During the Second World War, the U.S. military saw the wisdom in having a division of soldiers proficient in mountaineering and skiing. The rugged peaks of France, Italy, and Germany might be key battlefields, where a skilled alpine fighting force could take and hold the literal high ground. Thus was born the 10th Mountain Division, an elite cadre of soldiers trained in rope-work, rappelling, climbing, and backcountry skiing. The men selected for this division were recruited by the National Ski Patrol and drawn from a pool of experienced skiers, a novel process that was deemed easier than training existing soldiers mountain skills. The center of this divisionís training was Camp Hale, in the remote center of the Colorado Rockies, a perfect environment in which to hone a unique skill set. After the war, some of these soldiers returned to Colorado, and used their experience and passion for the mountains to launch the modern ski resort movement, in places like Aspen and Vail.*
Castle Creek Valley and the ghost town of Ashcroft.
Paying homage to the Colorado history of the 10th Mountain Division and Camp Hale is the series of backcountry mountain huts scattered in the high country. The 10th Mountain Division and Alfred A. Braun Hut Systems are accessible only by skis or snowshoes in winter, and the huts themselves are rustic wooden shelters, heated by wood stoves, with bunks for sleeping and propane stoves for cooking. Hiking in to one of these backcountry huts, at an elevation of 11,000 feet in the dead of winter, seemed a fitting way to review perhaps the most ďbackcountryĒ of Richard Mille watches: the RM25-01 Tourbillon Adventure, a watch that was inspired by Rambo himself, Sylvester Stallone.*
Hiking in to the backcountry seemed a fitting way to review the RM 25-01.
The RM 25-01 is big and outrageous in every respect of the word. At 51mm across and almost 24mm thick, it is gargantuan. The 100-meter water resistant case is made from Richard Milleís TPT carbon composite and held together with splined grade-5 titanium screws. The watch boasts a hand-wound chronograph movement with 24-hour display, tourbillon, power reserve, and torque and function indicators. These features alone are jaw-dropping, but fade into the background compared to the external functions of this watch.*
The RM 25--01 is a hand-wound chronograph with 24-hour display, tourbillon, power reserve, and torque and function indicators. The bezel can be used to navigate.
The RM 25-01 comes with a rotating bezel made from damascene TPT carbon and features both compass markings and an hour scale for displaying compass direction in both northern and southern hemispheres using the watch hands (more on that later). This bezel can be removed and replaced with a liquid compass module with hinged cover (again, TPT carbon) that sports a mirror and sighting aperture for precise navigation, in conjunction with the bubble level on the side of the case.
But perhaps the most interesting feature of this watch, and undoubtedly a world's first in a watch of any sort: a small vial mounted on the right flank holds three water purification tablets, which can be used to make the nastiest water potable in about half an hour.*
Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment, back here I can't even hold a job parking cars!
John Rambo, "First Blood"
Only 20 of these watches will be made, with no doubt #1 already on Slyís wrist. The price tag for this chronograph-cum-compass-cum-water purifier? $985,000. Thatís right, a cool million dollars gets you this upscale prepperís watch, with some change left over for a case of MREs, a KA-BAR, and a sweaty bandana.
Nothing says "adventure" like a pair of snowshoes and a million dollar watch.
Now, I know what youíre thinking: this watch is big, itís garish, itís unnecessary, and itís expensive. I can anticipate the comments already. ďMy Apple Watch and a bottle of iodine pills can do all that!Ē So letís set that aside for a moment. After all, Iím guessing few of us are the target market for this extraordinary timepiece, so it frees us from having to perform a critical cost-benefit analysis and just celebrate its pure outrageousness.
I was nervously giddy when I strapped on the RM 25-01 alongside my snowshoes and Ortovox avalanche transceiver for the three-mile and 1,100 vertical foot ascent to the Markley Hut a few miles outside of Aspen. The public relations person from Richard Mille North America had to get special permission from HQ to allow me to test this watch. Luckily, a couple of years ago, I had taken their RM 032 diving for a week in the Caribbean with no ill effects. So apparently they thought I could be trusted. Still, a million dollars is a million dollars and with a watch like that, I could potentially navigate myself right over the Continental Divide and disappear, D.B. Cooper style, into watch blogger legend.
We left the trailhead on the outskirts of Ashcroft, a former silver mining boom town turned ghost town, in a whipping wind with a half-foot of fresh snow from the night before. The ascent was gradual but constant and, above 10,000 feet, the thin air made the going slow. The trail wound through stands of aspens, some with their pale trunks graffitied with bear claw marks. As we got higher, the steep valley walls revealed themselves as jagged snowcapped peaks and evidence of landslides. Even in early winter, avalanches are a real danger; hence the transceivers we wore ďjust in caseĒ and the small shovels in our packs for digging out a trapped buddy. We hustled through those exposed chutes where bent-over tree trunks told of slides past. I thought, at least with this watch on my wrist, Richard Mille will come looking for me if I am not back when I said I would be.
Though Iíd like to say that wearing the RM 25-01 lent me some special, Rambo-esque backcountry prowess, I hardly noticed it under my glove. In fact, the huge case is so light and curved, it was downright comfortable to the point of being invisible on my wrist. So much so that, every once in a while, I paused to check to make sure it was there since digging through deep snow for three miles would make for a rather panicked and unpleasant way to spend the remainder of this backcountry adventure.
At neatly 24 millimeters thick, the RM 25-01 is no trembling flower.
