Up close with RM UP-01 Ferrari, the world’s thinnest mechanical watch

Richard Mille’s engineering marvel is ready for the limelight.

It comes as no surprise that Richard Mille and Ferrari joined forces in 2021 via a multi-year partnership that includes Formula 1, WEC endurance, GT racing and e-sport. United in their pursuit of performance, the two manufacturers are engaged in the same quest for excellence in their respective domains, sportscars and contemporary haute horlogerie – two distinct realms with much common ground.

What will go down as the most significant result of this union is last year’s RM UP-01 Ferrari, which established the new standard by which razor-thin watchmaking is measured. Coming in at an astonishing 1.75mm thick, this super slender timepiece is powered by the ultra-flat Calibre RM UP-01, which features hours, minutes, seconds and a function selector spread across the thin case design. The RM UP-01 Ferrari is, to date, reportedly the thinnest mechanical watch ever made.

Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari
Powered by the ultra-flat Calibre RM UP-01, the watch features hours, minutes, seconds and a function selector spread across the thin case design. (Image: Richard Mille)

Released last July to intense fanfare, all 150 editions of this watch are being delivered in the coming months to Richard Mille boutiques across Asia.

A watch this slim – and one that its owners could wear every day if they were so inclined – required a rethink in several aspects of watchmaking. After all, this was more a feat of material research and engineering than traditional craftsmanship. Such a project requires the suspension of watchmaking knowledge and rules accumulated over many years, says Julien Boillat, Richard Mille’s technical director for cases. “This is exactly what we did throughout our collaboration with the laboratory of Audemars Piguet Le Locle. Eliminating those last few millimetres of depth was a long and arduous process.”

Charles Leclerc wearing Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari
F1 driver Charles Leclerc wears the Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari. (Image: Richard Mille)

The team started with the movement, which needed a completely new design and manufacturing approach. The winning idea was to distribute across a large surface area the elements that could not be stacked, creating a greater symbiosis between the movement and case, which mutually stiffens each other. This segues into the second critical aspect: what the watch should be made of. The baseplate and skeletonised bridges are consequently made of grade 5 titanium to guarantee perfect flatness without losing any strength and ensure optimal functioning of the going train. In lieu of a winding stem, two crowns were integrated in the case as movement wheels and ringed with black ceramic inserts that protect the bezel from wear.

Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari
Beyond traditional craftsmanship, the construction of the RM UP-01 Ferrari also reflects the pinnacle of material research and engineering. (Image: Richard Mille)

The case is also made of titanium, chosen for its combination of lightness and resistance with certain segments coming in at merely 0.18mm. The two sapphire crystals, one over the time indicator, whose hands are transferred directly to the wheels, the other positioned over the regulating organ to showcase the movement, were also reduced to a gossamer-thin a fifth of a millimetre, its diameter calculated to guarantee resistance.

“This watch is the result of a lot of work. Its unique relationship between the case and the movement provides a sensation without precedent among our other creations,” shares Richard Mille’s technical director for movements Salvador Arbona.

“As with all our watches, technicity dictates the lines of the product. But I think with the RM UP-01 Ferrari, we have gone a step further by blurring distinctions separating the work of the case and movement engineers. From the very first sketches through design and production, our respective offices became a single entity.”

Complementing the timepiece’s extraordinary craftsmanship is its suitably modern, unconventional design. Unlike other ultra-thin watches, which generally subscribe to a more conventional style, the aesthetic of the RM UP-01 Ferrari was dictated by the technology that made it possible. The time display is housed on the central axis with numerals and indices bringing in Richard Mille’s design DNA, while two discs indicate the hours and minutes. The balance wheel is on the right of the watch, while the Ferrari emblem, the Cavallino Rampante, is laser engraved at the bottom. It is like nothing anyone has ever seen before, which was the point.

The inclusion of the Ferrari team in the design of the watch lent the project a competitive spirit essential to most exciting adventures. In a definitive win, the RM UP-01 Ferrari successfully respects the principles of Richard Mille, right from its extreme lightness, unusual shape, spline screws, skeletonised bridges and level of finishing, even in areas invisible to the eye. While it is correct that this wasn’t like anything the manufacture had ever made, its high standards of finishing were firmly adhered to.

In breaking with its usual iconography, Richard Mille has created with the RM UP-01 Ferrari, a work of incredible prowess and unparalleled technical innovation to meet the requirements specific to a watch that can be worn in any situation.

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