The Essence of Cumaru

The Essence of Cumaru


Sunflower by Liau Shu Juan, Case and personalisation @ JamesReto

Sunflower by Liau Shu Juan, Case and engraving by JamesReto

I was given the opportunity to design a wooden Iphone case.

This newly formed accessory brand called James Reto aims to connect contemporary art with modern craftsmanship. One of the start-up’s missions is to support and feature local emerging artists and engrave their artwork on wooden cases. Customers either choose a design from their artists or get inspired and design their own masterpiece.

I decided to design a masterpiece.

What I wanted is something happy and delightful. I decided to settle on a sunflower. There’s enough sadness and darkness represented in this world. What better way to present and associate happiness than a delightful stalk of sunflower at the back of one’s phone? Sunflower is also a well matching element of nature with wood.

I met Reto Wolf, the co-founder and CEO of James Reto casings. Reto Wolf has a deep penchant for the natural, to pair the natural with the machine, the organic with the man-made. The ‘machine’ in this case is the Iphone. That sleek product of ultra modern communication with gigabytes of memory and applications is suddenly tamed and naturalized with the Cumaru wood engraving casing. Depending on one’s deftness and sensitivity towards wood, the engravings can be a beauty.

Sunflower by Liau Shu Juan; Case and personalised engraving service@JamesReto.

Sunflower by Liau Shu Juan; Case and engraving by JamesReto.

The design process looks simple but it is harder than I thought. Line art has a history that stems from illustrative prints of the 15th century emphasizing on lines and 2-dimensionality to children’s illustration like John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland and the famed Hokusai woodblock prints.

Left: Alice in wonderland, John Tenniel (1865) Right: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai (1823)

Left: Alice in wonderland, John Tenniel (1865)
Right: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai (1823)

The element of lines become important and its complementation with wood hence pivot. Fast forward to the 21st century, line art takes precedence among corporate brandings and customized prints on clothes and bags. However, at James Reto, line art is taken to another level as dedicated engravings on natural wood from Brazil. I did some research. Cumaru is one of the most durable and decay-resistant wood, and boasts a class A fire rating (which makes it on par with concrete and steel). Therefore, if you leave your phone behind in a fire, you may return to find the phone charred… but the casing still intact, and fired up with an exotic essence of char and vanilla. I took a sniff of my wooden casing. It does have a faint, cinnamon-like odour that smell pleasantly like vanilla.

Detailed and precise engraving on JamesReto's Brunet Allure.

Detailed and precise engraving on JamesReto’s Brunet Allure.

However, in engravings like this, the element of touch is ever more so vital and impressionable. Holding the case in one’s palm, one can feel the indented impression of lines running comfortably and squiggly across the wood. Attach the case to one’s phone and one can feel its architectural solidity.

Visual wise, line art has its own beauty in simplicity.

Sometimes even the simplest of engraving like a cross, or a hand signature at the corner, can be the most beautiful elements.

Casings and personalisation engraving service are currently available at JamesReto.
35% off normal pricing for the month of February. Custom design enquiries can be sent directly to

Copyright © 2014 Liau Shu Juan.


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