Graffiti or street art appears to be quite a popular subject, if our last few stories on the topic are any indication (see our Banksy piece if you are so inclined) so we’re interested to know if this piece on the Richard Mille RM68-01 Kongo tourbillon wristwatch will also resonate. The world of fine watchmaking and art – high or low – might be connected as so-called investments of passion but they are very different. Nevertheless, we shall merely present the case here for this collaboration between Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille and French graffiti artist Cyril Phan. Phan, the French-Vietnamese artist also known by his nom de guerre Kongo, might make for an unlikely partner for a watch brand but Richard Mille goes its own way – and has done since it got revealed the RM001 in 2001.
The Richard Mille RM68-01 Kongo made news perhaps not because of this partnership between haute horlogerie and street art but because it costs $800,000 (other reports list the price as $685,000) and has already sold out (only 30 were or will be made). In an environment where the watch business is visibly suffering, this success is remarkable and begs many questions. Some of these are out of our scope and we’ll leave that to the likes of CNBC (they report that Richard Mille sales have grown by 15%) and Forbes to probe but we are able to comment reasonably on both watchmaking and art. Artists like Kongo are modern-day equivalents of muralists such as Diego Rivera so learning that one such artist managed to work on a canvass the size of a stamp is remarkable.
This is not to say such partnerships are beyond the pale. Even smaller and more accessible brands such as Arbutus have done it. What is remarkable here is that it isn’t just a dial that has been created by an artist – the RM68-01 has no true dial in fact – but rather the entire mechanical movement has been decorated by Kongo, using specially developed paints and airbrushes. Apparently, the paint had to be carefully engineered so that its heft and thickness wouldn’t interfere with the moving parts. The special airbrushes were used to spray on micro drops of paint.
As for the watch itself, well, it is a time-only proposition, with a tourbillon. The case is also remarkably complicated, in TZP black ceramic for the bezel and caseback and NTPT carbon for the case middle. Official information on the Richard Mille RM68-01 Kongo is available here.