In an unprecedented feat, Richard Mille has incorporated an artistic creation in sapphire and gold within a tourbillon movement, the RM 57-03 Sapphire Dragon, an innovation that requires the combination of a complex procedure of sapphire machining with the delicate art of engraving.
The dragon, a mythical animal arising from an ancestral imaginary world and eternally intertwined in Oriental culture, has multiple meanings, but in this timepiece it is a symbol of perseverance and success as well as of the power and strength that make it a master of the elements.
This notion of robustness and reassuring solidity, visible in the bearing of the dragon that firmly encircles the manually-wound tourbillon calibre, dictated the creative process followed by the engravers at Olivier Vaucher, working in collaboration with the Richard Mille movement and exterior engineers on this complex endeavour.
As a fantastical creature moving through the water, the dragon harmoniously encapsulates the Yin of sapphire, associated with the liquid element, and the Yang of gold, which carries the opposing heat and positive connotations of the Sun.
Sapphire, a complex and exciting material to work with possesses a transparency resulting from the purity of the aluminium oxide crystals (Al2O3), and a hardness of 1,800 Vickers.
While Richard Mille sapphire cases are generally ground, on this occasion the technique was set aside in favour of laser micro-cutting, performed using a machine specific to this project.
This was done to obtain the piece’s extremely precise details and curves while avoiding undesirable physical and chemical reactions.
To engrave the dragon, Vaucher and his teams developed a new hand-polishing technique to enhance the natural transparency of the sapphire.
The head and feet in carved red gold also serve to accentuate the crystalline texture of the sapphire and the volume of the subject.
The minute details of the scales were the result of a long and delicate process of painting with gold, while applying these to the dragon’s tongue and eyes – giving it a determined look – added a final artistic dimension to the piece.
The extreme skeletonisation of the grade-5 titanium RM 57-03 calibre clearly reveals the minimalist baseplate to create a new perspective of the movement and its gears.
Only available in Asia, the RM 57-03 is produced in a limited edition of 55 pieces, five of which have a sapphire case.