Up Close!

A day with Maxime Plescia-Büchi in New York: the Swiss designer is considered a superstar among tattoo artists and has already created three watch series for Hublot.

You could be forgiven for expecting burning garbage cans in the street, booming rap music and hoodies pulled down over faces. Instead: tranquillity, clean streets, a church and the kind of wide-open landscapes that, roughly an hour’s drive away in New York City, can only be seen in an Imax cinema. We’re in Port Chester, at the border with the state of Connecticut. How is it possible that here of all places, one of the most famous tattoo studios in the world is generating a furore?

Well, tattoo studio is a broad term, of course. At Sang Bleu, nobody can just walk in and get an anchor inked on their bicep on a whim. You book an appointment with the artist up to a year in advance. Because Sang Bleu is the kingdom of Maxime Plescia- Büchi, designer, tattoo artist and co-owner: a jack-of-all-trades, although the 46-yearold from Lausanne would certainly not be happy with the term. Too imprecise.

During the day we spend with him, it will become clear that Maxime is a seeker, a driven man, an intellectual in a scene full of posers. The only hint in Port Chester that points to the man who, in Sang Bleu, has created an indie brand that is second to none: the wrapped black Mercedes S-Class, custom-built. A Batmobile in a sea of family SUVs.

It’s eight in the morning, and Maxime Plescia- Büchi greets us shyly (or perhaps just a little sleepily) in French. His studio looks more like a hip new-work office – minimalist, clearcut, stylish throughout. Art by Claudia Comte, seating by Knoll. The only indication that lifelong works of art are created on human skin here is a ring light, disinfectant and a recliner in the back room. Plescia-Büchi founded the Sang Bleu label in 2006 as a design studio: it has since given birth to a style-defining magazine, streetwear collections, logo designs for fashion brands – and his trend-setting tattoo art with studios in Zurich,

Maxime about life in the suburbs: “We chose this place because the schools are good.”


But it is not Maxime’s only business: with Swiss Typefaces, he is a managing partner of the successful design studio that most recently created the fonts for the new Swiss passport and has worked for Google Android, Virgin Galactic and the City of Stockholm. In 2016, Plescia-Büchi designed his first watch for Hublot. “It was huge,” he says. There are now three editions with dozens of variations of the “Sang Bleu” models, which are based on the legendary Hublot “Big Bang”.

Maxime offers us coffee, sits down, and as he begins to talk about watches, his expression changes – we find ourselves listening to a connoisseur, an admirer of the industry and, to a certain extent, a nerdy insider: “I grew up in Lausanne, but spent a large part of my childhood in the Jura, my mother’s home – the watch industry was omnipresent. I knew many families who were proud to work in the industry. Often they couldn’t afford the watches to which they devoted all their passion day after day. But everyone respected the industry,” he says, glancing at his own design. He doesn’t leave the house without one of his Hublots. “Many people outside Switzerland have little understanding of the essence of a good watch.



Here in the States, I always explain that the watch industry is as important to Switzerland as the car industry is to Detroit. The watch is a luxury product, of course, but the people that make them are working-class.”

Which is definitely not true of Plescia-Büchi; he has achieved a great deal with his visions, and a tattoo done by him is an investment. He also needs the money, he says. After all, he has a job with little security and four children to support. His American wife, Hope, and he have no grandparents nearby, no nannies, no help. The youngest child is two years old, the twins are seven and the eldest daughter is nine. We can’t resist asking whether kids fake tattoos are allowed at the Plescia- Büchis. Maxime grins at the banality of our question, nods briefly, but would obviously prefer to talk about something more profound.


About the meaning of watches, for example: “I don’t like it when people say that watches are no longer needed just because we have mobile phones. Certainly, we’re liberated from the original purpose of the watch. But we need them in a different way. Watches are poetry. I’m fascinated by how you can display time in a creative way. Take the shape, for instance. There’s a whole generation of people whose first watch is a rectangular smartwatch. What does this mean for the traditional round shape of the dial?” These are the kinds of questions that drive the designer.

Today we’re visiting a few places that represent important stages in the life of Maxime Plescia-Büchi. As we head for the Meatpacking District, some rap is playing over the car system – we’d have probably found anything else annoying. Maxime talks about his life. He left Switzerland in 2006. After living in Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles, he and his young family found a home at the Connecticut border. And it’s somehow heart-warming that this seemingly tough guy, idolised by the scene, gives the trivial reason for moving to the suburbs: “We chose this location because the schools are good. When I pick up my children, I’m definitely the only inked dad.”

And yes, his life as a father has certainly influenced his way of working. “I had to reorganise myself and learn to tattoo less so that I could still be emotionally available for my family at home. I pour myself into my work: the job is somewhere between psychology, art and sex work, an intimate act. It can be quite draining if you don’t approach it carefully.” We stop at the intersection of Broadway and 72nd Street.

