater forces. For example he may experience 5g under breaking. This would mean that the force of his body pulling against his seatbelt straps would be 4905 N i.e. much greater force.

Some may question what this has to do with watches. Richard Mille have created a timepiece which features the added complication of a mechanical G-sensor, informing the driver of the deceleration they are being subjected to. Excessive change in velocity, can result in blackouts, tunnel vision or in extreme circumstances death.

The fortunate wearer of this complex watch, can now ascertain the severity of the deceleration they have experienced post exposure. The pusher at 9 o’clock will reset the G-sensor after use.

Few owners of this model are likely to explore the extreme limits of deceleration, but that is missing the point. This is yet a further example of Richard Mille pushing the performance envelope of haute horology.

The watch came to fruition thanks to the collaboration of Richard Mille and his close friend of many years, Jean Todt. Some will recall Todt being the mastermind behind Michael Schumacher’s repeated success at the wheel of a blood red Ferrari, claiming five World Championships to add to his previous two with Benetton. Since leaving Ferrari, Jean Todt has been the President of the FIA.

The FIA police the motorsport industry through regulation and legislation. Moreover, it also strives to increase safety for motorists evidenced by its campaign; “FIA Action for Road Safety”.

This watch was unveiled at the FIA awards ceremony in Istanbul on the 7th December 2012. Jean Todt has agreed to donate the profits from the sale of the watch to the aforementioned global campaign for road safety as well as the ICM Brain and Spine Institute, which he co-founded.

The dial

Modernity is conferred with all Richard Mille designs and this model is no exception. Richard Mille does not create faux history, resurrecting a name from the eighteenth century that time has forgot. They make no secret they are a relatively young brand, founded in 2001.

There is an honesty to the brand and this is further exampled by the design of its watches. Admire the dial of this watch and you will see the mechanical prowess, presented in candid glory. There is no “smoke and mirrors” with this watch but verity and truth.

Arabic numerals are used to impart the hours. The font is contemporary in keeping with the neoteric persona of the watch.

The hour and minute hands are skeletonised, proferring maximum vision of the dial beneath.

At the core of the Richard Mille brand is inspiration from motor sport. This is perfectly demonstrated with the “function selector” emulating a car’s gearbox. Pressing the button at the epicentre of the crown, the wearer selects one of three setting functions; W (winding), N (neutral) and H (hands). This feature has appeared on other Richard Mille models, yet somehow it still makes me smile as if I have made its acquaintance for the first time.

At the southerly aspect of the dial is the tourbillon cage with small seconds located above. The seconds hand and corresponding scale are detailed in yellow, adding a flourish of colour which enhances readability.

At the top of the dial is the G indicator. It was developed and patented by Renaud Papi exclusively for Richard Mille. The G-sensor system is composed of over 50 parts, nestling in a small area of the watch. It displays deceleration using a red tipped needle, arcing from left to right. The left side of the scale is detailed in green showing that the deceleration is safe. The right side of the scale is presented in red, conveying the critical area of deceleration.

The robust construction of the watch is designed to tolerate decelerations, said to be several tens of G’s. However, this comes as little surprise to those of us who have heard stories of Monsieur Mille throwing valuable tourbillons at walls and then presenting them to the assembled media aghast the watch continues to function.

Behind the mechanical mastery visible from the front of the watch resides a black background. Yet, this is no mere black canvas but the reverse side of the carbon nanofibre baseplate. A lightweight, highly rigid material which would be perfectly at home on a Formula One car.

The case

Regular readers of ESCAPEMENT will know I have waxed-lyrical about the tonneau shaped cases from Richard Mille on several occasions. They sit on the wrist perfectly, nuzzling the arm intimately with superb wearer comfort. This is partly due to the arcing caseback which mirrors the profile of the arm.

The tripartite case construction of the bezel, case band and case back is incredibly complex. It takes 20 hours to set a machine and 30 hours of programming to produce just a single kit. The case requires 255 machining operations and five hours of subsequent satin finishing and polishing.

When a case is machined in grade 5 titanium it necessitates parts on the milling machinery being frequently replaced due to the hardness of the material used. Ironically, this is more labour intensive than working on gold cases, hence there is little price differential between titanium and noble metals.

