For many, tattoos are about rebellion. Rebelling against society, against parents, against anything and everything. For tattoo artist Christian Nguyen from Inkvaders, a boutique tattoo parlor in Geneva, tattooing started as rebellion, then morphed into an art that has defined his life.

“My first tattoo, when I was 15, was a dragon, and it is already covered,” Nguyen says with a smile. “That tattoo was just a way to enter the show: it was a bit gangster, it was about showing my parents a little bit of rebellion. When I look back, I was taking back my body. I started drawing at school because I was bored. The guy who was tattooing me asked me if I was interested in starting to tattoo, and I thought, why not?”

Though his interest in tattooing started casually, Nguyen’s career has been the opposite: both serious and quite successful. He has won a number of awards and tattoo competitions, and has a stable of celebrity clients. He is so successful that his tattoo shop in the Carouge area of Geneva doesn’t even have normal working hours — his work is by appointment only.

It didn’t start like this, however. “I was living in a squat back then, and I opened a space in the squat to tattoo,” he details. “It was near the train station, but it was definitely underground for four years, then 16 years ago I opened this studio. I was about to leave to set up in Germany, and I visited this place and the agent was a client of mine and I got it.”

Christian Nguyen, Inkvaders
Inkvader

Today, Nguyen regularly travels to Denmark, France, Holland, Japan and the U.S, having built a worldwide fan base. Nguyen has a faithful group of celebrity customers turned friends, including athletes–Yvan Muller (4 WTCC titles), Goran Bezina (NHL and Swiss Hockey), Romain De Marchi (Freestyle Snowboarder) and people from the music industry–Fred Durst, Wes Borland and John Otto (Limp Bizkit), Danny Boy, Everlast (House of Pain, La Coka Nostra), DJ Naughty J (Suprême NTM), DJ Remady, DJ Lethal and many others.

“I have done some high profile people,” he admits. “I used to go to LA a lot, and I tattooed a friend of mine there who knows everyone and it just sort of happened. Now, I can work whenever and wherever I want. I work hard in the winter so I can take the summer off. At the end of the year, I end up doing the same amount of work. And this way, I can be more selective. I love to tattoo in my studio, because I want to have privacy with the customer, to be more relaxed, to not be in the midst of the crazy social life.”

The State of Tattooing

“The young generation is losing the deep meaning of tattoos,” Nguyen opines. “Back in the day, tattoos were not beautiful, they were often quite ugly, but if you wanted to remember something, they had meaning. Everyone knew why he or she had it. Now, people want tattoos because they are art, they are beautiful, but they have no meaning. The problem is, we all get older, so when the beauty is gone, they might regret getting tattooed. The people who have a tattoo because of the meaning, they are always happy with it.

“Today’s tattoo business is harder, with more pressure,” he continues. “It’s harder to stand out. With all the TV shows, it’s become a race, but a race for the wrong reason. The main part of the job is to translate someone’s transition into a design. It’s almost always a key life event that they want to commemorate. This part is now disappearing — people only want a tattoo for the outside view, for Facebook and Instagram. Many artists choose to join this race, which I think leads to unhappiness, but it’s harder to go the other way.”

Christian Nguyen, Inkvaders

Working with Cvstos

The contact with Cvstos came about by chance. Nguyen was traveling with Limp Bizkit, and ended up in Lausanne with them. “A lot of people came, everyone took photos, and the next day a guy from Cvstos called to thank me,” he remembers. “He saw my work and suggested that we work on a watch together. I was not at all a watch guy then, but I had already done some other products – shoes, motorcycles, clothes.

“I loved the process of this watch project–it was an interesting story with the sketch and the various steps of prototypes and approvals, and at the end to see the final product was awesome,” he adds. “I know how to sketch, but I don’t have the technical skills to translate that into a watch. This was also the first time I ever worked with a Swiss company.”

Nguyen now most certainly a watch lover, he won’t be caught without his Inkvaders Skull Limited Edition. “It was weird at first to wear a watch, in a good way and in a bad way,” he says. “I don’t usually wear things of value when I work, because everything is dirty and there is ink everywhere, and now I am wearing a fine watch. It was a great experience and wearing the watch reminds me of it, kind of like a tattoo.”

Nguyen himself has a ton of tattoos, and he’s not done.

“I still want more tattoos,” he admits. “My body is slowly becoming one tattoo. Honestly, when I get a tattoo, it really hurts me a lot. I had to finish my ribs recently, and I did one side and I was dying!”

Cvstos Inkvader
Inkvader

The Watch

The base timepiece for this limited edition is the Challenge Jet-Liner, which is a tonneau shaped cased (41×53.7mm). The skull dial is designed by Nguyen and is done in polished stainless steel, inscribed with the name Inkvaders. The movement powering the watch is the automatic skeletonized Cvstos CVS350 movement with black plasma treatment.

The Future

The result of the Inkvaders Skull timepiece was so positive for everyone involved that Cvstos came back for more: “They asked me what would be nice on a ladies watch, and my daughter loves butterflies, so we did a limited edition butterfly watch as well,” Nguyen says.

Nguyen’s act of rebellion has really paid off, and he now has a good relationship with his parents. “When I had finally established myself, I wanted to tattoo my father before he passed away, and he said, ‘When you are in a magazine,’” he says. “But every time I have been featured in a magazine, it has always been too small for him. Now, with this story in Revolution, this would have been my chance.”

Cvstos Inkvader
Cvstos Inkvader