Polo: The Sport Of Kings, And Thanks To Richard Mille, Yours Truly
by Ian Skellern
As I write this, most of the world’s citizens have switched off their normal, rational mental processes and gone crazy over football.
Most of the world, it seems, bar the USA −though that appears to be changing as they win − and me.
Even my normally rational Quill & Pad partner, Elizabeth Doerr, broke free of the chains of The Chicago Manual of Style to begin a recent article with the vowel-rich, “Goooooaaaaaallll!”
While I appreciate the theater of football, with all of its play-acting, falling-down-crying, “He hurt me (without actually touching me)” and the genuine passion it inspires in its plenitude of fans, football − even the World Cup − wafts past me like a light zephyr. And has about as much impact.
Horses for courses
Horses, on the other hand, do have a daily impact on my life. While I don’t ride much (meaning practically never), my wife rides daily and competes in dressage. We have a few horses at home (one of ours and a couple of boarders). My days begin with mucking out stables and my life is full of all things equine . . . including the rich, heady odor of horse manure.
Saint-Tropez in the south of France
So when an email from Richard Mille popped into my inbox asking if I’d be interested in attending the launch of the new limited edition RM 030 – the second model celebrating the brand’s task as official timekeeper for the Saint-Tropez Polo Club – I thought, “You have my interest, pray go on.”
“The event is in Saint-Tropez.”
“You would have lessons with Richard Mille ambassador and polo player extraordinaire, the 10-goal Argentinian player Pablo Mac Donough.”
“And, naturally, you would be staying in a nice hotel and there would be great food.”
“And a superb spa to work out those post-game aches.”
Hot. However, while that all sounds good, it takes more than a gaucho in the south of France, a soft bed and a back rub to lure me away from the rustic comforts of my own home.
Did somebody say helicopter?
“How about a helicopter transfer from Nice to the Saint-Tropez Polo Club”
Scorching hot! Count me in.
There may well be some of you out there thinking, “Ian, it sounds as though your horological objectivity might be called into question by this panoply of opulence.”
And to them I would reply, “What objectivity?”
And I think this is an important point for all readers of magazines, blogs and discussion forums: nobody, bar nobody, is objective.
The whole reason I write about high-end mechanical watches is that I personally like high-end mechanical watches. I like them so much I spend my life writing about them and have spent unhealthy amounts of money buying a few of them.
So that’s a pretty strong bias right off the bat.
And I have a particular affinity for contemporary watches.
Plus I particularly like interesting movements, and I like seeing movements and mechanisms working.
So it should be no surprise to anyone that, polo or no polo, helicopter or no helicopter, I like Richard Mille as a brand.
And if you haven’t noticed, Richard Mille is an advertising partner of Quill & Pad.
So if you are looking for objectivity, look elsewhere because you will not find it here.
But what I can promise you is honesty. I will tell what I honestly think and feel.
I like Richard Mille’s tonneau-shaped case models (well, most of them), but the square cases do nothing for me at all. And while I find most of the round models technically interesting, they are generally far too big for my little chicken-leg-sized wrist.
Watch brands don’t buy (respectable) journalists’ integrity with luxurious trips like these, but they certainly generate considerable goodwill and, perhaps as importantly, attention.
How it went down
And as I was paying close attention to the happenings in Saint-Tropez, this is how it went down.
Flight − Geneva to Nice (pronounced “niece”) in France, then a 20-minute helicopter flight along the Cote d’Azur to Saint-Tropez, landing directly on the grounds of the Saint-Tropez Polo Club. (If I closed my eyes, I could nearly see my yacht in the harbor and Bentley in the car park.)
Lunch − naturally an Argentinian barbeque, an extremely good Argentinian barbeque.
And then a good look at the watch that brought us here, the RM 030 Polo de Saint-Tropez.
With its eye-catching, snow-white bezel, this RM 030 Polo de Saint-Tropez is certainly no wallflower. The white bezel is complemented by white numerals, white indications, and white Super-LumiNova on the hands.
As well as central hours, minutes and seconds, the RM 030 features a 55-hour power reserve indicator and an on/off indicator. The latter lets you know if the automatic winding rotor is engaged or not, as the rotor automatically disengages when the dual mainsprings are fully wound.
That’s something I might usually put down to being a complicated solution to a non-existent problem; however, for a watch designed to be worn in highly active sports, over-winding − which can cause increased wear − is likely to be a real issue.
And speaking of the watch being designed for being worn: our polo instructor for the day, Pablo Mac Donough, who is one of just six 10-goal rated players in the world, was playing with his unmissable RM 030 Polo de Saint-Tropez on his wrist . . . his right wrist!
And polo, as I can confirm from just a gentle introduction to the game, is a high-contact, high-impact, sport with fast-swinging mallets and faster moving horses.
You are even allowed to hook opponents’ mallets as they go for a shot, something that would have the football players on the ground crying foul in an instant!
After lulling us into a false sense of security with good food, it was time for the polo lesson, a prospect that generated considerable trepidation for some.
We sensibly began on foot, trying to hit the hard plastic ball with short mallets and quickly discovered that it wasn’t easy when standing still, let alone walking.
Not easy and this with short, easy-to-control mallets. And without a horse!
Six journalists who could not ride very well (or at all), horses, long mallets, and a constellation of hard balls: what could possibly go wrong?
To find out, we mounted our (generally) trusty steeds and took to the field once more. That little white ball, which was already difficult to hit consistently while standing, now looked a long way down.
While the ponies were extremely well trained, they were also extremely responsive, a factor that took some getting used to.
I was not thinking about the horse, or even about the riding at all, but just focusing on the ball and when to start the long 180-degree swing of the mallet so it hit the ball when the horse and rider arrived.
It was exhilarating.
And after an hour or so, I could canter and hit the ball with some consistency. So as far as I was concerned, I could now play polo. Look out, Argentina!
To put the standing of our instructor Pablo Mac Donough in context, professional polo players are rated on a scale of -2 goals to 10 goals. Mac Donough has been a 10-goal rated player for ten years now (he is 32). Since the rating system was introduced in 1890 (124 years ago), there have only been 50 10-goal players in total, and there are usually only six in the whole world in any given year.
Oh, I forgot to mention, I also had the pleasure of wearing a Yohan Blake RM 61-01, one of the few watches in the world that could make the RM 030 Polo de Saint-Tropez look like a wallflower.
And to give you an idea of the confidence Richard Mille has in the ability of the brand’s watches to take shocks, I was allowed to play polo with it. And I can tell you (though please don’t tell Richard Mille) that once on the horse, I forgot about it completely while focusing on the task in hand, which was firstly survival and secondly hitting the ball.
I’m happy to report that the Yohan Blake got a decent workout and didn’t miss a beat. Luckily, because if it came off my wrist I’d have problems finding it in the lush green grass of the polo field.
Did I mention that I finished the day feeling so cocky and full of confidence that with just a bit more practice I’d be ready to take on Argentina at its own game?
Well, that only lasted the night because for the next five days I could barely walk, let alone imagine getting on a horse again!
Back home and the dream is over, back to mucking out stables each morning. Though now that I can walk again, I’m wondering just how many polo ponies I would need to . . . .
For more information, please visit http://www.richardmille.com/.
Case: 50 x 42.70 x 13.95 mm
Movement: automatic winding with adjustable rotor
Functions: hours, minutes, central seconds; date, power reserve, winding indicator
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: 140,500 Swiss francs