“I come from graffiti. All my work originates there. It was my school for painting, I learned in the street”, says Cyril Kongo. Is this enough to design a tourbillon? Have a look and tell me what you think!
Cyril Phan – aka Cyril Kongo – was born in 1969 and presently resides in Paris. Cyril Kongo is a self-made man and artist, he launched himself to the top of the French artistic and cultural world as well as Europe and beyond within a space of a just a decade.
Cyril Kongo told me: “I come from graffiti. All my work originates there. It was my school for painting, I learned in the street. I need to remain in touch with that world while at the same time looking at what’s happening elsewhere. Graffiti is a language with its own codes, a form of writing, whether this be on a gigantic wall, on canvas, or any other surface. I am not a painter bound to a single space, nor to any particular surface.”
A chance encounter with Richard Mille led to the idea of an artistic project—marking Kongo’s first foray into the world of haute horlogerie – with the creation of the limited edition RM 68-01 Tourbillon Cyril Kongo. However, this watch is more than a joint effort – it is, in fact, a series of art works created by Cyril Kongo: each watch was individually taken in hand by the artist with micro spray painting tools in order to make each timepiece unique…
Richard Mille RM 68-01 Tourbillon Cyril Kongo
The making of the Richard Mille RM 68-01 Tourbillon Cyril Kongo watch
Cyril Kongo describes his work: “It took the development of special tools, and over a year of experimentation for me to be capable of painting on a watch some five centimeters (two inches) square. Certain pieces were barely a few millimeters long, some even smaller, and I had to put the lettering directly on them, enough for visual effect but without using much paint so as to avoid throwing off the balance of the movement. It’s as though, starting from a complete automobile, I had to paint the chassis, the engine, each piston etc.”
‘What would you say to doing a watch with me?’ Little did I know that my friendly conversation with Richard Mille was to become an epic adventure.
At the time, I was thoroughly ignorant of the world of Haute Horlogerie – what was possible, what had been done already.
When I heard ‘watch’ I was thinking about dials. Shifting from the infinitely large space of a wall to the infinitely small surface of a watch face was already a giant leap – but I was miles from reality, reality as seen through the prism of Richard Mille’s perspective:
‘I want us to accomplish something together that has never to this day been done,’ Richard told me solemnly.
‘And what is there that’s not been done?’, I answered.
Painting a watch movement.
Painting the movement?
Is that even possible?
I don’t know.
As things now stand, no, I don’t think it is possible. It’s never been done.
So, as it’s never been done, the place to start is to find a way to do it.
Some time later, I found myself in the Jura region of Switzerland, at the factory in les Breuleux. I was there to present the projects I had prepared. To this end, I’d had large screen prints made from line drawings of watches to work from.
But as soon as I began showing Richard my first sketches he was categorical.
‘No, that’s not what I’m looking for. If it’s only to paint the pieces, I don’t need you for that. All you’ve done is put paint on a Richard Mille piece. You have to really get into the whole watch, the movement, the tourbillon, the dial, casing … everything.’
I was a bit disappointed and tossed all my sketches.
Yet discussions continued with Julien Boillat, who works at Richard Mille in R&D.
First, we selected an asymmetrical case that added extra punch. Then I started experimenting under the supervision of Laurent Paros, head of decoration at Renaud & Papi: stencils, masking…
The paints also had to be tested – how well they adhered to the titanium movement, and how much they weighed, so as not to throw the pieces out of balance or impede the tourbillon mechanism!
It took the better part of a year to perfect a process and design the necessary protection so that the gears wouldn’t get paint on them, the special tweezers for treating the pieces without touching them and microscopic letter stencils, barely visible to the naked eye, cut from incredibly thin sheets of metal.
I also employed very special pens, an airbrush system that deposits paint drop by drop, like for tattoos, but with infinitely small heads, in order to apply this particular paint on the metal surfaces. My job was to create tags barely visible to the naked eye, whereas graffiti is usually all about the opposite.
It was one of the greatest challenges of my career as an artist. But the result is a true work of art, a completely different sort of picture. These watches could be exhibited in a gallery alongside my canvases. Each one is an original work of contemporary art.
The Richard Mille RM 68-01 Tourbillon Cyril Kongo is limited to 30 pieces worldwide.
Price each: 841.500 including 19 % VAT in Germany.