Ong, 33, is thrilled that her design was picked by the Swiss watchmaker. The design was conceived during her residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China, where she stayed from September 2014 to March last year. "I am really happy. For me, this watch represents my time in residence, the place, the city and the people," she says.
She is also the first artist from Swatch's artist-in-residence programme to have her design on a watch. Under the programme, artists are invited to live and make art in the historic hotel for a few months at a time. The hotel has hosted more than 220 artists from more than 35 countries since 2011. She had heard about the residency in late 2013, applied for it online and was accepted in early 2014.
Ong, who goes by the name Juls, has a Master in Communication, Art and Design from the Royal College of Art in London, and has participated in multiple art exhibitions in the U.K. and Singapore. She has also been nominated for and won various awards between 2003 and 2013. These include being first runner-up for the John Norris Wood Natural Forms Drawing Prize (U.K.) in 2011 and second runner-up for the Derwent Art Prize (U.K.) in 2013. Both were for her pencil drawings. Mr. Carlo Giordanetti, Swatch's Creative Director, says the committee picked her because of her portfolio and her project idea for the programme, which was on sketches of the architecture in Shanghai.
While preparing for her residency, she had gone to the library here to research Chinese culture and the arts. She was taken with the designs on Chinese burial goods and made simple black-and-white drawings of these in her sketchbook. While in China, she digitised the hundreds of doodles and created nine different patterns from them. She then had these patterns silkscreened and hand-printed with ink on paper and also had them digitally printed on fabric. One of these patterns caught Mr. Giordanetti's eye, when she showcased them early last year. "I was enchanted by her approach to Asian culture and her story-telling pieces," he says. "The fine outline, the richness of the characters presented, the modern and cool colour combination, as well as the intricate pattern generated by the faces - these are all elements of rich story-telling."
She is not worried that people may be put off by the design being based on burial items. She says, "You would think that these items are about death and tradition, but when I looked at the images on the artefacts, I saw humorous faces - the very opposite of seriousness." The humour is what she hopes to convey to those who will wear the watch. Ong, who is single, says, "The residency was a priceless experience. "It was not just about art-making. I learnt so much from the fellow residents and made connections with people from all over the world."