The first watch designed by Chanel with a masculine touch goes through a complete makeover and is now smaller, girlier and the most desirable it has ever been. This story is from the perspective of our friends at L’Officiel Singapore; we have previously adopted the WOW Singapore review of the same watch.
The year 2003 was no ordinary one for Chanel. It finally made its debut at BaselWorld (the industry’s biggest watch fair where top manufacturers gather annually in Switzerland to show off their latest horological feats), 16 years after the Parisian house unveiled its first timepiece, the Première. But the year was also a dismal one for the people of the world who were fiercely battling the Sars epidemic. “In fact, China realized that it had many more cases than what was officially announced,” Chanel’s International Watch Director Nicolas Beau recalls. “It was two days before the show and a lot of Chinese would be coming in. Everybody panicked. Some even wanted to go home.”
Black high-tech ceramic and 18k white gold with baguette-cut diamonds, black onyw, matte leather and patent calfskin
But when BaselWorld concluded that year, people weren’t talking about Sars as much as Chanel’s J12, which was presented at the fair in a new white high-tech ceramic version (trumping the reception of its black predecessor launched back in 2000). “Suddenly we realized how powerful this creation was,” Beau adds. “The J12 introduced a new color and a new spirit to quite a traditional-looking watch. And because it’s a traditional-looking watch, it would be boring if we made it in steel. Ours in ceramic told people something different.”
The J12, which was Chanel’s first automatic timepiece, is a fascinating work of art. Seven years of research and development contribute to the allure of the watch, most of which lies within its high-tech ceramic case. Made entirely from scratch at the brand’s G&F Chatelain Manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the material is lighter and hardier than gold and steel, resistant to thermal and chemical shocks, and very comfortable to wear, absorbing and maintaining the skin’s temperature when worn. “We have discovered many new things since we started making ceramics in 2000,” Beau reveals. “We can even incorporate the material into mechanical movements now.”
That isn’t the only novelty. The J12 was also the first timepiece which Chanel designed with a surprising yet compellingly masculine approach. The house’s late artistic director Jacques Helleu had these goals in mind for the watch: it had to look timeless, be indestructible and remind him of “masterpieces in the world of automobiles”. As Beau points out: “We created a strong full-black watch with the original J12 and then followed up with an even stronger J12 in white. Today, both have become very key colors in the watch market.”
In October, Chanel gave the J12 its most exciting update yet (leading to both this and the previously published piece). Named the Chanel J12 XS, the new petite 19mm model is still beguiling with a case in either black or white high-tech ceramic, but it now exudes vibes that are way more girly than macho. There are four permanent boutique styles: the first two have slim patent calfskin straps that are worn over larger matte calfskin cuffs. The third is attached onto a pair of supple lambskin gloves, while the fourth features a patent calfskin cuff in multiple rows that’s quite rock ‘n’ roll.
Black high-tech ceramic and steel with patent calfskin, lambskin and diamonds
The making of the J12 XS also involved France’s most brilliant craftsmen such as glove makers from the House of Causse and couture embroiderers from Maison Lesage (the latter is behind the most artistic dials of Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé timepiece range). To make the new model even more desirable, there are also six sequinned styles which are hand-embroidered by Maison Lesage to resemble the natural patterns found on exotic python, alligator and shark leather.
For those with more exquisite taste, there are also four unique and extremely wearable high jewelry models. One comes with a large solid cuff (they are unlike the boutique-exclusive Chanel J12 XS watch cuffs, which are supple) while two come with smaller, solid cuffs. All three are decorated with diamond-set white gold trims. Finally, there is a cheeky time-telling ring that is set with 24 baguette-cut diamonds around a white gold flange.
“The J12 introduced a new colour and a new spirit to quite a traditional-looking watch. And because it’s a traditional-looking watch, it would be boring if we made it in steel. Ours in ceramic told people something different.” declared Nicolas Beau, Chanel’s international watch director.
This story was first published in l‘Officiel Singapore