Chanel’s watch business turns 30 years young
Chanel celebrates 30 years of watchmaking
Thirty years ago, Chanel ventured into the world of watchmaking. The challenges it faced were not just technical, logistical or production issues. The watch world known to be snobbish to outsiders didn’t see fashion houses as serious players. Neither did the watch-buying crowd. But the French marque ploughed on and persevered, adding department by department, pillar by pillar. Today, it’s one of the major marques in the watch industry, delivering impressive horological offerings year in, year out. Here, we track its key milestones in the past three decades.
1987 The year 1987 was when the story started: Chanel launched its first watch, the Première. A watch created exclusively for women, it was modeled after the No 5 perfume bottle stopper and Place Vendôme in Paris. The fashion house was also very aggressive as it opened its first dedicated watch boutique at 40 Avenue Montaigne in Paris.
1993 Chanel acquired case and buckle maker G&F Châtelain in La Chauxde-fonds, Switzerland. Instead of outsourcing production to thirdparty providers, it slowly brought capabilities in-house with the aim to eventually become independent.
2000 Chanel rolled out the J12 Black, a sporty watch in black high-tech ceramic. It was not the first brand to use ceramic but popularised it through astute marketing and strong emphasis on product quality. In 2003, it quickly followed up on the success with the J12 White.
2005 Never one to shy away from challenges, Chanel took on haute horlogerie with the J12 Tourbillon. The calibre was sourced from a movement specialist but Chanel boldly replaced the regular mainplate for a ceramic one, making it a world’s first. Limited to 12 pieces worldwide.
2008 Chanel joined hands with Renaud & Papi, the movement arm of Audemars Piguet. Their first project? The self-winding Calibre 3125 for the J12. Two years later, the same partnership gave birth to the J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse, an avant-garde haute horlogerie creation.
2011 Just when the watch industry was used to Chanel being a black and/or white-centric brand, Chanel surprised everybody with a new colour. Titanium ceramic is polished with diamond powder, achieving the silver-grey hue of the J12 Chromatic.
2013 Chanel’s Première got a minor facelift— it now features a slimmer and longer silhouette compared to the original. Chanel also earned critical success with the Mademoiselle Privé Camélia Brodé clinching the “Artistic Crafts Watch” prize at the GPHG.
2012 Yet another fruit of labour between Chanel and Renaud & Papi, the Première Flying Tourbillon features a camelia-shaped tourbillon that rotates once every minute. This first flying tourbillon snagged the “Best Ladies Watch” prize at the Grand Prix d’horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).
2015 Like the Première, the new Boy.friend was designed with women in mind. But like many of Chanel’s designs— Coco Chanel liked referencing menswear— it looks masculine and shares sporty aesthetic similarities with the Première. But it has a thicker bezel and slimmer proportions.
2016 Chanel focused heavily on the women’s market for years. But when it was time to launch its first in-house movement, it released a men’s calibre—to many’s surprise again. The Monsieur de Chanel and the Calibre 1 featured a jumping hour complication and 240 deg retrograde minutes.
2017 After Calibre 1, Chanel followed up with a second movement named Calibre 2. It’s a skeletonised automatic movement but the department re-designed and re-constructed the entire mechanism so that it can be shaped like a camèlia flower.