Richard Mille has sponsored Les Voiles de St Barth for eight years. What’s the benefit of being involved with the event?
Well there’s definitely a glamour factor – an event like this attracts the sort of people who are going to buy luxury Richard Mille replica watches. The association with sailing per se is quite glamorous as it’s still a sport where you have amateurs competing at the highest level. I don’t think it’s particularly sailors that are buying the watches – as a rule most of them wouldn’t think anything of spending a fortune on a piece of equipment for their boat but they would happily walk around with a nondescript plastic watch. But then the people who come to St Barth don’t necessarily come for the sailing, they come for the food, the beaches, the lifestyle. It’s really a unique part of the Caribbean.
We have a good mix of crew ranging from ex-Olympic medal winners and America’s Cup sailors to amateur helms like me. I don’t think there’s another sport at this level where you can say: ‘Today I beat a guy who won gold in the last Olympics.’ That’s not to say that you don’t need to have a certain level of fitness. A few years ago, an off-the-cuff comment from my navigator Campbell Field spurred me on to get in to shape and I went on to lose 30 kilos. Although the Super Series is great fun, it is also incredibly physical and I knew that if I wanted to be good, I had to get fitter. We also do some offshore sailing like the Fastnet, and to sail non-stop for three days on little more than three-hours sleep, is really hard work.
The technology in a pure race boat like Sorcha draws on know-how from the aerospace industry and Formula 1 – a bit like Richard Mille limited edition copy watches. As you know, we make watches using TPT (previously known as NTPT, standing for North Thin Ply Technology). We use it for watch cases but it comes from the highest form of carbon sail development, using a nano-structure with a honeycomb centre like the shell of F1 cars. It has an extraordinarily light and strong structure. As with our watches, everything on Sorcha needs to be as light as possible, for example the ropes holding the mast are little more than 1cm thick and can withstand almost seven tons of pressure – that means that they could potentially lift four Rolls-Royces.
There are lots of timepiece manufacturers involved with different types of sailing. Why is the sport so appealing to watch brands?
I think it goes back to the last century and the evolution of watch customers. Back in the glory days of the 1940s to 1960s, high-end watch buyers would get into a sport and would challenge their watchmakers to create a watch to suit the activity they were doing. I think this connection is why watch companies have continued to develop the relationship.