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In Seoul, Watchmaking With Subtlety

  • July 30, 2022

SEOUL — Minhoon Yoo doesn’t think of himself as a workaholic. But his cluttered studio — which contains a 100-year-old watchmaker’s lathe machine purchased on eBay, a bevy of old-school tools and a skateboard tucked in a corner — is a second home to this 31-year-old, who has been called a rising star in independent watchmaking in South Korea.

And despite the frenetic work schedule he has kept up to fill the orders he received since unveiling his first watch on Instagram in February, he has been thinking about his next design and pondering his own ideas of what defines a South Korean watchmaker.

“People seem to expect Korean themes from Korean artists, and I’ve seen many artists paint certain traditional patterns, but I wanted to do something more subtle,” he said in a recent interview from his studio in the Seongdong area of central Seoul. “For my first watches, I added an old design element called swallowtails from the hinges of old Korean furniture.”

That abstract approach played out in his Carved Piece, a 37-millimeter manually wound watch priced at the equivalent of about $18,000 (he has sold nine and plans to deliver the first one in September or October). The swallowtails are delicately placed around the nameplate, which reads simply Minhoon Yoo, and on the serial number plate at the bottom of the dial. But the motif is most prominent on the buckle, adding a touch of sophistication to the strap.

It’s a flourish some viewers might miss, but that’s part of the point for Mr. Yoo. He is interested in details and what each person sees in his work.

“The phrase ‘the more ambiguity there is, the more rich is the conversation’ inspired me when I read that in a book in 2011,” he said,

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