Permanent Art Gets Inside You: Romain Jerome Tattoo-DNA By Xoil
Body art has an extremely long history. The oldest known example of a person decorated with tattoos dates back almost 5,300 years to sometime around 3250 BCE: Ötzi the Iceman and his simple tattoos show evidence that the practice was well established during his lifetime, implying that the history of tattooing is likely to go back much further.
Until relatively modern times tattooing remained within the confines of its original meaning in cultural and religious practices. It was only with the exploration of the Polynesian islands and the discovery of the numerous cultures in the regions using the technique that its name became known: the word “tattoo” originates from the Polynesian words “tatau” and “tatu”and was brought to Europe by the Captain James Cook, when he returned in 1769 from his first voyage to Tahiti and New Zealand.
The methods of tattooing varied widely around the world. The goals, however, were the same: to mark the skin permanently with a color or pigment. That goal requires the ink, charcoal, pumice, or other agent to become lodged in the dermis layer of the skin where the particles will become trapped in collagen-producing cells called fibroblasts. These stable cells reside just under the epidermis, or outer layer of the skin, where cell turnover is much faster.
Over time due to natural biological processes, the pigment will slowly migrate deeper into the dermis and away from the surface of the skin causing the tattoo to fade as well as appear to “bleed” into nearby cells as the cells get shifted and replaced through the decades. So while tattoos are definitely a permanent art form, it seems nature will always do its best to wash away the marks of humankind.
As such, people find other ways to express desire and creativity because that is what people do. The natural result of a tattoo artist seeking new ways to create leads to unusual collaborations.
This is exactly what led to the creation of a watch that features unique, hand-tattooed straps and a rather incredible juxtaposition of classic and modern watchmaking. I give you the Romain Jerome Tattoo-DNA by Xoil.
Who is behind it?
The name Xoil may not ring a bell unless you are somewhat deep into the world of tattooing. Xoil, or Loïc Lavenu as his mother calls him, is a highly respected French tattoo artist whose style has been dubbed “Photoshop” by the creative crowd that is the internet.
This, of course, tells most of us nothing about his style, so for better understanding it is a mixture of classic tattoo elements combined with modern design and graphics all collaged together like a Photoshop master might create for a concert poster.
According to Lavenu, Xoil’s style has been largely influenced by Belgian tattoo artist Jef of La Boucherie Moderne, who exhibits certain styles that very much feel like what Xoil creates. It is about taking something old, something traditional, and turning it on its head using its own symbols and making a new statement. For this reason, a collaboration with a watch company makes a lot of sense – and even more sense when that watch company is Romain Jerome.
If you have been paying attention to what has been coming out of Geneva over the last decade, it will be obvious that Romain Jerome is anything but a strictly traditional watchmaker. Every piece has a decidedly unique angle, whether that is incorporating material from a volcano or a sunken ocean liner or creating a watch bearing video game characters or comic book heroes.
At the same time, the quality and craftsmanship behind the pieces is of top-notch horological awesomeness. A great example is the Moon Orbiter Tourbillon, a stunning and definitely bold space-themed watch with a flying tourbillon and material from the Apollo 11 moon lander.
The Tattoo-DNA by Xoil combines the watchmaking creativity that saw the birth of the RJ Spacecraft and the artistic ability of Xoil. The combination of old and new inspired the design of the dial and movement and continued on to the leather straps. The leather was in essence a blank canvas for Xoil’s artwork.
A set of five unfinished straps was assembled in two rows. A template of custom drawings with a variety of symbols representing belief, balance, feeling, perception, and emotion was laid over the top. These were transferred onto the straps using oil, after which each piece of leather was meticulously tattooed by hand; no two straps being alike.
There are 25 watches in this limited edition run and each will feature a unique-to-that-watch hand-tattooed strap.
A logical match
The leather strap is actually a rather good surrogate material for receiving the tattoo since it is made from animal skin. The needles containing the pigment probably wouldn’t have even known the difference. But there are clearly differences we can see between this watch and a normal watch. One glance and that’s extremely obvious.
