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Review: Aventi A-11 Pure Sapphire

Change is in the air. I can feel it. Watchmaking, like many things in life, goes through cycles of evolution, every now and then purging the old and ushering in the new. Around twenty years ago in 1999, Richard Mille was founded, and it changed watchmaking completely. In 2020, Aventi was founded, and it just might be about to do the same.

Do you remember what watches were like in 1999, pre advent of the then-utterly bonkers RM 001? It’s a bit like TV—you catch some old clip on YouTube and you think, “Phew, that must have been from the eighties!” and it turns out it was actually mid-2000s. Well, watches are the same. Late nineties, early thousands watches look distinctly older than you think they are, and there’s a reason for that: our perceptions have changed.

We’d like to think that the watches we predominantly cherish today have always been how they are, but back in the nineties—try not to let your mind wander into the BoJack Horseman theme song if you can—things were markedly different. The Sea-Dweller 16600 was considered a beast, the Royal Oak Offshore a monster—but look at them now and you’ll wonder how such tame pieces ever came to earn their reputation.

Well, if you want a reason, it’s the Richard Mille RM 001. Here’s a watch that took the idea of premium timekeeping to a level never, ever seen before on this scale, with bonkers styling and even more bonkers pricing setting the scene for a new millennium of wearable, show-offable luxury.

But it wasn’t just the way the watch looked that ruffled feathers across Switzerland, it was the way it came to be as well. Mr Mille was no watchmaker, he didn’t have years of experience turning metal blanks into works of mechanical art—he was a marketeer, a businessman.

Aventi was founded in 2020

Aventi was founded in 2020

And so he turned to companies and people who did have that experience. In 1998, he had a plan—by the end of 2001, he had a watch, the RM 001. The industry, at the very least the traditional side, was spitting feathers. I can only imagine what they thought when they then saw the price—£100,000.

You could say the whole project was an exercise in vanity, another vulgar attempt to get rich quick, but actually when you look at it all with a 1999 mindset, Richard Mille was revolutionary. Not since the 1972 Royal Oak had one brand come in and made such a fuss with just one watch. And everybody wanted one. It sold out almost immediately, this fresh, modern watch that was instantly recognisable as being the one and only Richard Mille.

So take a look back at those other watches from 1999 and remind yourself how they look, how dated they seem—then look at the RM 001. It still looks fresh, exciting—almost timeless. A lot of people think that Richard Mille watches are purchased by people who don’t know better, who drive loud Lamborghinis and just wanted to spend a lot of money on a watch, but that’s not true. They’re owned by vintage Patek Philippe owners, A. Lange & Söhne collectors—people who understand the cultural significance this paradigm-changing, tonneau-shaped, controversy-on-a-strap had. And now it might be happening again.

Love them or loathe them, Richard Mille is a famous and popular brand. Given the market for Swiss watches, that’s very impressive for such a short time. Making one watch and immediately selling out is a dream many brands who’ve been going for centuries don’t get to fulfil—and it was only possible because of how game-changing the RM 001 was.

Aventi was founded by Hannu Siren and gained traction through Indiegogo. The crowd funding site saw the company gain 540 backers and raise a sum of just over £600,000

Aventi was founded by Hannu Siren and gained traction through Indiegogo. The crowd funding site saw the company gain 540 backers and raise a sum of just over £600,000

I say was, because now it’s quite normal. When you set the benchmark, your competitors run to catch up, and so all you can do to stay ahead is keep pushing. New materials, new prices, up and up and up, carbon fibre, sapphire, graphene, £100,000, £500,000, £1million, £3million—at some point, the whole thing becomes a pastiche of itself. Which is a shame, because the essence of what started Richard Mille still has real appeal.

I mean, it’s moot for the vast majority of us, because we likely don’t have £10,000 to spend on a watch, let alone £100,000 or a million. It’s an exclusive club, and you, sir, are very much not invited. That’s a sense that’s not unique to Richard Mille, not at all—many are starting to feel that the brands that were once reasonable and approachable a few decades prior are becoming focussed more and more on the ultra-wealthy, those who can afford to write blank cheques and, well, pretty much no one else. It’s not your club anymore. But that’s about to change.

Say you wanted to purchase a Richard Mille, one encased all in sapphire, powered by a tourbillon and larger than life. No way, right? That experience is so off limits to you it may as well be illegal. That’s the experience Aventi founder Hannu Siren had, and one he decided he wanted to do something about. That’s what led to the Aventi A-11 Pure Sapphire.

A lot of businesses start with a grudge. Richard Mille was founded after a disagreement over strategy at a previous watchmaking business. Lamborghini famously started when Ferruccio Lamborghini’s Ferrari didn’t work properly and Enzo Ferrari didn’t give him the time of day. Heck, even Watchfinder was founded following a particularly sour deal on a pre-owned watch. People with ambition seek to make change at whatever personal cost, driven by a desire to get one over the status quo.

Aventi currently have two different watch collections. The A10 is made from titanium and the A11 is made from sapphire

Aventi currently have two different watch collections. The A10 is made from titanium and the A11 is made from sapphire

So, how does Aventi do that? At first it may seem that it’s by making products that offer value, but there’s actually a nuance to that message. Primarily, it’s by making products that offer transparency—no pun intended. There’s so much myth and rumour surrounding watches and margins and all of that, that the real change that’s being afforded by Aventi isn’t that this A-11 Pure Sapphire costs just $5,000—although that is impressive—it’s that Aventi are completely open with how that price was achieved.

There’s a Chinese tourbillon movement, a quality one from ISO:9001-certified manufacturer PTS Resources, independently checked and regulated to meet Aventi’s own standards. The brand told me that has a wholesale price of a few hundred. Then there’s the sapphire case—yes, just like that £3million Richard Mille—machined with 68 facets and 144 edges, a slow, painstaking process that takes over a hundred hours to achieve due to the material’s hardness and brittleness as well as the complexity of the shape. That’s got a wholesale price of a few thousand or so, depending on production losses. Add in labour here and there, accessories and shipping and you’re looking at a pretty scant margin—but more importantly one that you are fully aware of.

The sheer ridiculousness of owning a sapphire-cased tourbillon watch almost detracts from this shift in attitude, and as impressive—and likely divisive—as the A-11 is, I think it’s really worth focussing on the message this package sends out to the industry as a whole. Watchmaking shouldn’t need smoke and mirrors to be successful, shouldn’t rely on a tiny margin of ultra-wealthy people to survive, and really should get back to basics on making good value products that really appeal to the people who’ll love them most.

I imagine many of you watching this are only half listening because you can’t take your eyes off this hulking mass of a watch, and I understand that. I expect many of you in that group would perceive the much more expensive Richard Mille to equally belong nowhere further than a dumpster fire. But please listen: this watch is a statement, as much as it is to wear as it is to the entire industry. As prices get ever higher, as seemingly ordinary pieces become more exclusive, I can’t help but feel we’re on the verge of something big. And given the cold shoulder Aventi have received from many insiders, I’m sure they can’t help but feel it too.