Style / August 2017

Richard Mille Watches: The Billionaire's Masonic Handshake

With reverence for heritage tempered by a healthy disdain for the outmoded and unique, this maverick watchmaker has achieved a standing among the gods of horology by working in almost total opposition of the craft’s traditions.

Richard Mille RM 033 Extra Flat Boutique Edition in Titanium & Rose Gold. Photo by Anish Bhatt.

Say, you’re rich. Really rich. Tom Cruise rich — the kind of rich that should have him rebuking those who dare comment on his diminutive stature with the rebuttal, “If I were to stand atop all my money, I would be the tallest man on earth.” And, say, if — like Tom Cruise, Roman Abramovich or even that nameless Chinese billionaire who makes that tiny but crucial widget that makes your iPhone work — you want to instantly recognize if the person seated beside you at dinner also has a walk-in closet stacked so precariously high with €1,000 notes that he almost perished from lucre-induced suffocation when it once toppled on top of him, how do you go about it subtly? Sadly, in the era of leased supercars, rented mega-homes and borrowed über-yachts, it has become increasingly difficult to discern the pretender from the genuinely minted.

In the old days, men of a certain net worth could join special clubs — the Skull and Bones club at Yale University, for example. They could reveal their wealth ineffably through secret handshakes or special rings that were signifiers of inclusion into that wonderful parallel universe. But with scholarship students now ensconced shoulder-to-shoulder with bona fide heirs-apparent, a cultivated accent, a well-tanned ankle or a certain nonchalant elegance is absolutely no assurance of bank-account solidity. Sadly, the secret handshake of today pales in comparison to the secret handshake of yesteryear as a gauge of true limitless checkbook depth.

Why do high-net-worth birds of a feather want to flock together? Or, simply put, why do rich people like other rich people?

1) They believe that a fellow Richie Rich is not going to have some ulterior motive for wanting to be your friend. He’s not going to want to cosy up your family, then seduce your 80-year-old grandmother and convince her to change her will. He just wants to hang out with you, gaze at your Mark Rothkos and genuflect as smoke furls off the pre-Castro-era Davidoffs, or discuss the finer points of the Neapolitan barchetta over a glass of Vosne-Romanée.

2) They can find ways to collaborate to increase their personal fortunes. The mere thought of enlarging their already titanically swollen bank accounts make all rich people want to place their hands on their hips and laugh like Ernst Stavro Blofeld: “Mwa-ha-ha.” They don’t actually do this, but they want to. All of them.

So, once again, we are back to the conundrum: how do you gauge if the man at the bar slings as much mad cash as you? Fortunately, in the last decade, one ultimate stealth signifier of extreme wealth has emerged to become the club pin, the friendship bracelet or the varsity blazer of the world’s financial elite: the Richard Mille watch. The Richard Mille watch is more than a timepiece; it is a sign of inclusion into a very special club. It has, in essence, become today’s equivalent of the billionaires’ Masonic handshake.

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Declan Quinn