“They’re impossible to get, and guys like me ruin them.” Greg Yuna on custom watchesTime+Tide
Editor’s note: It takes a special kind of swag to not only get your hands on the hottest watches on the market, but to then decide to do some aftermarket mods on them. If you’ve got that level of swag and lean towards diamonds, you should probably meet Greg Yuna. We chatted to him last year …
Once known as ‘Mr Flawless’, Greg Yuna is an entrepreneur and custom jeweller to celebrities like Drake, Floyd Mayweather Jr and Meek Mill. We talk custom watches with Greg, to gain some insight into one of the more controversial parts of the watch industry.
How did you get your start customising watches?
I started with working for my uncle about eight years ago. From there, I started creating and icing out these watches. Here in NYC, it’s very popular, because of the culture. What’s going on right now is a race to see who can take the biggest, baddest watch and ruin it. Who has the balls to ruin them first, and that’s where I come in. What I try and do is get the most popular, hottest watches, as soon as they come out – and ice them out, to have them on the market before anyone else.
I recently opened my store in July; before that I was known as ‘Mr Flawless’. Back then, I was working with my uncle, and eventually we parted ways.
Do you have a favourite brand or particular watch to customise?
I love working on Audemars Piguet and Rolex, those are my two top pieces, but I could work on anything. Although I do not like touching the Richard Milles because it’s just a work of art – something I just don’t want to touch.
What do you love about working on these two brands, from a customisation perspective?
The canvas is just unique, it’s fun to work on. Regarding Rolex, my favourite piece to work on is the Yacht-Master II or the Sky-Dweller – I like the size. But, that being said, for my work, size doesn’t matter — we can work on anything. But as far as me and my personal favourite watch, I’d have to say the rose gold Sky-Dweller, with the chocolate dial.
Do you have any popular requests from your customers?
Right now, it’s the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Openworked, in steel; those are popular at the moment. I get requests for those in both rose gold and stainless steel. They’re impossible to get, and guys like me ruin them, so it makes the value of the ‘stock’ ones go up! And listen, when I say ‘ruin’, I know what I’m doing – from a traditional perspective, I’m ruining a watch. You’d have to be an idiot not to understand that. But we ruin them to perfection.
So, what watch does Greg Yuna wear every day?
Right now I’m actually wearing an AP Skeleton, with diamonds all the way around. It’s my own, personal watch.
What else is in your collection?
Aside from the Audemars, I have the Rose Gold AP ROO and the Rolex Yellow Gold Day-Date II. All of my watches are iced-out, all the way around.
What do you appreciate about those models? Would you call yourself a watch collector?
I mean, I’m a watch collector, but I’m not a watch hoarder. I collect them, I play with them, and then I move them on. I try not to get too attached. I’m in the business of selling.
At the moment, I’m looking for a Rose Gold AP Skeleton, which I might leave alone. I think I might have to just leave it plain.
Is there anything you’ve customised recently that you particularly enjoyed?
I recently finished a Rolex Sky-Dweller. You might’ve seen the bracelet up on my Instagram, which for me was so nice. We did baguette diamonds; it was tedious work, and the presentation and execution were the best.
Can you expand on that, and tell me about your favourite piece of jewellery that you’ve created?
I made a piece for Floyd Mayweather, a 34ct Diamond Canary Stone, ‘Money Sign’. It looked like a dollar bill, and in the middle of it was a big 34ct stone. It was fun creating it and bringing it to life, and it was cool to go from drawing it to finishing.
You’re very social media-savvy, although I’ve read you’ve got a strict policy on giving out your work for free. Tell me about that.
Listen, if I wanted to work with everyone in the industry then I could just give away pieces of jewellery, and anyone would work with me. But I don’t feel like it’s respected. I feel like if I were to give out a piece of jewellery then the person would only be cool with me until the next person came along and gave them something. So you don’t earn respect, you’re buying it. So if I keep low, and let my work speak for itself then eventually they’ll come – and if they don’t, then they’re missing out.
And if I do give out a piece, then it’s to a friend that I’ve worked with, who has spent money with me – not just an Instagram shout-out.
Have you seen any trends in the past 12 months in the custom watch space?
I feel like the Richard Milles are blowing up. They’ve always been hot, but I feel like they’re blowing up. In the custom watch space, people are just desperately trying to get their hands on any model they can. The harder to get the piece, the better.
What’s the big piece you are working on right now?
Right now, I’m working on a Rose Gold Royal Oak Offshore, with baguette diamonds. I’d say there are about 43cts going into this piece. Every stone must be cut to that watch, as you can’t just buy a parcel of diamonds. It’s much more meticulous, like a jigsaw puzzle.
Is there a watch that you just love to work on, or would love to? The dream pieces.
Aside from Ceramic, which you just can’t work on, I feel like I had that when the Patek Philippe 5980R first came out. I was one of the first people to ice them out, for Floyd Mayweather, when he asked me to do it. I’m the main person responsible for the Pateks being iced-out in the United States, and I was the first person to do that.