Chanel’s 35-year watchmaking legacy may seem short in an industry focused on centuries-old heritage. In 1987, it launched its first watch, Première, and then the J12 in 2000. This watch, with its ceramic armour, unisex style, and distinctive silhouette, was an instant commercial success and quickly became an icon for the maison.
But it wasn’t satisfied with just producing beautiful tickers; Chanel was determined to develop its own watchmaking capabilities. Obtaining credibility is possible in a variety of ways, but the fastest and most reliable method is to hire the best talent. Chanel did just that.
It invested in other watchmaking houses like Bell & Ross (1998), Romain Gauthier (2011), F.P. Journe (2018) and Kenissi (2019). It also made sure its watchmaking facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds became the industry reference for highly resistant ceramic manufacturing.
In 2018, Chanel unveiled Calibre 1, the first in-house movement created from scratch by its team of technicians and designers. This year, it adds a fifth calibre to its solid stable of independently made high complication movements (comprising Calibres 1, 2, 3 and 3.1). Powered by Chanel’s flying tourbillon movement, the new J12 Diamond Tourbillon Calibre 5 shows how far the maison has come as an independent watchmaker.
A glittering new milestone
Chanel is no stranger to flying tourbillon escapements. The first watch equipped with one was the Première Flying Tourbillon (2012) that had a cage shaped like a camellia flower. The movement was built by the watchmaking maestros at Renaud & Papi (APRP SA), who replaced the camellia with a bejewelled star in 2014.
What Chanel has done this time with calibre 5 is entirely new. Designed by Arnaud Chastaingt, director of its Watchmaking Creation Studio in Paris, the movement was manufactured at La Chaux-de-Fonds. The sleek black circular bridge architecture that has defined Chanel’s haute horlogerie movements for the last five years is partially visible on the front and back of the watch.
A unique 0.18-ct diamond solitaire sits on the tourbillon at six o’clock, making it one of the watch’s most distinctive features. For a watch of this gravitas, there was no compromise. The team searched for a diamond that would yield the best table-to-depth ratio, so that it would look large, but not affect the tourbillon’s performance.
Eventually, Chanel created a bespoke 65-facet cut to crown its latest feat. “Placing a diamond of this size on a tourbillon was an obsession for me and a technical challenge the Chanel manufacture executed magnificently, giving new life to the new J12 Diamond Tourbillon Calibre 5,” says Chastaingt. The watch is available in two variants. Each is limited to 55 pieces.
Standing on its own two feet
For a watchmaking maison, there is no louder declaration of independence than having its own proprietary base movements. Chanel has not one, but two of its self-winding base movements driving the J12 watches.
The first, Calibre 12.1, was launched in 2019 to coincide with the J12’s 20th anniversary and revamp. Two years later, it introduced Calibre 12.2, a miniaturised version redeveloped to fit the confines of a 33mm case. Both engines are COSC-certified and made exclusively for Chanel by Kenissi, a movement manufacturer partially owned by the maison.
As Chanel’s smallest self-winding J12 yet, the J12 Calibre 12.2 Edition 1 was unveiled at the end of 2021. Initially, the watch was offered in two colours and 555 pieces in a limited edition. As of this year, Chanel equips its classic J12 33mm models with the Caliber 12.2, which becomes part of the permanent collection.
“This choice underlines our commitment to equip our iconic watch with the finest movement,” explains Chastaingt.
Calibre 12.2 is also found in two exceptional jewellery watches: the J12 Baguette Diamond Star and the J12 Baguette Diamond Bezel. The former is a sparkling gold marvel with over 905 baguette diamonds weighing about 35.57 cts. On the reverse, you can admire the exquisite finishing of the Calibre 12.2, as well as the 52 baguette diamonds set into the oscillating weight. The J12 Baguette Diamond Bezel’s white ceramic and white gold case complement the 46 baguette diamonds set into its fixed bezel.
