View all articles

Review: Richard Mille RM 028

Some dive watches can withstand enormous depths, others have lume brighter than the sun and a few even throw a couple of other complications into the mix. Not so the RM 028 from Richard Mille. It does none of those things. In fact, it’s pretty straightforward. So why is it one of the craziest dive watches ever made?

Before we explore the frankly ridiculous RM 028 any further, let’s first establish exactly what a dive watch is. Seems like a fairly straightforward answer—a watch you dive with—but there’s more to it than just that. Unlike a chronograph or a pilots’ watch, categories bestowed upon a broad and loose designation of functionality, a proper dive watch actually has to conform to a set of very strict standards.

Makes sense, really. A chronograph for timing laps won’t kill you, and neither will a pilots’ watch. A dive watch, however; get something wrong and you could be sleeping with the fishes, quite literally. The International Organisation for Standardisation, or ISO for short, has established not one but two sets of guidelines that determine exactly what a watch must do in order to be classed as a dive watch. Side note: if you’re a photographer and wondering if the ISO setting on your camera has anything to do with this Swiss setter of rules, you’d be right—they established the standards for digital sensors to match the sensitivity of film as well.

Anyway, back to the dive watch. Because the idea of diving isn’t all that old in the horological scheme of things, popularised mid-20th century, the dive watch, too, is still considered a pretty new idea. Chronographs, calendars, chimes—they’d all existed for centuries before, and although the idea of water-resistance had been pursued here and there throughout history, it wasn’t ever explored in a properly commercial way. After all, there aren’t many of us who get full on soaking wet whilst wearing a watch.

But affordable, convenient diving changed that. Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus—SCUBA, of course—did away with heavy, cumbersome suits, oxygen lines to the surface, whole teams of people needed to execute a dive. People could go deeper and for longer, and they needed a watch to suit. There was money to be made at the bottom of the ocean, so they needed it quick.

A watch is only considered a "dive watch" when it is purpose built and has a water resistance greater than 10 atm (100m)

A watch is only considered a "dive watch" when it is purpose built and has a water resistance greater than 10 atm (100m)

As such, the evolution of the dive watch happened at lightning pace—for watchmaking at least. Light water resistance was already being explored with watches like the 1927 Rolex Oyster and the 1932 Omega Marine, but a dive watch needed to do more than that. It needed increased water resistance for a start, but it also needed to be usable in the dark, difficult conditions underwater, too. Watches like the 1938 Panerai Radiomir developed the use of glowing paint to read a watch by underwater, alongside legible, high-contrast dials and hands.

Then there was the timing aspect. Sure, a watch has a constant running time display already, but a dive watch really needed something that could be read at a glance without the risk of making a mistake. One of the first instances of what would become the dive watch bezel was the 1937 Rolex Zerographe, a flyback monopusher chronograph concept that never made it into full production.

But the bezel would meet its final iteration in what is considered the father of the modern dive watch, the 1953 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. What made this version so unique was a simple modification that meant the bezel could only turn one way. This was very important, because it meant time could only be accidentally taken away from a reading and not added, never leaving a diver thinking they have more time than they really do.

This combination of factors led to the ISO 2281 water-resistant watches standard—not waterproof, mind, that terminology is not allowed as it suggests complete and utter imperviousness to water—and the ISO 6425 divers’ watch standard. These state that a dive watch must be reliable underwater, have a time-preselecting device—like a bezel—be legible underwater, have a running indicator, like a second hand, mild magnetic resistance, shock resistance and saltwater resistance. Only then can a watch be called a diver.

The 1953 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was the first modern dive watch

The 1953 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was the first modern dive watch

Does the RM 028 cater for all those standards? For an RRP of an eye-watering £88,000, you bet your boots it does. To wear that “300m” tag on the dial, it has to fulfil every single one of those requirements. But that’s hardly news, is it? Dive watches are a dime a dozen, and most of them certainly don’t cost the better part of a house. In fact, most dive watches are the complete opposite of crazy, for obvious reasons: they are sensible, sedate.

Not the RM 028. It’s gone in the complete opposite direction. Everything about everything about it has been executed in a way that defies all logic, all reasoning. I once moved into a house that had a built-in sideboard that I decided to remove. The person who’d built it had overengineered it to such a degree that the pile of screws at the end was almost as large as the pile of wood. The RM 028 is exactly the same.

And I mean that quite literally. There are a lot of screws here, outside and in, but particularly on the bezel. Most dive watches have a push-fit insert, but not the RM 028. Its bezel is held in place by no less than—and I counted them to be sure—thirty screws. Thirty! Most watches don’t have that in total let alone in the bezel. And each one of those screws is like those security fittings car manufacturers use to stop would-be home mechanics from tampering with their engines, splined and drilled in a way that no home-depot socket will ever hope to fit.

This Saturn V-level of overengineering isn’t just for looks. The bezel turns, as it should, but not in the way you might expect. Most simply rotate freely, a ratchet inside making sure they can only go anticlockwise, but the RM 028 seems to have borrowed an airlock from the International Space Station instead. The protrusions at the top and bottom are actually buttons, and both of them need to be pressed in order to make an adjustment. It’s hard enough to change when you want to, so you’re never going to do it accidentally when you don’t.

Popularity, exclusivity, technical innovation—these are some of the reasons why Richard Mille watches demand such high price tags

Popularity, exclusivity, technical innovation—these are some of the reasons why Richard Mille watches demand such high price tags

To match the steroidal bezel is an equally beefed-up titanium case, 47mm in diameter and as thick as a bus. It looks more like a scale model of the submarine that will rediscover the lost city of Atlantis than a watch you wear on your wrist. Howard Hughes would be proud. The sculpted, industrial facings of the three-part case give the impression it was designed more for fluid dynamics than aesthetics, with the crown sitting snug between the I-beam guards almost a two-man job to set.

It’s no wonder that this is Richard Mille’s entry into dive watches, because as far impact goes, it pulls no punches. Everything about it is turned up to eleven, from the hands that double as ironing boards, to the skeletonised calibre RMAS7, with its structurally sculpted end plates and variable inertia rotor weight. It’s a display of sheer craziness, more drama than every other dive watch put together. This thing makes the Omega PloProf look like a Submariner.

Right, so there’s no kidding anyone that any of this stuff is actually necessary. If a £500 Seiko can meet the same requirements for ISOs 2281 and 6425, then the RM 028 doesn’t need thirty screws in its bezel and a case like a steampunk battleship. But that’s not what this watch is about. As Richard Mille himself said, this is archaic technology built with modern techniques, and there’s no ISO standard for that. The mechanical dive watch is obsolete, a whimsy open to interpretation to the most extreme degree. So, although the RM 028 might be the craziest dive watch, it also somehow makes a lot of sense.

Looking for a Richard Mille watch? Click here to shop now