To some, tattoos are an expression of defiance. To others, such as Maxime Büchi, founder of Sang Bleu London tattoo studio, they are works of art. Renowned as a tattooist to the stars, the Swiss artist has a clientele that reads like red carpet arrivals, with names from Kanye West and FKA Twigs to Adam Lambert. Interestingly, the 38-year-old only started inking people eight years ago, after an apprenticeship with celebrated tattoo artist Filip Leu. Also interestingly, his background is in graphic design and typography.
A graduate of the Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL), Büchi sees himself as an “art entrepreneur” above all else. Tattooing, he points out, only forms a small part of that. Which explains why his Sang Bleu brand serves as a creative agency, offering branding and design services to clients. It also runs Swiss Typefaces, which specialises in creating logos and typefaces for brands. Sang Bleu has also dabbled in clothing collaborations with labels such as Nike in the past, and recently launched its own standalone clothing line, Physical. On top of that, it has a media arm, TTT publishing, which puts out books and magazines. This includes the recently unveiled TTTism magazine (an extension of the wildly popular same-named Instagram by Büchi) that focuses on tattoos and fashion.
With his unique body of work, it is unsurprising that the father-of-three caught the eye of Swiss watchmaker Hublot, a manufacture known for its high-profile collaborations with pop culture icons, Hollywood A-listers and creative tastemakers alike. “I have always loved watches and for me as a designer, designing a watch was something I really wanted — something I had always fantasised about,” Büchi shares. “So when Hublot got in touch with me I was like, yes, of course!” he relates with a laugh. A fan of the brand since it gained mainstream attention during the early 2000s, getting that crucial call from Jean-Claude Biver, Hublot chairman (and president of the Watches division at its parent company LVMH) was like a dream come true for Büchi. Gesturing at his wrist, which is naturally adorned with the Hublot Big Bang Sang Bleu, he says: “It’s incredible, really. It’s still hard to believe it happened.”
The process, he elaborates, was eye-opening to say the least. “Hublot is so dynamic that it can whip up an amazing prototype in three to four months. This simple fact in itself is mind-blowing,” he says, a slight awe colouring his tone. Besides the astonishing celerity at which the brand moves from ideas to prototypes, Büchi also noted that its willingness to give him creative rein over design also made the experience enjoyable for him.
“They expressed that they wanted to go with a design that I would feel very passionate about, which was music to my ears,” recalls Büchi. So instead of going for a more run-of-the-mill “cosmetic sort of customisation” with a tattoo motif emblazoned on the dial or bezel of the watch, Büchi took things a step further. Known for his penchant for incorporating geometric elements into his work, the multi-hyphenate presented a design that featured a series of overlapping rings and squares — and suggested that the time indications be built around them.
“I was inspired by an old Swatch watch that used a disc as a hand, and that gave me the idea to have discs that rotated with the hours, minutes and seconds,” he explains. The symbolism behind the geometric design, however, is something that Büchi leaves open to interpretation. “Be it the shape of a triangle, hexagon or star, you can find them in everything from religion to culture and art — but each would have attached their own meanings to them,” he shares. “So I’m not trying to say something with the watch. I’m just trying to create something that will say something for the wearer.”
The result was a timepiece that displayed the time via three stacked, rhodium-plated, octagonal discs in lieu of the traditional hands. While the largest and medium-sized rotating discs display the hours and minutes respectively via a white Super-LumiNova tipped corner of the octagon, the smallest shows the seconds. All this is driven by the Unico HUB1213 automatic winding movement that comes with a power reserve of 72 hours. It was also fitted with a hexagonal titanium bezel that was satin-finished and polished. The 45mm titanium watch was released in 2016 and made in a limited series of only 200 pieces. It came paired with a black calfskin strap that was hot stamped with a gradient finish that ranges from black to grey and etched with geometric patterns, and sewn onto a rubber backing. The case back of the Big Bang Sang Bleu is also engraved with the logo of Büchi’s multidisciplinary artistic platform.
So popular was this timepiece that the brand introduced more variants this year. These include the Sang Bleu All Black that features a satin-finished and polished black ceramic case; Sang Bleu King Gold, which comes in the brand’s proprietary 18k king gold (for an even deeper red tinge than regular 5N red gold); and Sang Bleu Titanium Pavé, with 256 diamonds (0.80ct) set on its titanium case and another 132 (1.73ct) on its bezel, also in titanium.
It also unveiled two downsized versions of the timepiece in 39mm, suited for more feminine wrist sizes. The Big Bang One Click Sang Bleu Steel Diamonds and the Big Bang Sang Bleu King Gold Diamonds each showcases a row of 48 diamonds on the bezel (0.70ct) and come with the Hublot One-Click system that allows for the quick and easy changing of straps.
A second edition of the Big Bang Sang Bleu is already in the works, and slated for a 2018 release. This, Büchi says, will retain the DNA of the first, but offer several new design elements. While he declines to disclose details about the new ticker, he lets on that it would be an evolution from the current model, with a more “three-dimensional” quality to it. It will be “a little bit more futuristic” as well.
“The Big Bang Sang Bleu gives us a very good base to work on. But now, we are going to challenge it completely,” Büchi says. And we are definitely staying tuned.
First published in Prestige Singapore’s June 2017 issue.