Image: ZEROO TIME Co.

This $3,000 Japanese Watch Is The Perfect Alternative To A Richard Mille

100 times cheaper than Switzerland's finest.

Richard Mille, in just over two decades, has become one of the most important players in the Swiss watch industry, and one of the most in-demand luxury brands on the planet.

Instantly recognisable thanks to their distinctive tonneau shape, highly technical designs, use of exotic materials and celebrity endorsements from the likes of Rafael Nadal and Pharrell Williams, Richard Mille’s timepieces are often called ‘sports cars for your wrist’. They typically feature incredibly complex movements, most of which utilise tourbillions, one of the hallmarks of haute horlogerie (for an explanation on how this flashy complication works, read our article here).

They’re also just as expensive as many high-end sports cars. Most RMs retail for well over US$250,000, and even the cheapest pre-owned examples start at around US$50,000 on Chrono24. Which is why it’s so impressive that one independent Japanese watchmaker has made a watch that could easily pass for a RM – without resorting to fakery – for around 1% of the price.

Meet the ZEROO Time Co. T4 ‘The Archer’ Full Skeleton Tourbillon: a watch that should have Switzerland feeling rather nervous.

As the name implies, the T4 features a skeletonised tourbillon movement with a 70 hour power reserve, contained within a Richard Mille-esque tonneau-shaped case. It’s a visually very dramatic watch – it even features sapphire crystal windows on the side of the case so you can look at that mesmerising tourbillon from all angles. The watch really speaks for itself… If someone told you this was made by a high-end watchmaker, you’d believe them.

What is rather unbelievable is the price: ¥298,000 (~US$2,650 / AU$3,610). That’s cheaper than most Longines watches, let alone more expensive brands like Hublot, OMEGA or Rolex… And a fraction of the cost of a Richard Mille. Which begs the question: how on earth is ZEROO able to make a skeletonised tourbillon for such a pittance?

Well, the answer’s probably not that revelatory. The movement isn’t made in Switzerland, or even Japan: it’s made in China. That’s not necessarily a dig at Chinese watchmaking, far from it – the fact that China can produce such a complex movement is impressive, price be damned – but if you don’t have to pay Swiss or Japanese wages, you bring the costs down.

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The second reason why they’re able to make it so cheaply is that they’re crowdfunding it. ZEROO has previously used Kickstarter to get some of their watches off the ground – this time, they’re using Japanese crowdfunding site Makuake, where you can preorder the watch until October 15th. After that, they plan to make the T4 available to the general public, although there’s a very good chance it might ‘sell out’ (or that they’ll only make enough for confirmed backers, or that the watch will never actually make it into mass production, as is the fate of many crowdfunded products).

A ZEROO movement being assembled in their Chinese manufacture. ZEROO watches are designed in Tokyo, and wholly produced in China. The reality is that many luxury watch brands utilise Chinese-made components – even those with a ‘Swiss Made’ label, for example. Image: ZEROO TIME Co.

Still, that they’re able to offer such a watch for less than US$3k is incredibly impressive. Tourbillon movements have long been the domain of only the most prestigious watchmakers, and thoroughly unobtainable for the vast majority of watch fans. ZEROO’s watches may lack the brand power or refinement of a Richard Mille but the allure of such a cheap tourbillon watch is hard to beat.

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What would be even more impressive is if they were able to bring production back ‘on-shore’ to Japan… Ruffle the feathers of Citizen and Seiko, for example. A man can dream…

Speaking of cheap alternatives to high-end watches, check out our guide to the best budget alternatives to the popular Rolex GMT-Master ‘Pepsi’.

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