All you kids from the hood might know him as Kongo, but Cyril Phan has moved from tagging streets illegally, to painting on hoardings for Hermes and now, movements on watches. Not just any watch too, but the Richard Mille RM 68-01 Tourbillon Cyril Kongo watch. While fine watchmaking and graffiti might seem worlds apart, this collaboration proves otherwise.
Born in Toulouse in 1969, the French-Vietnamese artist made a name for himself by injecting his unique brand of art to the otherwise dull and drab Parisian suburbs. To say Kongo is a citizen of the world would be an understatement. He’s lived in places such as Vietnam, France, Congo (hence his nickname), Hong Kong and even Guadeloupe, and credits the diverse culture exposure for his unique identity and artistic style. Trademarked for his use of dramatic bursts of colour, the artist is now tasked to scale down his art from an infinitely large wall, to the delicate tourbillon calibre of a Richard Mille watch.
And as with any self-respecting graffiti artist worth his Montana (a favourite spray paint brand amongst graffiti artists), Kongo has hand-painted each movement of the watch individually, so impossible to find two of the same. And it wasn’t a walk in the park for the artist despite spending years as a tagger. It took him over a year of experimentation to create special tools that would enable precise applications over a five-centimetre surface. It’s also safe to say the experience brought back memories of his days as a ‘budding artist’.
“When I first began applying colour to the watch, I felt the same tension I experienced when I was about to illegally paint a wall of sketch an outline on a train of truck. You don’t know what might happen, you wonder if you’ll be seized the first time your finger unleashes the nozzle, or the tenth, or if you’ll be able to finish your piece and take off after snapping its picture.”
But the collaboration shows more than Kongo’s craftsmanship. Inside the RM 68-01 is powered by a movement by complications specialist Renaud and Papi; the baseplate, steel and sapphire bridges creating a play of lightness and motion within the timepiece. The Richard Mille RM 68-01 Tourbillon Cyril Kongo is limited to 30 unique hand-painted pieces and frankly, we’re not surprised by its UDS685,000 (SGD953,000) price tag.