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Richard Mille | RM 88 Tourbillon Automatic Smiley

A yellow circle, two oval eyes, a wide upturned mouth… The Smiley has become an established symbol in the collective consciousness. It serves as the embodiment of positivity, joy and sharing… This leading role was enough for the teams at Richard Mille to launch into the creation of an emotion-driven watch emphasising all these values.

Around the Smiley’s radiant face, an array of miniature sculptures takes possession of the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley’s movement, forming and reforming a surreal scene, brimming with fun and enthusiasm and demonstrating true mastery of the infinitely small. Light as it may seem, the creation of this ballet was a technical challenge of the highest order. But the dream has now become reality, with attention to detail and perfection taken to the utmost, breathing life into a veritable smile.

A universal language
The smile, universal and multivalent, is fundamental to our social relations; an expression of our innate desire to connect with others. Like the little yellow face, that appeared in 1972 in the pages of the French newspaper France Soir, which rapidly went viral.

The smile is a mark of humanity. It is universal to our species and found across the world. Equivocal, it can be many things – contented, discreet, tight-lipped, innocent or disarming. Conveying emotions, it prompts dialogue and trust, expressing joy and sincerity. It is a vital gesture, liberating the endorphins that are sources of well-being and pleasure with healing properties.

It was in this well-meaning spirit, looking towards a better future, that the French journalist Franklin Loufrani published his Smiley on 1 January 1972, in the newspaper France Soir. Paired with the slogan “Take the time to smile”, it was intended to highlight good news, full of optimistic appeal.

Emoticons, the new alphabet
The adventure was launched. Replacing words with pictures, the little yellow face gradually established itself as a truly universal and intergenerational language. In the 1990s, Nicolas Loufrani, son of the Smiley’s creator and managing director of The Smiley Company, produced all sorts of 3D variants of the face, together with a connected world of symbols, seeking particularly to replace the text symbols based on punctuation marks that were proliferating at the time. This was the birth of emoticons – a contraction of the words “emotion” and “icon” –, colourful and non-conformist, combining imagination and fantasy. Today, more than 3,000 such graphic representations are protected by The Smiley Company.

Richard Mille RM 88 Tourbillon Automatic Smiley
It’s a stunning watch. A unique and surprising creation. Like the first act of a play, with the calibre as the stage where the figurines appear to be jostling to play the leading role. The Smiley’s radiant face stands out from this dream-like scene, watching over the world armed with its eternal smile.

Have you ever been at the exact spot where reality yields to dreams? The place where all that is tangible fades and becomes frayed at the edges, where straight lines become curves, where colours clash, and materials blend together? It is this elusive, almost magical and hypnotic moment that Richard Mille has managed to capture with the creation of the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley.

A highly technical and creative object born of three years of development, the CRMT7 in-house automatic tourbillon calibre and each of the decorative elements that it incorporates are joyous emanations of the Smiley world: a blooming flower, a hot sun, a delicious pineapple, a burgeoning cactus, a pink flamingo and a vivid rainbow… All this makes for a festive cocktail to be tasted drop by drop, as the glass present in the scene suggests. The words of Cécile Guenat, Creative and Development Director, come to mind, evoking “the decorative elements that appear to be spontaneously placed in the watch, following an explosion around the tourbillon carriage”. Such was the creative spark, the starting point of intensely original work on a colourful movement.

An enchanting masterpiece with positive vibrations
No effort has been spared in the finishing of the tiniest detail of each element in this display, dominated by the shining face of the Smiley in microblasted and hand-painted 3N yellow gold. The cocktail glass consists of a four-part assembly in 3N and 5N gold. The parasol, the olive (1.7mm in height), the 0.4mm-diameter grooved straw – all polished – and the glass, whose base is microblasted to convey the chilled effect, weigh a total of just 0.4 g! The gold flower above is made of 5N gold, its heart mirror-polished and its petals brushed and rhodium-plated.

The quest for meticulous perfection is ever-present and taken to extremes, be it in the green PVD-coated leaves; the pineapple’s microblasted and polished surface; the spines of the microblasted cactus in 2N yellow gold, handpolished one by one to remove the PVD coating; or the sun, made of microblasted 2N gold with polished rays.

The pink flamingo, consisting of 0.2 g of 6N red gold, also undergoes multiple operations: its pedestal is microblasted, its eye positioned using the smallest beading tool in existence and its wings are polished and their feathers redrawn with the tip of a Dégussit grinding stone. The component is then given a metallic pink PVD coating before the beak is painted black with a brush.

The back of the timepiece has some further surprises in store: the oscillating weight in 3N yellow gold represents the radiant sun, which links the worlds of Smiley and Richard Mille. Behind its rays, a star appears. The rotor bridge in grade 5 titanium with gold PVD plating shines as if in the heavens. The dial’s three-dimensional and coloured elements can be made out from the back, where they leave the main attraction to play a new tune backstage.

Given the elaborate scenography and colourful splendour, both front and back, the housing needed to be plain. The case is made of white ATZ ceramic – well known for its resistance to scratches, shocks and wear, as well as for its eternal whiteness – while 5N gold was chosen for the caseband. The crown bears yet another precious Smiley in yellow gold.

The RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley, with its three-dimensional aesthetics and splendid colours, is the veritable embodiment of a waking dream. The result is a playfully colourful, poetic and lively creation, an enchanting masterpiece whose positive vibrations give voice to a universal language, that of the smile.

The mechanics of a smile
What does it take to bring the outlines of a dream to life and materialise the smile in all its forms? The technical adventure of animating the mechanical smile of the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley was innovative in several respects. In this project, every aspect represented a new challenge. Each problem became an opportunity to find a solution, an occasion to learn and grow.

Aesthetics and fine watchmaking come together
The project involved tackling a succession of challenges. First among them was calibrating the dimensions and respective weights of the gold microsculptures produced by engraver Olivier Kuhn. The assembled elements, each weighing less than a gram, needed to withstand every type of shock. Then came deciding on how to position the miniature sculptures occupying the space around the central feature, namely the Smiley. Right from the design stage, it was a question of how to display each object to best effect. But it was also vital to consider how the watchmaker was going to handle the delicate insertion of these miniature figures.

The idea was to equip the RM 88 with two baseplates: one technical, on which the movement was mounted, and a second one for the ornamental objects on the left-hand side of the dial. This auxiliary baseplate was then assembled onto the movement.

This means that the objects are presented in three-dimensional space and at an angle, requiring several different types of attachment. The pink flamingo, for instance, is fastened using a blom stud. Some are affixed with the aid of screws – like the sun, the flower, the cocktail glass and the gradient gold rainbow. Others, like the pineapple and the cactus, are pierced by two pins in polished Phynox. The Smiley itself is assembled on a decorative bridge, lending the impression that it floats above the movement.

The other great challenge lay in designing a movement that left enough free space to display the multiple protagonists of this scene with the greatest possible impact. To achieve this, a new in-house calibre, the CRMT7, came into being. This skeletonised automatic tourbillon movement with hours, minutes and a function indicator oscillates at 4 Hz (28,000 vibrations/h) and is endowed with a power reserve of 50 hours.

The additional motion-work bridge to which the Smiley is affixed takes the form and colours of a rainbow. This bridge, in microblasted Arcap with polished angles and drawn-out edges, gleams with faint reflections thanks to hand-applied varnishes, contrasting with its anthracite-coloured rhodium plating. The small-seconds hand, adorned with a sun at one end and a lightning bolt at the other, makes one rotation per minute. It glides over the tourbillon’s Arcap cloud and under a smaller nimbus made of microblasted and satin-finished white gold. This cloud lies at the foot of a rainbow that was highly complex to produce, made of white gold and 2N, 4N and 6N gold, alternating between microblasted and drawn finishes.

To achieve such a production feat, a mindboggling number of calculations were required for positioning, then the mechanism underwent a number of tests once all the elements were in place. The titanium tourbillon bridge alone represented a first in terms of both design and production. The multi-directional curves of its form, representing an explosion, are an innovation in their own right. Its finishes, particularly delicate to achieve on a circular component, break entirely new ground: microblasted, bevelled and drawn out, it possesses a double PVD coating, which also constituted a technical challenge. The titanium component is first given a black PVD coating, which is partially hollowed out with extreme precision using a laser and then given its gold PVD coating.

The story continues on the back of the watch
The back of the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley reveals the grade 5 titanium baseplate and bridges, a choice of material that guarantees corrosion-resistance and remarkable rigidity ensuring the excellent functioning of the gear-train. The rear bridge, in the form of a lightning bolt, receives a double PVD coating, like the tourbillon bridge. The involuted-profile gears generate a uniform pressure angle of 20°. These gear-trains ensure excellent torque transmission and thus optimal efficiency of energy transfers between the rapid-rotation barrel and the tourbillon’s variable-inertia balance-wheel. The 3N yellow gold rotor, equipped with a OneWay winding system and ceramic ball bearings, is hand decorated including the bevelling, circular-graining and microblasting. In its centre, the heart of the weight reveals a black PVD coating.

The creation of the CRMT7 calibre and its integration into the watch required three years of development. Its existence attests to a process of collective creation combining the inspiration and expertise of Richard Mille’s creative and technical teams with the mastery of engraver Olivier Kuhn. The result is a bespoke composition orchestrating a symphony of positivity and paying homage to Swiss watchmaking finishes.

Case in ATZ white ceramic and red gold
The design and execution of the watch demonstrate a holistic approach to conception of the movement, case and dial. As a result, everything has been constructed according to extremely rigorous specifications. For example, a casing ring is no longer used, and the movement is mounted on chassis mounting rubbers (ISO SW) fixed by titanium screws.

The bezel and caseback are in ATZ white ceramic, a material made from aluminium oxide powder and zirconium dioxide extruded at a pressure of nearly 2,000 bars. This high-pressure injection increases rigidity by 20 to 30% and reduces the material’s porosity to an absolute minimum. ATZ is known for its high scratch-resistance (1,400 Vickers) and its unalterable colour. Next to diamond, it is one of the hardest materials in the world. Long and difficult machining using diamond tools is necessary to create a perfect example of the complex, curved bezels and satin finish required by the case. The caseband is made of 18K 5N red gold.

Ensured by 2 Nitrile O-ring seals, the tripartite case is water-resistant to 50 metres. The case is assembled with 12 grade 5 titanium spline screws and abrasion-resistant washers in 316L stainless steel.

Published on 2022-11-13