It became somewhat of a routine to see Chaigo on my way to school almost every single day, and little did I know I would be sitting here a few years later, writing about the very artist behind Chaigo and his collaborative project with our friends over at BOLDR Supply Co.
For those who do not know what Chaigo means. To put it simply, “Chai” (蔡) is the surname of the artist – Kenji Chai, and “Go” (狗), means dog in Mandarin (a little more on Chaigo’s origin story later). When Leon from BOLDR reached out to me and asked if I wanted to cover the collaboration, I immediately jumped on the opportunity, because in my mind, there aren’t many significant or meaningful watch collaborations coming out of Malaysia over the past few years (with the exception of our beloved AvaMatick with Nodus Watches), or any at all. When Leon first talked to me about the idea and inspiration behind this collaboration, it became very clear to me that this BOLDR x KENJI CHAI partnership was something special and it made a lot of sense. Essentially, it is an artistic union with BOLDR doing what they do best, leading the forefront and pushing the boundaries of microbrand watch collaborations with the direction of a world-renowned graffiti virtuoso coming out of my very own homeland. And that makes me immensely proud.
The most intriguing aspect of this collaboration is the story behind the project. In my mind, Kenji’s story was an interesting one – his adoption of Chaigo as his alter-ego / spirit animal came about during his darkest moments in the earlier years of his career. According to Kenji, in his own words:
“I was going through some family issues and was generally not the happiest person at that particular point in time. One day I was driving around and spotted a carcass of a stray dog lying on the highway. It wasn’t the first I’d seen, but somehow that day it affected me more. I felt like a stray dog too, inside. Growing up in a broken family, there was a constant feeling of being estranged, never really having a place I felt at home. Somehow, relating to the stray dog ignited a sense of identity in me. I, too, had to fend for myself and learn never to rely on others. I knew that anything was possible if you’re willing to work hard enough, and be really true to yourself. But unlike the dog, I had the power to decide from then on to live life on my own terms. That’s when Chaigo was born.”-Kenji Chai
I guess in some ways I felt that his story somewhat resonated with me. Sometimes your greatest inspirations come to you in the darkest moments of adversity.
The heart and soul of this collaboration are encased within the BOLDR Venture, BOLDR’s bestselling watch to date, and presented in the form of a full titanium case accompanied with a titanium bracelet. The application of titanium in the case and bracelet give the Venture Chaigo an almost feathery-light feel to its weight and construction. When I first took it out of its zombie-proof storage box (no, seriously. But as expected because BOLDRRR) and laid eyes on the dial, I thought it had a visually stimulating aesthetic. The visual contrast between the titanium body and the dial is simply unlike any watch I have seen before coming out of BOLDR’s catalogue. Needless to say, the titanium exterior is quite impressive, it exudes an air of toughness and masculinity, which is very much a spiritual attribute carried by all of BOLDR’s watches to date.
Another thing I enjoy about the Venture Chaigo is the case size. Like its regular Venture counterparts, it sits well at 38mm and can be widely considered as a wrist-friendly option for both genders and especially for those who prefer smaller case sizes, like me. But in my book, the star of the show is the matte black dial with Chaigo at its center, accompanied by the multi-coloured Superlume markers. It may not the best in terms of legibility throughout the day, but boy does it come to life during the evening. It is simply one of the most captivating luminescent dials I have seen so far when it comes to utilitarian field watches. To top it off, the dull and subdued appearance of the titanium case and bracelet offsets the dial very well, giving it an aggressive look, which I think would be very appealing to those looking for a watch that’s a little off the beaten path.
The case back is simple but interesting, it comes embossed with Kenji’s very own signature logo “蔡” (Chai) as you can see in the picture below. When it comes to the rest of the Venture Chaigo’s specifications, it is identical to the regular Venture models. It uses a workhorse Seiko NH35A automatic movement, and it comes with a lug width of 20mm, a thickness of 12mm, water-resistance of 200m (660ft) / 20ATM, and a custom printed NATO strap with titanium hardware to match!
The watch is not the only thing you will receive in the box, the package also comes with a collectible, 4-inch tall “Graffiti Chaigo” figure. According to Kenji, the figure was a decision to eventually bring Chaigo to life because of how Chaigo had evolved over the past few years and eventually took on a life of its own. These figures are hand-painted with slight imperfections, which is a trait Kenji intended to celebrate as it reflects the uniqueness in every individual.
I absolutely love the Graffiti Chaigo. It is too cool. I would absolutely love to have one of these on my office desk.
I have mentioned this in a recent episode on the KC & Jon Jon Show (check us out here) that The Matick Blog would no longer do reviews or any articles of the sort. But one thing I would like to keep is the freedom to write about meaningful stories like Kenji’s. In fact, the sole reason why I am writing about this collaboration is that I feel that this project is an important partnership between a watch brand that we respect and an artist of Kenji’s caliber. It represents so much more than just selling a watch or an idea, at least to young people like myself, it also represents what good energy within the watch industry can do and how watches can bring people together.
I have yet to meet Kenji himself personally, but we did exchange a few text messages over the phone now and then. He is exactly who they describe him to be; warm, friendly, and very encouraging. When he heard about my brief story of leaving my job as a corporate lawyer and taking The Matick Blog full time, he was very encouraging and reassured me that my passion will be my guiding light. It’s funny, I don’t actually know Kenji personally, but I felt like I could relate to his journey on a deeper level for some odd reason. Maybe it’s his story, or maybe it’s because in some ways I felt like a part of me grew up with Chaigo. That being said, it is simply amazing to see how much a person can achieve when they put their minds to something.
Today, Kenji is a successful artist who has collaborated with internationally renowned brands and companies such as, to name a few, Tiger Beer, Netflix, Puma, Uniqlo, Volkswagen, etc.
I guess it is safe to say that the Venture Chaigo is one of the more interesting collaborations I’ve seen in recent years coming from a microbrand like BOLDR. I almost felt a little emotional reading about Kenji’s story and his work during the research and writing process of this article. You could feel his passion, energy and spirit shining through in this watch. It is very difficult to put it into words, and I thorough enjoyed the entire writing process from start to finish.
Writing about this collaboration made me think a lot about my path and where I am heading. Kenji is the embodiment of what it means to be truly living your purpose. It is indeed a very gratifying feeling to see someone like Kenji just living his own life, doing his own thing, and succeeding. This is by far one of the best collaborations I have witnessed and written about. As I have mentioned before, this is more than just selling watches, it stood for something much bigger than that.
This is the story of Kenji Chai, and I hope I get to continue to witness his journey and greatness unfold.
On behalf of Team Matick, best of luck, Kenji. Let us all keep striving for greatness.
The Venture Chaigo is limited to 160 pieces and retails for USD 499, more details of the watch can be found here.
Til’ next time.
For Team Matick,