Meet The Artist: The Talented Lee Yuen-Rapati – The Man Behind @onehourwatch
The first in a series of profiles on our favorite horological artists.
We consider watchmaking to be an art form, and the Watchonista team loves art. So, of course, we are going to get a little obsessive about art on watches.
We also love to share our passions, which is why we are starting this series of profiles on the talented creatives behind some of our favorite Instagram accounts, starting with Lee Yuen-Rapati, also known as @onehourwatch.
Yuen-Rapati is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and works in illustration, typeface design, and industrial design. He holds a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary design from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a master’s degree in typeface design from the University of Reading. Yuen-Rapati was inducted into the GPHG Academy (Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève Academy) in its inaugural year and remains an active member.
Via email, we asked Yuen-Rapati what sparked his enthusiasm for horology: “about ten years ago, my mom came across a magazine advertisement for Urwerk (can't remember the magazine or exact watch model now) and said that I had to check it out,” he says. “Seeing their pieces completely redefined my notion of what a watch could be and they appealed to my love of sci-fi aesthetics. From there my interest led first, to other independent watchmakers, before growing into a full-on obsession with the industry and community.”
At that point, in 2014, Yuen-Rapati started his One Hour Watch series – a project that involves creating an original watch drawing every day in one hour or less. Each image is unique and often drawn from Yuen-Rapati’s imagination. They are also more than technical – on any given day, you might see a sketch based on an iconic piece or a more abstract image that focuses on a singular element, such as a date window or set of lugs. He also works with a variety of mediums like watercolor, pencil, and pen to evoke different emotions.
Yuen-Rapati’s project also coincided with the rise of social media platforms, like Instagram. For artists, being able to showcase one’s art without having to go through the usual gatekeepers, like galleries, was a boon not just in reaching an audience, but also a medium that allows one to explore a theme to the fullest. “I started the series in 2014 when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree,” says Yuen-Rapati. “Outside of a school environment, it can be difficult to find the motivation for consistent practice, so I felt that if there was an audience beyond myself, I could be accountable to them to keep up with the series. Instagram also provided a convenient space to use the series as a potential way into the watch industry, which quickly became a goal of mine.”
Through Instagram and YouTube, his work quickly caught the attention of watch industry insiders. RedBar CEO, Kathleen McGivney, has a small wall dedicated Yuen-Rapati’s drawings. In 2019, watchmaker, Roger Smith, commissioned Yuen-Rapati to create a series of miniature worlds set within the architecture of a watch – specifically his GREAT Britain reference. “When you’re working at such a macro scale day-in and day-out, I think any watchmaker would agree that you get drawn into the mechanical world that you are inhabiting,” Smith says of the collaboration. “To see that taken to its logical extreme is satisfying and engaging!”
The Art of Collaboration
Timing is, of course, everything. “Instagram has been amazing for introductions,” says Yuen-Rapati. “However, I am especially grateful to have had the chance to meet some of my most admired watchmakers in person during my time in the United Kingdom. Whilst all of my work for brands or collaborations has been done remotely, the seeds of many of the projects began as face-to-face conversations, at events like Salon QP or enthusiast get-togethers.”
Yuen-Rapati has also worked with independent watchmakers like Ming, Habring², and Joshua Shapiro. Most recently, he created the conceptual art for MB&F’s HM10 Panda watch, to be sold at the upcoming Only Watch auction.
“My personal goal with the series remains to practice drawing and learn more about watches. Since the audience for the series has grown, I hope that it can provide a diverse perspective on watches that contrasts with the wrist shots and press release photos we're used to seeing,” says Yuen-Rapati.
One way that Yuen-Rapati has provided new perspectives is through online, live drawing sessions (you can find example videos on Theo & Harris’ YouTube channel). What we love most about @onehourwatch is that the drawings are more than technical – each one has its own personality and part of the character of these illustrations is the process.
That process, he says, can be stressful. “One thing that most people might not know having seen my drawings is that I can have quite shaky hands, which is aggravating when trying to draw fine lines. Adding in a camera certainly can put those shaky lines and potential frustration at the forefront.”
Still, Yuen-Rapati finds that filmed or live drawing provides a very enticing scenario. “It requires some tweaks to my thinking and usual drawing process. I must say, I ended up having a ton of fun doing the RedBar drawing session over Zoom last year.”
Imaginative and insightful, that’s the best way to describe the appeal of Yuen-Rapati’s work. If you’re not already a follower, check out the @onehourwatch account on Instagram. His creativity is not just limited to watches.