Over-Engineered Haute Horology: The Richard Mille RM 35-03

Richard Mille tends to be a divisive brand. Often found on the wrists of wealthy entertainers, athletes, and billionaires, the brand is less popular with traditional collectors, especially those who prioritize classic designs and aesthetics in high-end watch making. The often sky-high prices both at retail and on the secondary market have turned off many enthusiasts as well. 

If we’re being honest, though, Richard Mille has produced some of the most innovative and creative timepieces in recent memory. Yes, the aesthetic is bold and sporty, but there is still an incredible amount of craftsmanship and engineering that goes into each and every watch that the brand makes. And their watches are more than just interesting aesthetically. Richard Mille has partnered with athletes to create watches designed to withstand the rigors of sports to a degree not attempted by any other manufacturer. One of RM’s most famous collaborations is with tennis great Rafael Nadal. This partnership produced an entire line of watches developed specifically to withstand the rigors of a tennis match and today we are looking at one of these pieces, the RM 35-03. 

Richard Mille RM035-03 Rafael Nadal Quartz TPT


Since its founding in 2001, Richard Mille’s ethos and design language have remained remarkably consistent. Their first watch, the RM 001, featured a tourbillon in the now-iconic tonneau shaped case. This combination of haute horology and contemporary design established the blueprint for all Richard Mille timepieces to follow. Featuring a titanium base plate (the first 11 examples had one made from German silver), the manual-wind movement had a 70-hour power reserve and a one-minute tourbillon. 

In 2010, a short 9 years after the brand’s founding, Richard Mille established their partnership with Rafael Nadal to produce the RM 27. Designed to be incredibly light and shock resistant, Richard Mille developed a watch that could not only withstand the rigors of a tennis match, but incredibly also had a fully functioning tourbillon. The RM 27 was so light and robust that Nadal regularly wore the watch in actual tournament play.

In subsequent years, Richard Mille and Rafael Nadal continued to develop their partnership debuting the RM 27-01 in 2013 (which weighed an incredible 18.83 grams including the strap). The RM 27-02 which was released in 2015 was the first flying tourbillon with a unibody baseplate (meaning that the movement was integral to the construction of the the case band, further enhancing the watch’s durability). In 2017, RM debuted the RM 27-03 which could withstand shocks of up to 10,000 g’s. 

RM didn’t stop at just one collection in their collaboration with Nadal. The two also worked together to create the RM 035 line. Originally released in 2011, the first RM 035 had a titanium movement that weighed just 4.3 grams and a case made of alumagnesium – a light and rugged alloy made from aluminum, magnesium and copper. Because the RM 035 does not have a tourbillon (like the RM 27), the RM 035 is sometimes referred to as the “Baby Nadal.” The second watch in the collection, the RM 035-02 added automatic winding, and the RM 035-03 included a butterfly rotor with variable inertia and a case made of ultra-light Quartz TPT. 

Richard Mille RM035-03 Rafael Nadal Quartz TPT

Design Details

As with any Richard Mille, bold is the name of the game. The RM 035-03’s tonneau case measures 43.15mm wide, 50mm lug to lug, and 13.15mm thick. It is definitely on the larger side, but the curvature of the case keeps it wearable on a wide range of wrists. The Quartz TPT bezel and caseback are a vibrant blue color and feature a layered construction method that gives the material lines similar those found in Damascus steel (but without the weight). As with most Richard Milles, the dial is fully skeletonized, allowing for an uninterrupted view through the watch and the hour and minute hands are skeletonized as well, with lumed yellow accents at the tips.

Richard Mille RM035-03 Rafael Nadal Quartz TPT

On the right-hand side of the case, there is a push button at 2 o’clock (called the “selector”) which allows the wearer to select the winding, neutral, and hand-setting functions of the watch (a hand at 2 o’clock also displays the selected function). The winding crown has a large red textured insert to facilitate grip while winding and the pusher at 7 o’clock controls the rotor functions (which we’ll discuss later). 

Richard Mille RM035-03 Rafael Nadal Quartz TPT

The watch is fitted with a rubber strap that integrates into the case and is secured to the wrist with a titanium deployant clasp, giving the watch an incredibly sporty look. 

