Ultra-luxe watchmaker Richard Mille combines artistry, technology, a nod to architecture, Kitty Harris speaks to their latest partner, Qatari Silver Olympic Highjump Medalist Mutaz Essa Barshim about time and the new RM67-02 Automatic watch.
LUX: You hold the Qatari national record and Asian record for the best mark of 2.43m. How old were you when you started high jumping?
Mutaz Essa Barshim: I was around 10-11 years old when I started. I began in track and field because my father used to be an athlete. When I was young, he always took me to the stadium, so it was always important to me. But I started running, doing cross-country, long-distance, mid-distance and as I grew up, I stopped liking distance running. I didn’t enjoy just running and at the club, I saw the other kids doing jumps and trampolining. For me, naturally as a kid, it seemed much more fun. Back then, I wasn’t thinking at a professional level. I only wanted to not have to go home and do homework and do something fun instead. I spoke to my coach at the club and told him I wanted to join the jump group and he allowed me too. It later developed.
LUX: Why Richard Mille out of any of the people that you could have partnered with?
MEB: He is simply the best!
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LUX: How did you come to partner with Richard Mille?
MEB: The first time I met Richard was in the Rio Olympics after my competition. We talked and he is a really nice, friendly guy. He told me he loved the way I jump and he wanted me to join him in the family. I said, of course I’d be very happy to. We had been talking about the watch and he asked me if I jump with watches. I said no, because they’re too heavy. Richard said that he could make something very light for me. So I said, let’s do it! I know about Nadal’s RM27-03 Tourbillon watch and it is very light. He said he could do it even lighter than that and I was very impressed. Since then, we have been talking back and forth and sharing ideas.
LUX: Were you involved in the design process?
MEB: Initially, the main target was for me to jump with it – something that wouldn’t affect my jump. It wouldn’t be worth it if it was something heavy that disturbed my performance. Since we realised that he could make something lighter, we discussed design. We thought it could be something with maroon and white, to match my kit. I wanted something elegant and sexy – I didn’t want it to be thought of as a sport watch.
LUX: You said that the watch came out of a necessity for being light. Would they bring you designs that you would tweak, or were you given final products?
MEB: Firstly, we would get a prototype drawing. This would be computerised and three-dimensional. He would ask what I thought. I wanted to see a side angle picture, so I could see how thin the watch was. He said it was so thin that I won’t be able to feel it. When I saw the picture, I was really impressed. He would then show me the back and ask my preferences and how I wanted it to be engraved. What shall we write down? We would discuss the colours and how to change them. Of course, none of the mechanics is to do with me. It’s all his work and genius. I think asking him about the mechanics would be disrespectful, because I know he would make it the best. When it came to the final product, I really was impressed!
LUX: There is a symbiosis and as you said, you needed something that didn’t affect you when you jumped. What are the commonalities between your practice and your watch?
MEB: Quality. It is the main objective. High jumpers don’t use any objects, they just have to use their bodies in the perfect way, otherwise you will injure yourself. Timing – a few seconds can make a difference between a perfect jump and a really bad jump. You could lose a medal. That’s what this watch is about – quality and timing. Ticking at the right moments. I want something sexy and elegant, with quality and timing.
LUX: By being in the Richard Mille family – you are amongst some of the best sportsmen and women. How does it feel?
MEB: It feels great. The one thing I really love about Richard and how he selects his athletes and ambassadors, is that everybody is so humble and down-to-earth. He is not only selecting people because of what they achieve in sport. He also looks at their social energy, what they value in society and how they interact with different people. I’ve met most of the guys and everybody is so nice. They are so inspiring and they are role models. I feel that is the type of character he wants. Once you’re in, you’re in – it is a family. You don’t want to bring someone in that will destroy this family. Everybody is highly professional, but at the same time they are very nice people. It is just a pleasure to be among them.
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LUX: Timing is obviously crucial to your life. But what do you do in your free time?
Mutaz Essa Barshim: Get interviewed! I don’t have so much free time, since I only have one month off a year. In my free time, I like to stay home. I’m rarely home, as I’m always travelling. I really just want to be home with my mother and my friends, relaxing.
LUX: What is the life of an Olympic athlete like? You work for eleven months a year. You work and you train.
MEB: You always travel and train, train, train. It is always about what is next. To answer that question, you need to be even more professional than before. It is very hard each time. Especially when there is so much expectation about who will win each time. There is always pressure you have to deal with. In order for a professional athlete to keep that, you need to limit yourself. You can’t go out all the time, because your body needs to recover. This means a lot of treatment and recovery time to make sure you avoid injuries. Since you travel a lot, nutrition and drinking a lot of water to not get dehydrated and tear muscles is also very important. It is hard and at the same time, you need to balance it with training. You must also relax your mind and ease up to be fresh mentally. You need to hang out with friends, and at the same time you have commitments to your sponsors. There are social responsibilities. The life of a professional is nice, but you don’t have much time to yourself.
LUX: What is next?
MEB: In March, we have the indoor World Championships in Birmingham. That is the biggest target for the Winter. For Summer, we have the Asian Games and the Diamond League, which is the world circuit. We have a couple of high class meets also in the Summer. The World Championship is the main goal at the moment.