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A Carved Sapphire Dragon

 Richard Mille combines the art of engraving with cutting-edge materials and techniques

The RM 57-03 Tourbillon Sapphire Dragon is the culmination of one of the brand’s beloved special projects. In an unprecedented feat, artistic creation in sapphire and gold has been incorporated within a tourbillon movement, requiring that the complex procedure of sapphire machining be combined with the delicate and poetic art of engraving. The brand excels in this bold approach of bringing together seemingly unrelated worlds.

The dragon, a mythical animal arising from an ancestral imaginary world and indissociable from Oriental culture, has multiple meanings. Here, it is a symbol of perseverance and success as well as of the power and strength that makes 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—a major name in engraving in Geneva—working in collaboration with the Richard Mille movement and exterior engineers on this complex endeavor. 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 has a special place at Richard Mille, which uses this material to craft the most complex cases and movement components. Its transparency, resulting from the purity of the aluminum oxide crystals (Al2O3), and its hardness of 1,800 Vickers make it an exciting substance to work with. While Richard Mille sapphire cases are generally ground, on this occasion the technique was set aside in favor 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. It was thanks to countless hours of R&D and Computer-assisted design (CAD) programming that the construction was rendered reliable and weak points were eliminated. To engrave the dragon, Olivier 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 skeletonization of the grade-5 titanium RM57-03 caliber clearly reveals the minimalist baseplate to create a new perspective of the movement and its gears. The RM 57-03 Tourbillon Sapphire Dragon is a natural addition to the collection with its combination of tried-and-tested traditional techniques and technical innovation. Only available in Asia, the RM 57-03 is produced in a limited edition of 55 pieces, 5 of which have a sapphire case.