Inner Workings

As if the blue Quartz TPT case was not interesting enough, the Calibre RMAL2 is where this Richard Mille really comes into its own. The fully skeletonized automatic movement displays the hours, minutes, and seconds, and has a 55-hour power reserve. The mainplate and bridges are made from grade 5 titanium, for its rigidity and lightness, and while not conventionally finished, the titanium components are brushed with chamfered edges, which is no small feat. With the standard specs out of the way, we move on to the winding functions and butterfly rotor which are the true star of the show.

Richard Mille RM035-03 Rafael Nadal Quartz TPT

Instead of a conventional crown with multiple positions (for winding, setting, etc.), Richard Mille utilizes a pusher to control the crown functions. Located at 2 o’clock on the case, this allows the user to alternate between winding (winding the mainspring), neutral (crown does nothing), and hacking (to set the time). These functions are displayed on the dial via the indicator at 2 o’clock with a corresponding W, N, and H. Is this overkill? Sure, but the additional interaction is undoubtedly innovative. I imagine that this is done to avoid potential damage to the crown stem during activities. Especially when compared to a conventional screw-in crown, this system would prevent crowns from accidentally being left in positions that could damage the movement while in use, or prevent the crown from being left unscrewed making it susceptible to water damage.

Richard Mille RM035-03 Rafael Nadal Quartz TPT

The butterfly rotor is another stunning feature of the RM 035-03. Seen through the sapphire caseback, the titanium rotor resembles some sort of dual blade weapon. In the standard position, the rotor functions as a conventional rotor, with the outer weight causing it to spin, thus winding the mainspring for the movement. When the pusher at 7 o’clock is pressed and put into “Sport Mode”, the weight is displaced 180 degrees, bringing the center of gravity to the center, thus disengaging the rotor’s ability to wind the mainspring. This is done to prevent any excessive winding that may occur during rigorous sporting activities. The status of the rotor is shown with an indicator at 6 o’clock with “On” meaning the rotor is activated and can spin freely, and “Off” indicating that the rotor is not functioning.

Richard Mille RM035-03 Rafael Nadal Quartz TPT


Any Richard Mille watch is sure to make a statement. The models intended for actual sport use, including the RM 035-03, have a more bold and sporty aesthetic. At the same time, the technical innovation and specifications also showcase a watch that is a lot more serious than it may appear upon first glance. Unfortunately, some of the hype surrounding Richard Mille timepieces may have clouded this perception. However, if you are fortunate enough to add the RM 035-3 to your collection, you will know the innovative engineering that is contained inside.

Richard Mille RM035-03 Rafael Nadal Quartz TPT

Versus the Competition

When it comes to watches that can be compared to a Richard Mille, materials and creative engineering are the top consideration. Here are some options that we think stand alongside Richard Mille on those fronts.

The Royal Oak Concept series has been Audemars Piguet’s platform for haute horology experimentation. The Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT is housed in titanium and ceramic and combines the practicality of a GMT with the horological tour de force of a flying tourbillon. The classic Royal Oak case is reimagined in a more brutalist, utilitarian manner and has a similar curved design and integrated rubber strap to the Richard Mille. There is also a pusher controlled crown operation system, with a function indicator located at 6 o’clock. If you prefer your outlandish horological adventures to come from a more traditional brand, the Royal Oak Concept series is a great place to look. 

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT 26589IO.OO.D002CA.01

While no longer in production, the F.P. Journe Centigraphe Sport in Aluminum was Journe’s take on the sports watch. With a case, bracelet, dial, and movement made of aluminum with rubber cladding, its lightness is truly disorienting. The 1/100th of a second chronograph is a dazzling display when active, and is invaluable for anyone timing close races… 

DeBethune is a brand that has been top of mind for serious collectors lately thanks to their spectacular movement and case finishing, unique spring-loaded articulating lugs, and eye-catching designs. The DB28 Grand Bleu is the brand’s take on a dive watch. Featuring a 44mm grade five titanium case rated to 330 meters of water resistance, an inner rotating bezel, and a mechanically powered light system to the illuminate the dial, this is an impressive piece that could definitely take the place of the RM in your collection.

Final Thoughts

For a large number of enthusiasts, Richard Mille watches are difficult to digest. The brash look, large price tags, and celebrity associations are not what most collectors are after. However, the engineering involved is spectacular and innovative and demonstrates a sense of creativity in regards to the functions and aesthetics of the watch that few other brands match. The RM 035-03 is an over-engineered take on a robust sports watch that is more than capable of handling rigorous activity. If I saw someone wearing this watch in the wild (or even better, on the tennis court!), they would immediately have my respect! 

See More of the Richard Mille RM 35-03

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