Women frequently competed at the highest level in motor rallying up until the late 20th century, and though female participation in the sport might have dropped off in recent years, in 2000 an event was born that keeps the flame alive. Every year since, the Rallye des Princesses has set out from Paris in an array of eye-catching classic cars, and headed south across the French countryside, providing numerous women with the chance to compete in top-level motorsport. Since 2015, the event has been sponsored by coveted Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille, which like the event it supports is known for pushing the boundaries of possibility in its chosen field, creating women’s watches known for their technical sophistication as much as for their exquisite beauty.
Originally open to mixed teams of men and women but in the past few years restricted entirely to women, the Rallye des Princesses is far from your typical rally. A regularity event taking place over five days, its competitors are judged not by outright speed but by their ability to hit specific targets, and to maintain a given average time over a specified period. It’s a form of motorsport that demands consistency, but also a mastery of timekeeping and a close working relationship between driver and co-driver. It’s certainly had a few illustrious winners: The inaugural event was won by Caroline Bugatti, a member of the near-legendary family of artists, craftsmen and car-builders, while two years later the victor was well-known Belgian rally driver Vanina Ickx and her sister Larissa, daughters of motorsport legend Jacky Ickx.
Breaking new ground
In the past, the route of the Rallye des Princesses took competitors from Paris to Saint-Tropez on the Côte d’Azur. This year’s 19th staging of the event, however, headed south and then west over a 1,500km course, passing through Vichy and Toulouse and then crossing the Spanish border before finishing up in the beautiful Atlantic coast town of Biarritz, next to the Bay of Biscay in southwest France.
Some 90 two-woman teams set out from the Place Vendôme for the start of the rally on Sunday, June 3. Six of the pairings were fortunate enough to be sitting behind the wheel of some very special vehicles: four 1963 Porsche 356s, a 911 from 1973 and a 1969 Mercedes-Benz 250SL “Pagoda,” all supplied to the competitors for the event by Richard Mille.
The drivers made their way south to their first overnight stop at Beauval Zoo near the city of Tours, all the time getting accustomed to their cars and co-drivers, and to the many unique technical challenges that they’d encounter during the course of the race. On the second day they headed southeast towards Vichy over a challenging route to navigate – made all the more challenging by the arrival of torrential rain, a particular issue when you’re driving a classic car with numerous delicate mechanical parts and old-fashioned windscreen wipers that can’t keep up.
If anything, the rain only intensified on the third day of the rally, which took the competitors south to the city of Toulouse – so much so that some of the day’s driving challenges had to be cancelled on safety grounds. Fortunately the sun showed its face on the fourth and penultimate day of the event, the one on which the competitors crossed the border into Spain. It was a good job the weather cleared up; with its stiff climbs into the Pyrenees, the day pushed the cars and drivers to their limits. After a night in the Spanish ski resort of Formigal, the final day brought them back down the mountains and into Biarritz – where Adeline Paquiers and Héléna Euvrard in an AC Cobra were announced as the winners, followed in second place by Marie Périn and Edith Ragot in a Mini Cooper.
Women take the lead
Its emphasis on timekeeping makes the Rallye des Princesses a perfect fit with Richard Mille.The Swiss watchmaker is fully committed to including women in its vision of horological excellence, and has consistently developed ladies timepieces that emphasise high performance and technical boundary- breaking. That commitment was taken into breathtaking new territory with the watch that was unveiled by Richard Mille just days before the 2018 Rallye des Princesses, the RM 71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman. Featuring an in-house automatic tourbillon movement, it’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is mechanically superior – the perfect timepiece for women on the go.
The technical sophistication and ultra-high performance exhibited by Richard Mille timepieces have traditionally been the preserve of men’s watches. However, over recent decades women, fed up with being stereotyped, are increasingly buying advanced mechanical watches for themselves – and they also make up a growing percentage of Richard Mille’s customer base. Thus, the company decided it needed a highly creative woman in a position of leadership to take its women’s collection into new territory. The result, three years ago, was the hiring of ladies’ collection director Cécile Guenat, who joined the company from a fine jewellery background, with a degree from Geneva School of Art and Design and experience working for jewellers and jewellery designers in both Switzerland and London.
The Talisman collection she has created takes its inspiration from two very different worlds: the modernism and exquisite craftsmanship of art deco, along with traditional African arts such as masks and sculptures. “The contrasts, geometry and sacred character of these objects fascinate me all the more because they prefigured today’s design through the fusion of content and form,” the designer says.
A labour of love
That fusion of form and function is never more in evidence than on the RM 71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman. Its greatest aesthetic innovation is to dissolve the distinction between jewellery and case, with the former fully integrated into the latter. The interaction among the movement, dial and case, so central to the piece’s appeal, comes in no fewer than 10 different variations, each available in a limited edition of just five pieces.
The case, in either white or red gold, takes more than 255 tooling operations and over five hours of glazing and polishing to complete. It features 10 different setting and engraving options, but each of them showcases radiating lines that echo those of the movement. The bezel, similarly, is covered with a variety of different numbers, shapes and sizes of diamonds according to the version. All that is accented by a case back engraved with matt bands, providing an elegant visual contrast with all the sparkling precious materials. Creating the bezel, case band and case back is a complex technical process, involving some 44 different stamping operations.
The various versions of the dial, meanwhile, are hand set with mother-of-pearl, onyx and diamonds, and measure just 0.9mm in thickness. They come in two different designs, one taking its inspiration from the natural world and the other evoking more urban forms.
All of the 10 different case and dial options put the visual emphasis very much on the graceful skeletonised movement. The Calibre CRMT1 that powers the RM 71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman – the eighth movement to be developed in-house by Richard Mille – manages to combine exceptional slimness (it’s 6.2mm thick and weighs just eight grams) with exceptional levels of performance. To help ensure this, the tonneau-shaped skeleton movement comes with a base plate and bridges of micro-blasted grade five titanium.
The women who compete in the Rallye des Princesses appreciate both the technology that powers high- performance cars and the sheer beauty of both those machines and the landscape the rally takes them through. By purchasing a timepiece that likewise blends breathtaking beauty with unmatched technical savvy, women who wear the RM 71-01 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman show that they appreciate exactly the same things.