A totally different aesthetic is offered by the slick and sexy J12 Black Star, an all-black creation that elevates high-tech ceramic to gemstone status. Featuring a black-coated steel façade set with 342 baguette-cut ceramic pieces, it has a dial and fixed bezel bearing the same baguette pattern. About 215 baguette diamonds are set on both sides of the watch’s profi le to accentuate its sensuous form. It is powered by Calibre 12.1 and limited to 12 pieces.
When everything is at the service of design
For the ultimate Chanel fan, the maison has created J12 Wanted, a capsule collection that is all about logomania maximalism.
“As the name suggests, it is a story of desire, of an almost obsessive attraction of six inseparable letters, the signature of these new creations. Chanel: a name, a woman, a designer, a story, a vision, a style, a house, a signature, a typography, a logo, a graphic identity, a code, a symbol, a myth. For me, these six letters are an ode to creativity, audacity, and excellence. I have always been fascinated by the graphic power of the logo,” says Chastaingt.
Expressing the Chanel logo in very different ways are the uniquely designed J12, Première, BoyFriend and Code Coco Wanted de Chanel watches. In the two J12 models, the name is emblazoned across the bezel and dial; on the Première, the letters dangle off the bracelet like charms. With the BoyFriend and Code Coco watches, the brand name is splashed across the watch strap as a bold declaration of its identity.
Also available is the J12 Highly Wanted De Chanel box set of six J12 38mm watches in tone-on-tone black ceramic. Many of the J12’s familiar design codes have been removed, leaving just the Chanel typography in a glossy finish that contrasts beautifully with the watches’ matte black exterior. All six are powered by Calibre 12.1, complete with a black oscillating weight set with 34 diamonds. There are only five of these boxes made.
Paying homage to its eternal muse, Gabrielle Chanel, the brand brings back Mademoiselle J12 in three exceptional creations, each limited to 55 pieces. In Mademoiselle J12 La Pausa, she wears a Breton top and sailor pants inspired by a photograph taken in her villa on the French Riviera. Presented in ceramic with a white gold bezel set with 46 baguette diamonds, it is powered by the Calibre 12.1.
Baguette diamonds also illuminate the façade of J12 Gabrielle Calibre 3.1, which has an openworked dial featuring her iconic silhouette dressed in black and adorned with ropes of pearls. Behind her is the Calibre 3.1, complete with its sapphire plate, which seems to be floating on air. With Mademoiselle J12.XS, the most playful of the three, a cartoon bust of Chanel peeks out from the side of the 19mm case, while 24 baguette diamonds and 118 brilliant-cut diamonds give this tiny watch an air of opulence.
Finally, rounding up the novelties and unifying the brand’s watchmaking expertise, jewellery know-how and haute couture roots in the most marvellous way are the Mademoiselle Privé timepieces that are also fabulous cuff s, glamorous sautoirs and an eye-catching cocktail ring.
The Mademoiselle Privé Coromandel and Mademoiselle Privé Cage long necklaces are inspired by motifs found in Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment, including a bird cage beside the sofa and coromandel screens lining nearly every wall. Add to this the lavish use of pearls and diamonds, and you have an exquisitely intimate interpretation of Gabrielle Chanel’s muses.
The Mademoiselle Privé Bouton Golden Pearl Motif set features a sautoir, ring, and rigid cuff bracelet that are all adorned with a golden pearl, a gemstone that has always inspired Chastainingt, that conceals the time. “In 2022, I made the choice to introduce the concept of the ‘jewellery set’ to this collection… I love the depth and the light of the Orient, which is so special to the golden pearl.”
After tweed, quilted leather and silk organza, Chanel introduces brushed velvet to its Mademoiselle Privé Bouton line, a collection of cuff s featuring gem-set buttons that conceal the dials. Four new designs are added this year, each exemplary of the house’s flair and creativity.
The creative spirit that underlies Chanel’s Watches & Wonders 2022 is evident. In the words of Chastaingt, “Chanel is a house of artistic creation, and its watchmaking is no exception. The freedom of its creative expression and excellence of its savoir-faire cannot be separated.”