Man of the Hour

Chanel de­buts Mon­sieur de Chanel, its first ded­i­cated men’s col­lec­tion,

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al­most 30 years since it launched its first time­piece, the Première watch, Chanel fi­nally de­buted its first ded­i­cated men’s col­lec­tion, Mon­sieur de Chanel, at Basel­world 2016 ear­lier this year. Pre­vi­ously, all of its mas­cu­line watches, such as the J12 Marine, J12 Su­per­leg­gera Chrono­graph and J12 Rétro­grade Mys­terieuse Tour­bil­lon, only ex­isted within the uni­sex J12 col­lec­tion.

“Our first ob­jec­tive is not to cap­ture men’s at­ten­tion,” ex­plains Ni­co­las Beau, Chanel’s in­ter­na­tional watch di­rec­tor. “The am­bi­tion is not to go af­ter women, men and then chil­dren one day. I’ve al­ways said that our goal is to cre­ate all kinds of beau­ti­ful watches…with Mon­sieur de Chanel, we of­fer men a vi­sion of Chanel.”

Mon­sieur de Chanel is de­ci­sively mas­cu­line and bears no sem­blance to pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions, such as the iconic J12, Première, Boy.friend and Made­moi­selle Privé watches. It fea­tures an el­e­gant and round 40-mm case in white gold or its pro­pri­etary beige gold, a slightly domed sap­phire crys­tal, a clas­sic opa­line dial and a set of nu­mer­als that were ex­clu­sively de­signed for the line. Time is pre­sented via an over­sized jump­ing hour in­di­ca­tion, a ret­ro­grade min­utes dis­play and a small sec­onds sub­dial.

De­spite the ex­ten­sive ef­fort put into cre­at­ing its hand­some ex­te­rior and de­lib­er­ately de­signed dial, these serve only to com­ple­ment the im­pres­sive en­gine that was en­tirely con­cep­tu­alised and man­u­fac­tured in-house. Chris­tened the Cal­i­bre 1, this is the first move­ment that was en­tirely de­signed and man­u­fac­tured within the brand’s watch man­u­fac­ture, G&F Châte­lain SA. Pre­vi­ously, the brand re­lied on ETA move­ments and en­trusted its high-end move­ments, such as the AP 3125, the ones equipped with fly­ing tour­bil­lons and the RMT-10 cal­i­bre (on the J12 Rétro­grade Mys­terieuse Tour­bil­lon) to watch­maker Re­naud & Papi (APRP SA).

The en­tire project took five years to come to fruition, with its first ma­jor chal­lenge be­ing the assem­bly of an ex­pert and tal­ented team. “We are an in­de­pen­dent com­pany and we don’t like to de­pend on other com­pa­nies,” says Beau. His first task was to metic­u­lously put to­gether a team of watch­mak­ers, move­ment spe­cial­ists and tech­ni­cians, one of which was Romain Gau­thier, the epony­mous in­de­pen­dent watch­maker and en­gi­neer.

Chanel had ac­quired a stake in Romain Gau­thier ear­lier in 2011. Gau­thier, who pro­duces for some of the world’s best known watch brands, is re­spon­si­ble for the ex­pertly done key com­po­nents (such as the gears, bal­ance wheel and pin­ions) on the Cal­i­bre 1. “He doesn’t in­ter­fere with our move­ment mak­ing,” em­pha­sises Beau. Al­though the com­po­nent sup­plier will be con­tribut­ing to all of Chanel’s fu­ture pro­pri­etary move­ments, he has the free­dom to con­tinue ex­pand­ing his com­pany on his own terms. “Like how it is with the other houses, we don’t want to in­ter­vene with their business. We just want to se­cure the knowhow,” he con­tin­ues. Beau is re­fer­ring to Maisons such as Lesage, Mas­saro and Michel, three of the eleven busi­nesses that Chanel has ac­quired since 1985.

