Richard Mille says that its sales are up 15% this year thanks to its strategy of producing limited quantities of high end, highly creative mechanical timepieces.
In a year where the Swiss watch industry is suffering historic falls in exports, the independent Richard Mille is profiting from its highly selective production, design and even distribution models.
It maintains a vice-like grip on its exclusive retail channel, selling in the UK only via its own Mayfair store, a concession in Harrods and with Owen and Robinson in Leeds.
In publicity surrounding the launch of an $800,000 (£615,000) Richard Mille timepiece created in conjunction with Cyril Phan, France’s equivalent of graffiti artist Banksy, the eponymous owner Mr Mille said that the trick was to ensure demand for his watches always exceeds supply.
“I love to always have demand that is higher than what we can produce,” he said. “If you look at the auction houses, they’re dealing in quality, rarity, authenticity and artistic dimension. We work with very small numbers and a fantastic artistic dimension,” he said in an interview with US business channel CNBC.
To prove the point, only 30 of the graffiti timepieces were produced, and sold out at launch. Mr Mille told CNBC he could have sold twice as many although, with Mr Phan hand-painting every visible component of the 68-01 watch under a microscope, ramping up production would have been a challenge.
As the largest watch houses, Richemont, LVMH and Swatch Group, battle to maintain profits while unit shipments decline, Richard Mille will stick to its limited runs. The company made only 3,200 watches last year and production will remain similar in 2016.
“The watch business has very much turned into a volume business,” he said. “People are obsessed by volume. I’m not. We are in the high luxury business,” Mr Mille concluded.