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Michelle Yu, owner of boutique studio The Gentlemen's Press, demonstrating the art of letterpress at a workshop conducted by independent Swiss watch-maker Claude Bernard, whose Open Heart Automatic watch is featured here.

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Michelle Yu, owner of boutique studio The Gentlemen's Press, demonstrating the art of letterpress at a workshop conducted by independent Swiss watch-maker Claude Bernard, whose Open Heart Automatic watch (above) is featured here.

Keeping watch over old traditions

Letterpress studio The Gentlemen's Press wins support from watch-maker Claude Bernard under its local artisans programme.
Mar 11, 2016 5:50 AM

THOUGH local crafts and artisans are arguably getting more attention than ever before, it takes more than a village to keep the enthusiasm going. Under the Claude Bernard Artisans programme, Swiss watch-maker Claude Bernard collaborates with local artisans to further develop the movement in Singapore.

Pamela Tan, senior brand manager of Claude Bernard, says: "We started the programme to encourage our customers to value their purchases, to invest in quality hand-crafted products that they will keep and treasure, and to give support to our local artisans who share the same values as us."

The inception of the programme last year saw a partnership with Janice Wong, chef-owner of 2AM:dessertbar, and this year, Claude Bernard struck up a collaboration with a letterpress studio by conducting two workshops on print-making. What do watch-making and letterpress printing have in common? You might be surprised.

Michelle Yu, owner of boutique letterpress studio The Gentlemen's Press, says: "Letterpressing is a precise and deliberate art. The timing of the prints has to be exact, not a second faster or slower, or the ink smudges and the paper tears. This is similar to Claude Bernard's style of watch-making which also requires a lot of deliberation and dedication. And as with all hand-crafted techniques, the quality of materials used cannot be compromised in any way."

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Trained in commercial design at Temasek Polytechnic, Ms Yu delved into the world of letterpress printing during a student exchange programme in the US. At printing studio The Arm, in New York, she learnt the basic techniques of the craft, and discovered her passion for it.

She started her boutique studio in 2011 after investing in two vintage hand-driven letterpress machines, bought through eBay. "The machines are actually cheaper than a laptop, but it's the cost of shipping that's the real killer," the 27-year-old laughs.

Printing prices vary depending on the number of colours required, the size, and the paper used, but a standard business card can be printed for S$1 a piece. Since starting her business, Ms Yu has seen quite a growth in demand. She says: "I think people are slowly starting to appreciate the art of sitting down and working on a print by hand instead of digital printing. It's finally paying off after all these years."

Claude Bernard, started in 1973 by Victor Strambini, is a brand that understands all too well the strife faced by changing technology.

Ms Tan says: "The watch industry can be quite volatile, and with the quartz revolution in the 1970s, things were uncertain for a while. Our founder was able to sustain both the brand and the tradition of hand assembly, however, and that's why we appreciate entrepreneurs like Ms Yu who work hard at keeping traditional values in trend."

Although the collaboration is primarily about supporting local artisans, Ms Tan agrees that it also helps spread awareness for the independent watch-maker. She explains: "Traditional marketing has reached a point where it's quite saturated, and it only works well when you have strong brand association. Collaborations like these help brands to create a more defined image and let people know what their values are."

She adds: "It's just a much more personalised way for customers to remember our brand."

Claude Bernard will be announcing another brand partnership towards the end of the year, but all they can reveal at present is that "it'll be something to do with making watch accessories".

As for Ms Yu, her desire is to add artist printing to her repertoire, right after she moves to a new work space. She says: "I've always been interested in drawing, and I don't want to spend the next 10 years printing someone else's work."

She muses: "Commercial printing pays the rent, but in the long term, I need to do something that will feed my soul."

  • For more information on The Gentlemen's Press, please go to thegentlemenspress.com. For further information on Claude Bernard watches, please call Crystal Time at 6747 8888 or visit www.crystaltime.com.sg.