Testing a dive watch in its intended environment is relatively simple. Watertight? Check. Legible? Check. Track elapsed time? Check. But the RM 25-01 requires a bit more effort to properly review. First up, wayfinding using the standard compass bezel. Thereís a well known and clever way of telling direction using a standard analog watch dial: point the hour hand towards the sun and due South will be at the halfway mark of the arc between the hand and 12:00. With a GMT watch or one that uses a 24-hour display, itís even easier. Point the 24-hour hand towards the sun and 12:00 points generally north. This applies to the Northern Hemisphere, mind you. The opposite applies south of the Equator. With the RM 25-01, the bezel makes it even easier. Align the bezel hour marker for the desired hemisphere with the hour hand, point it towards the sun and all compass directions are automatically shown. Check.
The TPT compass module clips on to the case and can be locked shut.
Show of hands: how many of you know how to take a bearing and navigate with a compass? Weíve become soft in our Google Mapped world. Rambo would disapprove, and this watch fittingly encourages old school wayfinding. The supplied liquid compass module can be used in two ways. It can be snapped onto the watch case after removing the standard bezel, or it can be used on its own, clicked into a titanium map scale with a supplied rubber lanyard for wearing around your neck. On the watch, the TPT compass module can be left shut for protection and opened for use. The green bubble level on the side of the watch case ensures you are holding the compass perfectly horizontally, easiest with the watch off the wrist. The interior mirror aids in holding the compass at eye level for optimum sighting, with the aperture and sighting line allows you to take a heading precisely. The mirror also acts a signaling device should you fail at navigating and the SAR chopper is out looking for you.
A bubble level, mirror, and sighting aperture help with precise navigation.
Holding the compass level with the mirror at a 45 degree angle yields a more precise bearing.
One note here: in extreme cold or at high altitudes, any small bubble in a liquid compass can grow in size. At 11,000 feet and 15 degrees Fahrenheit, the compass on the RM 25-01 had a considerably big bubble, which can render its accuracy unreliable. When I mentioned this to the Richard Mille representative back in Aspen, she said they were aware of it and put it down to the watch being a prototype sample.
The compass module can be removed and clipped on to a titanium map scale with lanyard.
I actually didnít use the chronograph much on the hike but it does bear mentioning. Given the bulbous protrusions on the RM 25-01ís right flank, the chrono pushers are relocated to the left side and are reversed. This means that the lower button starts and stops the chronograph and the top one resets. When worn on the left wrist, this requires using your thumb to activate it, which is optimal since the thumb is actually quicker to use than a forefinger (cf. early bomb timers).
The last feature that required testing was, of course, the water purification tablets. The fact is, these werenít really necessary at the backcountry hut since there was ample snow to boil and melt for drinking water. High altitude snow is typically safe for drinking since it isnít contaminated by the urine and feces of animals that make their way into streams and lakes. Still, to be thorough, we found a creek further down valley and scooped up a bottle of water from it. The tablets Richard Mille supplies with the RM 25-01 are standard Micropur iodine pills, made by Katadyn. Theyíre proven effective at eliminating cryptosporidium, giardia, bacteria, and viruses from water in as little as 30 minutes. Simply drop a tablet into a liter and wait. Hereís where the chronograph is useful. The resulting water has a slight orange hue and a bitter taste, but I am happy to report that I suffered no ill effects. Youíre welcome.*
Would you drink out of this stream?
Can we just pause for a minute and consider the wonderful absurdity of discussing water purification in the context of a luxury watch review? Iíve reviewed some pretty peculiar watches with arcane ďcomplicationsĒ before: the Oris Altimeter, the Breitling Emergency, and the IWC Aquatimer Deep Three. But I can confidently speculate that I will never again review a watch with a vial of water purification tablets. It gives me a strange satisfaction and I feel Iíve come full circle from my days working at an REI outdoor shop and reviewing skis and rain jackets over on Gear Patrol.
The onboard vial holds three Micropur purification tablets, each able to treat one liter of water.
The Markley Hut may be in the backcountry but itís far from spartan. The well appointed A-frame cabin is designed with a functional minimalism, with a massive wood burning stove, ample food prep area alongside a large propane cooking surface, and solar panels for some measure of lighting against the long winter nights. The hike in with all your food and gear, plus the work required to stoke the stove, split wood and cook your meals, as well as the chilly visits to the outdoor latrine lend the kind of rewarding satisfaction that comes with being away from modern conveniences. I suppose itís not dissimilar to the satisfaction we derive from winding a watch, actuating a mechanical chronograph, or navigating with a compass and map.*
After a spectacularly starry night in the cold silence of the high backcountry, the next morning dawned clear and sunny, revealing the higher peaks beyond the valley. We packed up our gear, donned our snowshoes and headed back down the trail, the terrain and decreasing altitude making the hike out considerably easier. Within two hours we were back at our vehicle and 30 minutes after that, back in cell phone range. As if on cue, my phone chirped to life as we merged onto the main highway. It was the hotel back in Aspen, saying I was late for room checkout.
To survive a war, you gotta become war.
John Rambo, "First Blood"
Will any of the buyers of the Richard Mille RM 25-01 actually navigate the backcountry with it, or purify river water? Will Sylvester Stallone? I doubt it. Would John Rambo wear this watch? He was more of a G-Shock kind of guy, if he wore a watch at all. Is the RM 25-01 worth a million dollars? That depends. If people are willing to pay that for it, then yes. Is it an incredible combination of micro-engineering, material science, unique features, and clever marketing? Definitely. It is a tour de force of TPT carbon, titanium, iodine, blood, sweat, and watchmaking tears. After all, watchmaking, especially these days, is war.
You can learn more about the Richard Mille RM 25-01 right here.*
Photography by Gishani Ratnayake


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