The three key components of the case are joined together with spline screws in grade 5 titanium in conjunction with abrasion resistant washers in 316L stainless steel. If we examine these details more closely, you will see the depth of engineering beneath the handsome lines of the watch.

The problem with regular screws is that often when you tighten, loosen and re-tighten, the slots can become damaged and the torque applied can bruise the head of the screw. The spline screws favoured by Richard Mille are adjusted using a special tool, tightened to a pre-determined torque and eschew the tell tale signs of adjustment all to familiar with conventional screws. They are more costly, but superior.

The abrasion resistant washers are not made with any grade of stainless steel, 316L is selected. This grade often used in the medical industry for pins, screws and orthopaedic implants does not oxidise or blacken and can be polished.

Few cases on the market can usurp Richard Mille’s watches for complexity and the successful conclusion of their ambition.

The mechanical prowess of the brand is not merely skin deep, but is brilliantly exampled within the case. It is therefore pleasing to see this watch fitted with a sapphire caseback. Richard Mille share the spectacle of their skilled craftsmanship with the fortunate wearer.

The movement

A carbon nanofibre baseplate is a world away from the rhodiumed brass typically used. There is an absence of perlage. However, I don’t mourn its absence even though I admire traditionally finished watches. The reason for my enthusiasm for this new approach, is the rationale for its use.

Often we live in a world where the “bean-counters”, the calculator wielding accountants, drive out every aspect of craftsmanship and tradition in the pursuance of cost savings.

The driver for carbon nanofibre baseplates is meritorious. It is resistant to flexing and chemical attack. Rigidity is key to base plates, there should be no flex. It is similar in essence to the chassis of a high performance car where scuttle shake and flex should be mitigated.

The bridges are lithe, presented in grade 5 titanium.

The movement is a contemporary compendium of parts, pleasingly presented in appealing accord. There is no evidence of Côtes de Genève or blued screws. Purists should not despair, finissage is omnipresent. The pivots are burnished, anglage is visible on steel parts and comely chamfering enhances the finish of wheels.

This should come as no surprise to those in the know. Renaud & Papi who have been actively involved in this movement, have the horological genius of Giulio Papi at its helm. I am currently reading a book by Mr Papi; “High-end Horological Finishing and Decoration” and can safely say he knows a thing or two about the finishing of the finest movements.

Richard Mille have not dispensed with quality and finissage whilst pursuing the new, however, they have embraced traditional skills while keeping both eyes firmly fixed on the future.

Conclusion

Much is said of Richard Mille seeking its inspiration from Formula One. But, look closely at this watch and the claim is substantiated. The technology transfer from track to wrist is incredible and justified.

I recently sat in the passenger seat of an open top, track machine, clipping apexes at gut churning speeds. My head bobbed around in the cockpit in haphazard fashion. The accelerative forces I experienced were immense but paled in comparison to the braking effect of the carbon discs and pads retarding my progress. As I decelerated my head shot forward, the snug fit seatbelts conspired to evacuate my lungs of any remaining air and thoughts of nausea were not too far away.

The force I experienced whilst decelerating was colossal, courtesy of my rotund torso and significant mass. I do not wish to experience greater decelerative forces and the need for a G-sensor on my own timepiece is not justified. But, I don’t buy watches necessarily for practical reasons but because they appeal to my heart and they have mechanical virtue. In this regard the RM036 is a clear winner.

The advance of technology within motor sport is relentless with the continued need to derive a competitive edge. In terms of Richard Mille I wait with baited breath to see the next watch to grace the paddock.

Technical specification

• Model: Richard Mille RM 036 Jean Todt Limited Edition
• Reference: RM036
• Case: titanium; dimensions 50.00 mm x 42.70 mm; height 16.15 mm; water resistant to 5 bar (50 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
• Functions: Hours; minutes; subsidiary seconds; G-sensor; function selector; tourbillon.
• Movement: Calibre RM036, manual wind; frequency 21,600 vph (3 Hz); 26 jewels; power reserve 70 hours.
• Strap: Rubber strap