For Beauty’s Sake

Harper's Bazaar (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Change is afoot at Basel­world. This year’s in­stal­la­tion of the world’s largest watch and jew­ellery fair was two days shorter than its gen­eral eight-day run; while Swatch Group has an­nounced that it will not be par­tic­i­pat­ing in next year’s edi­tion.Yet, at Chanel ear­lier in March, it was still busi­ness as usual with its il­lu­mi­nated Basel­world booth buzzing with ac­tiv­ity from an in­ter­na­tional ar­ray of jour­nal­ists. As I took in the quick, pur­pose­ful move­ments that filled the room, I found my­self mus­ing once again at the re­ac­tion that Chanel seems to evoke in its visi­tors.

It’s as­tound­ing when you think about it.That Chanel, with just 31 years of horol­ogy ex­pe­ri­ence to its name, is more than able to hold its own in a fair filled with some of the world’s most pre­em­i­nent, and old­est, watch brands.Yet, it’s no more as­tound­ing than the fact that the last three years have seen it re­leas­ing three in-house cal­i­bres (four, if you count the Cal­i­bre 2.1 Camélia Skele­ton) in rapid suc­ces­sion—a move that has made waves in the in­dus­try, if not sig­nalled its in­ten­tions of be­ing taken se­ri­ously.

But make no mis­take: Like with its fash­ion and beauty em­pires, Chanel is set on play­ing the horol­ogy game to its own rules, with an un­con­ven­tional ap­proach that some­what turns haute hor­logerie on its head.Within its Man­u­fac­ture walls at La Chaux-de-Fonds, an un­wa­ver­ing mantra rings clear: It’s beauty first, and fore­most; with tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion serv­ing as tools to de­liver that strict vi­sion. In other oth­ers, it’s the same mantra that has seen it be­com­ing one of the world’s most cov­eted lux­ury houses.

We catch up with In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment for Chanel Watches and Fine Jew­ellery Direc­tor, Nicholas Beau, to find out more.

Chanel has re­lied on col­lab­o­ra­tions to de­liver suc­cess­ful haute hor­logerie creations in the past. Why did it de­cide to start pro­duc­ing its own move­ments?

It was a de­ci­sion we had to make, be­cause if you re­ally want to be in this mar­ket and ser­vice your clients in the long-run, you can­not de­pend on other watch­mak­ers or brands who sup­ply you with move­ments, be­fore sud­denly dis­ap­pear­ing—ei­ther be­cause they’ve gone bank­rupt or have been sold to an­other group.Also, we had to start deal­ing with af­ter-sales ser­vice for our com­pli­ca­tions and, at some point, we were like:“Okay, let’s do it.”

What were some of the chal­lenges?

The first one was to have the right peo­ple. Be­fore he had his own brand, Ro­main Gau­thier was, and still is, a pro­ducer of high-end watch com­po­nents. He was look­ing for a lit­tle back-up to grow his busi­ness, so it was the per­fect match. Be­cause, like what we do with haute cou­ture and [Mai­son] Le­marié or em­broi­dery [ate­liers] that we pur­chase to en­sure the con­tin­u­a­tion of the know-how, go­ing with Ro­main Gau­thier was in the same spirit.

We sup­port him so he can grow his busi­ness, we don’t in­ter­fere at all with his brand, but we can ac­cess the tech­nol­ogy that would take years to de­velop for our­selves.And the rea­son why we were able to make three cal­i­bres in quite a short period of time was not be­cause we have a lot of peo­ple—in our team, there are eight peo­ple and at Ro­maine, there are about 10—but be­cause they are very, very fo­cused and are very, very good. Once all this was in place, we could re­ally move for­ward.

Why was your first in-house move­ment, Cal­i­bre 1, re­leased in Mon­sieur de Chanel in­stead of a woman’s watch?

When you move into [an in­dus­try that’s] so Swiss, so spe­cial, with so many big names and beau­ti­ful com­pe­ti­tion, you won­der what you can do dif­fer­ently.We thought we should start with men and se­duce them first; to show them what a brand like Chanel can do. If we suc­ceeded in im­press­ing them, they’d look at us with a dif­fer­ent eye. And we have been lucky; the press was sur­prised [by the watch] and the public­ity we had was very good.Then, we fo­cused on our core metier, which is our women.What I un­der­stood from our Pre­mière Fly­ing Tour­bil­lon [with move­ment by Re­naud et Papi] was that women are very pas­sion­ate about hav­ing some­thing me­chan­i­cal and artis­tic, but at the same time it’s not the wheels they love, it’s the en­tire thing:The watch and move­ment to­gether, and the story be­hind it. This is why for Cal­i­bre 2, we had a to­tally dif­fer­ent ap­proach. We put the wheels in the same ge­og­ra­phy as the petals [of the bridge] so that when you look at the watch, you are not dis­tracted by any spe­cific com­po­nent.With Cal­i­bre 3 for Boy.Friend, we took a very Chanel ap­proach, which is to in­ject a mas­cu­line code into a fem­i­nine watch, like [what Coco Chanel did] with tweed and jersey.

You’ve al­ways main­tained that aes­thet­ics and de­sign are what drive Chanel’s creations. How does that sit with your watch­mak­ers, who tend to be more tra­di­tional in their ap­proach to watch­mak­ing?

Watch­mak­ers, as you say, of­ten pro­tect them­selves be­hind tra­di­tions by say­ing, “We don’t do that in watch­mak­ing.” Even put­ting black [through a gal­vanic treat­ment on the move­ment as with Cal­i­bre 3] was some­thing they thought was not a good idea. But I must say the watch world is chang­ing now; there is much more open­ness and in­no­va­tion.And mix­ing a bit of French crazi­ness into Swiss pre­ci­sion is what al­lows us to do what we do.

What is the change in per­cep­tion that you hope to achieve now that Chanel has taken its move­ments in-house?

There are many an­swers to your ques­tion. One of the an­swers is that there is al­ways this think­ing that, be­cause we are also a fash­ion house, that our watches are just fash­ion ac­ces­sories with a short sea­sonal life.This [move] makes peo­ple un­der­stand what our di­rec­tion is, what we do, what we are and what we stand for; that the de­sign and qual­ity of Chanel watches are at level best. Then, there’s the fu­ture of luxur y watch­mak­ing, which I think is re­ally about the mak­ing of beau­ti­ful ob­jects that are there for plea­sure, for sta­tus, for col­lec­tions… We have to pass on the cul­ture and make sure that the younger gen­er­a­tion, who are less ex­posed to high-end watches than their par­ents and grand­par­ents, dis­cover the know-how, the hand­i­work, the ar­ti­sanal beauty of this métier.Also, I’d like them to think that if their grand­mother bought a Rolex, and their mother Cartier, then they should buy a Chanel [laughs].

“W e have to pass on the cul­ture and make sure that the younger gen­er­a­tion dis­cover the know-how, the hand­i­work, the ar­ti­sanal beauty of this métier.” — Nicholas Beau

By Char­maine Ho

Clock­wise from left: An il­lus­trated look at the Chanel Boy.Friend Skele­ton’s Cal­i­bre 3. Model cum mu­sic pro­ducer Caro­line de Mai­gret with Chanel’s Boy.Friend watch. Beige Gold and di­a­mond Boy.Friend Skele­ton watch. White gold and di­a­mond Made­moi­selle Privé Camélia Skele­ton watch

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