Where it all began: this is where Maxime got his first job in New York – at the East River Tattoo Parlour. It has since moved, but hipsters can
still get their money’s worth in Greenpoint:
there are vintage boutiques, galleries, record shops and Polish delicatessens.
The trendy neighbourhood is as cool as it is fashion-conscious. In Maxime’s former studio Rose Tattoo, Homerun NYC offers limited-edition streetwear by iconic graffiti artists. Might they soon have a Sang Bleu collection too?


“This is where I met my wife,” says Maxime as we sit on folding chairs at lunch, and bites contentedly into a slice of New York pizza dripping with fat. But he doesn’t seem able to relax completely. You get the feeling that this man is constantly churning out new ideas; his inspiration is contagious. You can tell why people like to be around him. There are plenty of people who find it exciting to have an artist in their neighbourhood, Maxime confirms, rolling his eyes. “But I’m not interested in playing the artist-clown. You can go to the Burning Man Festival if you want that.”

Later, as we drive into the Dumbo neighbourhood and Plescia-Büchi gazes pensively at the Brooklyn Bridge, he reflects on fame and pop culture. We know he doesn’t like being asked about Kanye West, even though he once tattooed him. “I deliberately pulled back from celebrity culture,” he says. “When celebrities started approaching me, I did some soul-searching and asked myself: Do I want to be the ‘tattoo artist to the stars’? I came to the conclusion: no. If you’re not a star yourself, but have to rely on the stars, that’s an awkward position because you make yourself dependent. I’m certainly glad that I didn’t rely on Kanye,” he says, not without a hint of derision in his voice.

Maxime looks patiently into the camera for the photographer. Then he says: “I like people who appreciate the value of things, whether material or non-material. If you want to buy a great watch, you think about it for a long time, you save up for it, you dream about it, you gather information. It’s the same with a tattoo. You have to live with your decision for a long time. A tattoo is an extension of yourself. And so is the right watch.” 


Today it is one of the hippest neighbourhoods in New York City, but from the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century it was mainly home to slaughterhouses, packing plants and lamp oil factories. The Meatpacking District now boasts chic designer boutiques, trendy cafés, the Whitney Museum and the High Line Park, which was built on disused railway lines.


An important corner for Maxime Plescia-Büchi. He shared an apartment here for many years when he was in the city. This is where he met his wife, Hope, and where he recommends taking time to enjoy a slice of Original New York Pizza.


In Dumbo, you stroll over the famous cobblestones, sit in a hip café and, in the evening, a speakeasy. Maxime likes to visit Dumbo House, part of the exclusive Soho House chain. “The view is the best in all of New York, especially at sunset,” he says. It’s true, the view of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge really is breathtaking.


They come in different colours and materials: Maxime Plescia-Büchi designed these three models for Hublot.

1 Sang Bleu Big Bang I
The first model of the collaboration appeared in 2016. The design is inspired by geometric shapes and intricate patterns often found in tattoo art. Though it’s anything but a ‘tattoo watch’, says Plescia-Büchi. “That would be far too clichéd. The only thing the watch has to do with tattoos is that I designed it.”

2 Sang Bleu Big Bang II
The successor model appeared in 2019. The “Big Bang Sang Bleu II” features three separately rotating polygons that display the time. “It was important to me for there to be an obvious development in the design,” says Maxime. “But I still wanted each model to stand on its own merits.”

3 Sang Bleu Spirit of Big Bang
n his third collaboration with Hublot, Plescia-Büchi turned his attention to the tonneau shape: “I wanted to find out what influence the shape of smartwatches can have on the traditional art of watchmaking.” Based on the design codes of the “Big Bang Sang Bleu” models I and II, he applied his characteristic angular aesthetic to this model in a 42mm case to redefine the architecture of the watch. “The ergonomics are also on a different level: I wear this watch for hours while tattooing, it has to feel good on your wrist – that was important to me.”

Ricardo Guadalupe and Maxime Plescia-Büchi


Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe on the collaboration with Maxime Plescia-Büchi and his latest creation.

Hublot has had a partnership with Sang Bleu for the past eight years: what makes it so special?
Maxime’s iconic tattoo aesthetic and our watch philosophy are a perfect match. It’s as if the strengths of the two worlds have been honed even further by the fusion. It creates a unique identity.

Which “Sang Bleu” model do you like best, and why?
The new “Spirit of Big Bang Sang Bleu Saphir”! The Saphir lends Maxime’s tattoos a completely new geometric dimension. And it lets us show what we’re capable of, what technical obstacles we’re able to overcome and why we’re regarded as the leading manufacturer of sapphire products in haute horlogerie.

What do you admire most about Maxime’s work?
His understanding of art: his style is very graphic, geometric and structured, extremely precise and technically sophisticated. There are strong parallels to the world of watchmaking, where every detail counts.

Winning over new social groups is in Hublot’s DNA: what clientele is the “Sang Bleu” collection aimed at?
Certainly customers who don’t hide their authenticity and approach life with a progressive spirit. “Sang Bleu” watches are veritable works of art that are worn on the wrist. Perhaps that’s why they are so very collectible: a bit like tattoos.