Singaporean Is First To Design A Swatch Watch And We Found Out Why
Juliana Ong is the first Singaporean artist to have her design on a Swatch watch. We spoke to Carlo Giordanetti, Swatch’s Creative Director, to find out more about their creative initiative.
BY Wayne Cheong | Dec 20, 2016 | Interview
The building by the Shanghai Bund resembles a fortress more than a hotel—especially at night when various illuminations add a terrifying majesty to the façade. Called the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, within the stone masonry is a modern hospitality and retail space. But the property also houses artists, from all corners of the world, for its residency programme. Singaporean artist, Juliana “Juls” Ong, is one of the selected few who has stayed and worked at the hotel. She is also the first Singaporean to have her design on a Swatch timepiece. Carlo Giordanetti, Swatch’s Creative Director who oversees the artist incubation, talks to Esquire about Juls’ design, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel and more.
Esquire: How did Swatch Art Peace Hotel’s artist-in-residence programme come about?
Carlo Giordanetti: The project began with Nick Hayek, Swatch Group CEO, who chose the old Shanghai hotel. He wanted to do something very different to what other brands were doing with old buildings in the city. He proposed to the authorities a renovation of the heritage building (a protected landmark on the Bund) where two entire floors would be converted into studios and living spaces for artists; artists who would be invited to live and make art in the hotel for a couple of months at a time. Swatch Group renovated the hotel and, a few months before the official opening in November 2011, the first batch of artists arrived.
Esquire: What are the criteria to become a Swatch resident artist?
Carlo Giordanetti: Artists from all over the world are welcome to apply for the residency via the Swatch Art Peace Hotel website. They will be asked to describe a project, what they would like to accomplish during their residency, and to present examples of their work. A committee reviews the applications and selects those artists whose work is exciting, moving, interesting.
At any one time, there are up to 18 artists living and working in the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, and being part of a community with other artists is one of the great benefits of the residency.
Esquire: What was it about Juls’ artwork that caught your eye?
Carlo Giordanetti: She was chosen because her work and project for Shanghai sparked interest and excitement with the committee. I was enchanted by her approach to Asian culture in general, as well as her storytelling pieces and subtle irony. [I was also] fascinated, of course, by the aesthetics, and the richness and the depth of her ideas, which she always presents with a light touch. This reflects the Swatch philosophy very well and transforms it into a smart, contemporary message.
As an artist-in-residence at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, her design is one of a kind: her story of her stay in Shanghai. The fine outline, the richness of the characters presented, the modern and cool colour combination, and the intricate pattern generated by the faces—these are all elements of a rich storytelling.
Esquire: We heard that the watch is sold at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel.
Carlo Giordanetti: Because of its strong link with the Swatch Art Peace Hotel itself, the watch was selected as the “destination watch” of the hotel’s store—where it has “invaded” the artists’ dedicated space.
Esquire: So, what do you look for in a Swatch design?
Carlo Giordanetti: A good story. Every Swatch watch must have a story to tell, one that gives you a thrill, moves you, fascinates you, makes you smile, gets you thinking, or makes you feel good. These are all part of the Swatch DNA, our values and way of life. Of course, there’s a lot more to design than that, like the Swiss Made standards of absolute quality, the precision engineering and manufacturing of components, and the fast-changing trends in the different markets, but in the end, you have to go with what feels right.
Every Swatch has a personality. You know it’s a Swatch the instant you see it, but it also has to have something more, that extra touch that sparks excitement and makes you want to be part of that world.
Esquire: What else can you tell us about Juls’ work?
Carlo Giordanetti: She has a passionate and strong personality. She was very enthusiastic about the watch project, which made working with her a real pleasure. Also, a trace from her residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel is hanging in one of our iconic destination shops, in Interlaken, in the heart of Switzerland, where it welcomes customers with an unexpected visual message.
Esquire: We understand that the end goal for the residency isn’t a design that’ll go on a Swatch timepiece. It’s more about the time that the artist spent there.
Carlo Giordanetti: The Swatch Art Peace Hotel is important for Swatch because it really is a space for freedom of expression where artists from different cultures can develop their own projects. I think the goal for the artists is to open themselves up to the challenges and the opportunities that we give them. They should make the most of this unique place as well as the time and the complete freedom that they have to develop as artists. Sometimes, a new collaboration results, but that’s not what the artists are there for.
They’re there because they’re artists, and because we believe that art and artists can change the world. Of course, witnessing new projects and collaborations coming to life is also an exciting part of the Swatch Art Peace Hotel experience, and Swatch proudly presents some of the projects that are born there around the world, helping to build bridges between cultures and communities.
Esquire: Are you satisfied with the current incubation process?
Carlo Giordanetti: The residency programme is a great success. It started in late 2011, and has since become very well known and respected. To date, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel has hosted more than 220 artists from over 35 countries. Every artist leaves a memento of his or her stay and we’ve already mounted exhibitions to show their work, in Shanghai and elsewhere. During the Biennale Arte 2015, we brought five groups of artists-in-residence to Venice where they presented their work in one of the two Swatch pavilions there.
Swatch loves art and the Swatch Art Peace Hotel is only one of the ways that we support art and artists, from collaborative installations and events to working with individual artists to create Swatch Art Specials.
Esquire: Like what?
Carlo Giordanetti: The residency programme will develop in conjunction with our other Swatch art initiatives. Like everything creative, it’s alive and changing all the time as the artists discover new ways to make use of the freedom and the opportunities that come with a residency in the heart of one of the world’s most exciting cities.
The Swatch Art Peace Hotel Special 2016 timepiece is available at Swatch Orchard Gateway.