The Genius And Mechanics Behind A Smile

Inspired by the era-defining Smiley, the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley from Richard Mille is a playful, limited-edition tourbillon that depicts the vivid scenes of a surreal dream.

RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley

A yellow circle, two oval eyes, a wide upturned mouth.

Drawn by Franklin Loufrani just over 50 years ago, the Smiley has become an established symbol in the collective consciousness. Now more than ever, the popular emoticon serves as the embodiment of positivity and joy, and continues to play a universal role at the heart of pop culture.

This symbolic and exuberant attitude that is so effectively captured by the Smiley, was reason enough for the teams at Richard Mille to want to create an emotion-driven watch that represented all these values. In particular, the multivalent quality of a smile that is so fundamental to social interactions and so expressive of our innate desire to connect with others.

The result of this three-year quest is the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley—a timepiece that is both a visually stunning work of art and an unapologetic feat of precision engineering.

Like the emoticon on which it was inspired, the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley resonates joy and invokes smiles; thanks in no small part to the meticulously curated application of icons of the Smiley world—a blooming flower, a hot sun, a delicious pineapple, a burgeoning cactus, a pink flamingo and a vivid rainbow.

This array of micro sculptures has been seamlessly interwoven into the movement to form a surreal scene brimming with merriment while simultaneously demonstrating sheer mastery of the infinitely small. A scene where Richard Mille’s Creative and Development Director, Cécile Guenat, expresses how “the decorative elements are spontaneously placed in the watch, following an explosion around the tourbillon carriage.”

This timepiece is, quite simply, a joy and a wonder to behold.

Engineering the Dream
Even as we revel at the completed project, a succession of critical challenges had to be tackled before the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley could see the light of day.

The challenges revolved around the incorporation of the exquisite micro sculptures, created by specialist engraver Olivier Kuhn, into the calibre assembly. Firstly, the dimensions and weight of the gold micro sculptures, each weighing less than a gram, had to be judiciously calibrated for consistency while ensuring they were robust enough to withstand every type of shock.

Another challenge was in determining how to arrange the objects in three-dimensional space around the central motif—the Smiley—to maximize aesthetic effect while facilitating their insertion by the watchmaker.

Holistically, there was also the visual challenge of ensuring enough free space to display the multiple protagonists of this scene with the greatest possible impact.

In order to meet all these challenges it was decided that a new in-house calibre was needed. This was how the CRMT7 calibre came into being.

The CRMT7 is an all new skeletonized automatic tourbillon movement with hours, minutes and a function indicator that oscillates at four Hz (28,000 vibrations/h) and features a power reserve of 50 hours. This movement has been designed, machined and assembled entirely in-house by Richard Mille.

The new calibre facilitated a simple yet elegant answer to the challenge of integrating and inserting the iconic micro sculptures. The solution was to equip the watch with two baseplates: one technical, to support the movement, and the other to secure the ornamental objects on the left-hand side of the dial. This auxiliary baseplate would subsequently be mounted onto the movement.

This novel arrangement meant that the micro sculptures could be presented at an inclined plane, for added volumetric and three-dimensional effect. However, the arrangement also required different attachment methods. The pink flamingo, for instance, is fastened using a stud while the sun, the flower, the cocktail glass and the gradient gold rainbow, are affixed with screws. Meanwhile, the pineapple and the cactus are pierced by two pins in polished Phynox while the Smiley itself is assembled on a decorative bridge, lending the impression that it floats above the movement.

RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley

Focused and Persistent Attention to Detail
With the major technical issues finally resolved, the teams at Richard Mille then got down to the details, sparing no effort in ensuring every minute element was given the attention and finish it deserved.

The shining face of the Smiley has been microblasted and hand-painted in 3N yellow gold while 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 has also been microblasted for that “chilled” effect, weigh an astonishing 0.4 grams in total. The gold flower above is made of 5N gold and features a mirror-polished heart and a brushed, rhodium plated petals.

The additional motion work bridge, to which the Smiley is affixed, takes the form and colours of a rainbow. This bridge, made of microblasted ARCAP® with polished angles and drawn-out edges, gleams with faint reflections thanks to hand-applied varnishes.

The small seconds hand alternates between rain and fine weather by the minute. It glides its way over the ARCAP® cloud affixed to the tourbillon then hides beneath a small cloud microblasted and satin finished in white gold, before re-emerging at the foot of a rainbow of four shades of gold. Made of white gold and 2N, 4N and 6N gold, the rainbow itself has been subjected to alternate microblasting and drawn-out finishing, a culmination of 25 hours of craftmanship.

A function indicator at 3 o’clock allows one to see the winding (W) and hand-setting (H) positions as the crown is pulled out. The
RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley also sports a free-sprung balance with variable inertia for greater reliability when subject to shocks and during movement assembly or disassembly.

The entire mechanical ensemble is housed in a visually stunning case made of ATZ white ceramic, a material known for its high scratch-resistance and a perennial whiteness that contrasts effectively with the red gold of the case band.

Beyond such attention to detail, the RM 88 Automatic Tourbillon Smiley is, at its heart, as enthralling as it is rare. Only 50 pieces are available worldwide. For more information about this exceptional timepiece, visit www.richardmille.com.

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