Your first clue is the dial, which continues the theme of something old and something new. Mainly because only a little over half of the dial is even there. Romain Jerome probably annoyed some watchmakers and dial specialists with this one because they went through the effort of creating a beautiful grand feu enamel dial, pad printing it with almost every mark of a regular dial, and then proceeded to use a high-power water jet and 30,000 psi of pressure to slice right through the center (well, slightly off-center) of the entire dial.
Cutting right through the markings and the perfectly finished grand feu enamel, the remaining part of the dial retains the numerals 9 through 3 and features one-half of a small seconds dial. The top half of what you see is perfectly classical in its presentation, but that is contrasted sharply by what appears in the lower half of the dial.
The movement is completely skeletonized exposing the entire balance and escapement, plus the bottom of the fourth wheel, the center wheel, and a little bit of the keyless works. What’s more, these are all displayed in a clean line with the bridges being crisp, right angles to each other and the watch case.
There are no traditionally skeletonized bridges with arcing segments or floral patterns. The architecture here is abruptly modern and unfailingly anachronistic to the classical dial.
Finishing is kept clean and simple on the movement, even though it is fully skeletonized. The rear of the case provides an in-depth view of what was only teased at from the front; however the juxtaposition of classic and modern is lost when all you see is the sweet movement. The focal point remains the dial side and I have to agree that is where the show is.
2 + 2 = awesome
Tying together the extreme differences in design is the flow between the movement and the dial, with a chapter ring extension for the small seconds dial and the sharp hands – which are a beautiful, polished, heat-blued steel made to resemble the tattoo needles Xoil uses in his work.
The blue of the hands and the reddish purple of the jewels is the only color found on the watch itself, and the black tattooing on the light tan strap is the only other respite from the black, white, and grey.
Out of all the many details, surprisingly it is not a single feature that makes me love this watch. Instead, the schism created by the stark contrast in styles delineated by the abrupt change is what creates a yearning to behold. I find that things that are just a little abnormal, a little unusual, and a little imperfect are where my eye goes first, and so when disparate design is contrasted, it always ignites something in my brain that leaves me transfixed.
The watchmaking behind the movement and the dial are fantastic, and the art and skill underlying the tattooed strap are unmistakably cool. But when combined, they create something more than the sum of their parts. And that is saying something when you have a world-famous tattoo artist and a leading avant-garde watchmaker developing something never before seen.
The Tattoo-DNA by Xoil falls right in line with what Romain Jerome creates, and yet it stands apart for its simplicity that somehow helps it break more walls than many of its previous endeavors. Not only do I want this watch, but I am now deeply intrigued by new desires for a tattoo of my own.
I may not be able to fly to Lavenu’s shop, Needles Side Tattoo in Thonon-les-Bains, France, for an appointment, but I definitely think inspiration has been sparked thanks to this surprising collaboration.
While I start sketching some ideas, how about we break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.25 Romain Jerome is always a wowza, if sometimes only for its creative decisions. But this piece wows on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin. Besides everything I just wrote about, I mean . . .
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 91.2 » 894.366 m/s2 These are some serious Gs, no doubt about that. Imagine how hard it makes the wee hours of the morning as you gaze into the depths of its design!
- M.G.R. * 65.1 This movement is already awesome, and it gets more so as when you hint at its design under a sharply sliced grand feu enamel dial.
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Once again, nothing extra on this watch. And who is really surprised anymore? Awesome watches have no need for complication sometimes. So you can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream and just appreciate the surprising contrast swelling.
- Ouch Outline * 9.55 Mental anguish as a fresh-out-of-the-box smartphone floats in mid-air as the cat knocks it off the table towards the very hard floor. Pets, gotta love ҆em, right? Still, I’ll take that anguish again if it meant getting this awesome creation on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Look at that contrast! The tattooed strap is amazing, and the movement and dial combo is top-notch, but what puts it over the top is the entire assembly contrasting against itself. It makes me think I need to book a caterer and start shopping for a tux!
- Awesome Total * 550 Multiply the number of pieces in the limited edition (25) with the diameter of the case (44 mm), then divide by the number of days of power reserve (2) and you end up with a distinctly unique awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.romainjerome.ch/tattoo-dna-xoil.
Case: 44 mm, PVD-coated stainless steel
Movement: manual winding Caliber RJ004-M
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 19,950 Swiss francs