Among the watch cognoscenti, Richard Mille is a polarizing figure. Beloved by athletes, celebrities, and contemporary design fans for his boundary-pushing timepieces, the French watchmaker is equally disparaged by purists, who regard his ultra-expensive, tonneau-shaped wristwatches as ostentatious symbols of the bro-ey subculture that pervades the world of high-end watch collecting.
“Richard Mille is going to become the punchline of our era,” says one watch industry insider who is not a fan. “We live in a time of excessive wealth, where instantly recognizable icons draw the attention of the super rich. Richard Mille capitalized on that, brilliantly. But just as the brand’s rise was so fast over the last 10 years, its fall will be faster.”
The affable Mr. Mille takes the criticism in stride. In fact, earlier this year, he introduced a collection that many watch fans interpreted as a coy F-you to his detractors. Named Bonbon, the line contained 10 timepieces divided into “Sweets” and “Fruits.” Fashioned from high-tech materials such as carbon, ceramic, and thin-ply quartz, the pieces were styled by creative director Cécile Guenat to resemble popular candies, their sweet, pastel-colored hues evoking everything from marshmallow Peeps to candied citrus. One piece, called “Cupcake,” featured an enameled dial of orange and grape-like swirls.
When she began the first drawings, Guenat imagined an old-fashioned candy store filled with hundreds of colors and tastes and tried to “translate this into something tangible,” she says. “I thought I might be being too mischievous, but I was following the Richard Mille philosophy as a serious brand that breaks codes.”
Unexpectedly feminine (at least for a brand known for making “a racing machine on the wrist,” according to its tagline), the collection of horological confections struck Steve Hallock, owner of Tick Tocking, an L.A.–based dealer specializing in contemporary timepieces, as “almost a self-deprecating gesture.” “‘Hey, you guys think we’ve turned into this frivolous throwaway luxury brand?’” he says. “‘We’ll play with that idea and make the most frivolous thing possible.’ Candy is hollow calories. It’s a weird place to be for a $200,000 haute horologe brand.”
Even weirder is the fact that while the Bonbon pieces are reportedly sold out—in keeping with Richard Mille’s reputation for extreme scarcity—on-the-wrist sightings have been surprisingly elusive. For a brand that thrives on its association with boldfaced names—RM stalwarts include Odell Beckham Jr., Rafael Nadal, and Yusaku Maezawa, the billionaire Japanese fashion magnate who made news last fall when Elon Musk revealed he would be the world’s first paying passenger to the moon—the collection seems strangely absent from social media.
At press time, the only celeb who has been photographed wearing a Bonbon model is musician Frank Ocean, who in March posted a wrist shot of the $138,000 RM 37-01 Kiwi to his Instagram Stories. In an era when “pics or it didn’t happen” is an all-too-accurate barometer of cultural relevance, the Bonbon collection remains a mystery. Is it the watchmaking equivalent of cotton candy or a self-aware send-up of the current watch climate? Either way, we’re sweet on it.