Theodore Diehl is a horologist and spokesperson of high-end watchmaker Richard Mille based in Breuleux, Switzerland (price range goes from EUR 95,000 to EUR 2,300,000 depending on materials and finish). Diehl was one of the very first members to join the brand working closely with Mr. Richard Mille on business side of the firm. The brand which created the new category in luxury watch: watches for extreme condition.
smalltalk with Theodore Diehl
“Watches, like cars, need regular servicing; if getting your watch serviced regularly becomes a repetitious hassle every few years, where is the luxury in ownership of such a timepiece?”
How did you get into horology and end up joining Richard Mille? (Theodore Diehl) I was completely taken by everything to do with wristwatches after my parents gave me my first wristwatch as a birthday gift for my tenth birthday. This passion developed, so later in life, in the 1990’s I began writing regularly about complicated wristwatches for IW (UK) and when the magazine split ownership, also for their partner magazine in the USA. Later, when James Gurney founded QP, he asked me to write and plan virtually all the material for his first four issues of his (then new) magazine, as I knew everyone in the Swiss watch scene so to speak. This was followed later by writing about watches for the Financial Times (London) Revolution, The Herald Tribune and several other publications. I met Richard (Founder of Richard Mille) about 2000 during all this writing activity, and he loved my articles, and the attention given to the smallest details – something he considered absolutely essential. Within a year or two after we met, he asked me to join his company, and the rest is history…It is hard to imagine that when I began working for Richard Mille, watch production was only about 50 watches a year, (today more than 4,500), and I was one of only three people (including Richard) working on the business side of the equation, excluding the watchmakers and factory personnel.
What was your first watch? (TD) A Bulova ‘Caravelle’ with a white dial, black numerals and center seconds. I broke it the same evening. Desperate to see how it ticked, I opened the back with my pen knife and then tried to ‘adjust’ the watch’s timing with a paper clip.
“Once you fully understand how the energy flows through a mechanism and can visualize it in your mind, it all becomes much easier.”
What does it take to be a horologist? (TD) I think one of the hardest things is learning to fathom and grasp various mechanical activities inside the movement in three dimensions in motion. When I first started out this was very difficult and it took me a lot of time to develop that way of observing. Once you fully understand how the energy flows through a mechanism and can visualize it in your mind, it all becomes much easier. Many people don’t realize that even a simple Swiss anchor escapement has a lot of activity going on, the fine details of which are hard to truly comprehend in detail. And it only gets more complicated, literally as well as figuratively, when discussing tourbillons of various types or things like chronographs and new escapements. A horologist does not necessarily have to be a watchmaker, but you do need to know a lot about the historical background and actual practices of watchmaking; for that reason I am continually reading books about watchmaking and I am still learning something new every day.
Richard Mille is known for ‘extreme watch for extreme condition’, ‘shock resistance’ and the brand defined ’new category of luxury’ wristwatches. What defines luxury in watchmaking? (TD) When you talk about contemporary definitions of luxury in relation to watchmaking, my view is that a wristwatch has to be more than perfectly constructed, more than just the sum of its parts; it needs be advanced in design, assembly, materials and presentation. It also has to be extremely comfortable to wear, care free in daily use, and ultimately have perfect servicing and support to back it up. True luxury – a rare experience – is when all these aspects come together harmoniously. If a watch is super cool to see, but it chafes on your wrist all day or pulls on your shirt cuffs, where is the real luxury in such an item? Watches, like cars, need regular servicing; if getting your watch serviced regularly becomes a repetitious hassle every few years, where is the luxury in ownership of such a timepiece? At Richard Mille all these aspects are tightly and perfectly dovetailed together, and this is one of the reasons I love the brand so much.
“Certain gears in our watches have the same special profiles as found in car transmissions and jet engines, and you will find many high-tech materials inside the watches loaned directly from the racing world and aeronautics.”
The collaborative timepieces with McLaren or Airbus are really good examples of how watchmaking is sharing the universe of aeronautics and cars. What is the collective DNA of such projects? (TD) Richard was a visionary from the brand’s inception, actually the first to literally take inspiration for the creation of the actual watch movement, case, materials and design aspects from the world of aeronautics and racing cars. These concepts are seriously implemented into every aspect of every watch, so we are not talking about merely superficial cues like an F1 logo or a color scheme – as many brands do in an attempt to be sporty or modern. To name one typical example, certain gears in our watches have the same special profiles as found in car transmissions and jet engines, and you will find many high-tech materials inside the watches loaned directly from the racing world and aeronautics. It is incredibly expensive to do things like this – and no one else in Switzerland is doing it this way. Consequently, this kind of ‘marriage’ makes our timepieces highly exclusive within the industry, bar none.
What is your favorite Richard Mille model and why? (TD) My favorite is the RM 002, one of the first models, and in my view an all-time classic on its own. I collect all kinds of watches, also very ‘classical’ ones, so I have a slightly conservative taste in watch collecting, and for me the RM 002 still amazes me as much today as it did more than 17 years ago.
Can we expect a shift in watchmaking infrastructure in the future? Where as most watchmakings are centralized currently in Switzerland. (TD) The Swiss have always been highly protective of their status as a watchmaking haven for centuries. In the meantime, we forget that many years back, there was a blossoming watch industry in areas of Germany, France, Poland and the Czech Republic amongst others that have been forgotten, or in some cases revived only with great effort. And today, there are many other countries trying avidly to enter the market by developing wristwatches for export around the world. Nonetheless, Switzerland has never lost its premier position in watchmaking due to its vast supply of specialist materials, machines, experience and highly trained personnel at every level, and I am convinced for these reasons that they will always continue as the leaders of watchmaking within a European context.
Most memorable moment from your career? (TD) When I threw one of our complicated tourbillon watches, valued at some £ 1,200,000 into a crowd of journalists, in order to prove to them the reality of how incredibly shock resistant it was. And then saw the watch had not lost a beat when they handed it back to me.
If you were not doing what you are doing now. What would you do? (TD) Actually, as a student I studied the harpsichord (the 18th century keyboard instrument of J.S. Bach’s time) at the conservatory in Amsterdam, so maybe I would be performing a concerto somewhere in an alternate dimension of the space-time continuum.