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Inside the secret garage of luxury watchmaker Richard Mille

Watchmaker Richard Mille’s secret garage.
Source: CNBC
Watchmaker Richard Mille’s secret garage.

Richard Mille is famous for making some of the most technologically advanced and expensive timepieces on the planet.

Yet the man who pioneered the use of space materials in watches comes up with many of his ideas sitting in his 18th-century French castle, admiring his fleet of antique cars.

"It's a paradox, I know," Mille told CNBC's "Secret Lives of the Super Rich." "I love everything that is modern and I live in a 1771 castle. And I have these old cars. Maybe I need to see a shrink!"

Mille has built what some say is the most successful new luxury watch brand of the century. His watches, often priced at more than $800,000, usually sell out by the time they launch. And at a time when many luxury Swiss watch brands are stuck in recession, Mille's sales rose 20 percent last year to more than $220 million, according to industry data — boosted by their extreme technological advances and limited production.

Next to watches, cars are Mille's true passion. Specifically, old race cars. Rather than the typical office, Mille works from a plush garage on his Brittany estate that houses a fleet of some of the rarest and most important race cars of the past. From behind his upstairs desk, the watchmaker can look out over a collection of cars he calls "his babies."

"In the morning when I come, I say, 'Hello, my babies,' and at night, when I leave, I say, 'Kiss kiss, have a good night.' It's friendly, I love that."

Many of the cars are worth millions, though Mille bought them years ago before classic race cars started soaring in price. Among the favorites in his collection: legendary racer Bruce McLaren's first Formula One Car, the M2B from 1966. Mille said he's had repeat offers for the coveted piece of racing history but would never sell.

"For me, it was a dream to own this car because it's one of the most important," he said.

Another of Mille's favorite cars: The Ferrari 312B that won the 1970 Italian Grand Prix and was also driven by Mario Andretti. Experts say it's worth well over $3 million.

"This car, for me, is the most beautiful Formula One ever," Mille said.

He doesn't just admire his cars, he also drives them — sometimes at a nearby track and sometimes on the small country roads near his estate. He says he loves to drive his Lancia Stratos, a legend of European rally races, to pick up fresh Normandy oysters from a nearby market.

Mille also owns a rare 1970s Porsche 917 and a 16-cylinder Formula One racer.

As different as they may seem, Mille said classic race cars share some of the same principles as his watches. The most important racers in history mark new moments in technological innovation, with a new experimental engine or new aerodynamics or design.

"It's exactly what I like to do in the watches," Mille said. "Make pieces of art, doing something that represents a significant moment in watch history. These cars have got a meaning, have got a history."

Indeed, Mille said his watches — known as "racing machines for the wrist" — derive much of their inspiration from his cars. Even though he competes in an industry dominated by companies that have been making watches for more than 100 years, Mille is always looking for the next breakthrough.

"With these cars, engineers would have a crazy idea, and poof, they put it on the paper and they do it. So everything was coming from the imagination, from fantasy. But they make it happen," he said.

Watch "Secret Lives of the Super Rich" on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.