Out of the five years it took to con­ceive the Mon­sieur de Chanel, the first three were ded­i­cated to the Cal­i­bre 1’s development. “It

was only in the last two years that we de­signed the case and the dial. They are meant to sup­port the move­ment, which is the star of the watch,” he says. The Cal­i­bre 1 is an in­te­grated move­ment that fea­tures an un­usu­ally de­signed ret­ro­grade min­utes com­pli­ca­tion with a 240-de­grees arc (typ­i­cally, the zero to 60-minute ret­ro­grade scale ex­tends only to 180 de­grees). Ac­cord­ing to Beau, this lay­out of­fers a more in­stinc­tive ap­proach to read­ing the min­utes.

Un­for­tu­nately, go­ing ahead with this ap­proach brings about its own set of chal­lenges. A wider arc means that more force is re­quired for the minute hand to re­vert to its orig­i­nal po­si­tion at zero, thereby po­ten­tially snap­ping the hand into two. Chanel’s watch­mak­ing depart­ment found a tech­ni­cal so­lu­tion that man­ages the minute hand’s speed at the last mi­cro se­cond, al­low­ing it to travel fur­ther (and hence, faster) with­out in­cur­ring any dam­age.

The team also en­sured that the min­utes could be ad­justed for­wards and back­wards, with a block­ing mech­a­nism put in place to pre­vent the hand from go­ing be­yond zero. Typ­i­cally, ret­ro­grade hands only ad­vance in one di­rec­tion to pro­tect the mech­a­nism from un­nec­es­sary trauma. “We told our tech­ni­cians: ‘ Look, our cus­tomers will not un­der­stand that. It is only nat­u­ral to tune your watch in two di­rec­tions’,” ex­plains Beau. In the end, a so­lu­tion was found and, along with it, a patent to pro­tect its in­ge­nu­ity.

Al­though the Cal­i­bre 1’s lengthy in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod sug­gests that it could po­ten­tially be used as a base for more com­pli­ca­tions to be added, Beau nips this spec­u­la­tion in the bud. “Is this cal­i­bre go­ing

“Since we had no past, we were to­tally free to de­sign ev­ery sin­gle com­po­nent to achieve a made-to-mea­sure move­ment”

— Ni­co­las Beau

to be used with other func­tions? The an­swer is no, be­cause with dif­fer­ent func­tions, there will al­ways be a com­pro­mise,” he stresses. He adds that the move­ment’s re­li­a­bil­ity, ac­cu­racy and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency will al­ways take prece­dence.

With so much em­pha­sis placed on the Cal­i­bre 1, there was no doubt that it would come fit­ted with a trans­par­ent case back to ex­pose the exquisitely fin­ished move­ment. The Adlc-coated move­ment in an­thracite fea­tures a mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture be­fit­ting of Chanel’s iden­tity as a watch­maker. “Our fo­cus was to make the move­ment beau­ti­ful. Since we had no past, we were to­tally free to de­sign ev­ery sin­gle com­po­nent to achieve a made-tomea­sure move­ment,” says Beau.

Sub­tle touches such as the fin­ish­ing and colour on the wheels (rem­i­nis­cent of the trim­ming on a Chanel jacket), the small lion mo­tif lo­cated on the move­ment, buckle and crown, as well as a star-shaped bal­ance wheel, of­fer ref­er­ences to the cou­ture house. The mighty lion, re­garded so dearly by its founder Gabrielle Chanel as a tal­is­man of strength, will be present in all of Chanel’s fu­ture in-house cal­i­bres as its faith­ful guardian of time. “You don’t need to be a spe­cial­ist to find this [watch] beau­ti­ful…but you should love what you see. It’s like when you see beau­ti­ful moun­tains: You don’t need to see the rocks [nor do you] ques­tion why there is snow. It’s just an emo­tion,” Beau con­cludes.

This page: The lion mo­tif will be present in all of Chanel’s fu­ture in-house Cal­i­bres; op­po­site page: The Cal­i­bre 1

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