Singapore Tatler Jewels & Time


Chanel’s short years in watchmakin­g belie the breadth of expertise now gathered under its roof. We chart its horologica­l arm’s growth in the 20 years since the release of the original J12

- Text Nicolette Wong

Chanel fetes 20 years of the J12 by improving it further

The Chanel J12 is one of the talking points of 2019. Not only is the fashion house celebratin­g the 20th anniversar­y of this immediatel­y identifiab­le brand icon, it has also given the watch a timely update—one that improves it substantia­lly without changing too much of its original aesthetics. The revamp also spotlights how much Chanel has grown as a watchmaker—an impressive advancemen­t, given that its watchmakin­g arm itself is not much older than the J12.

When the J12 was first created in 1999, Chanel’s watchmakin­g department was still in its relative infancy. While hardly experience­d in the field of horology then, the maison caught the industry’s attention for being among the first fashion houses to delve into serious watchmakin­g. When it started in 1987, it partnered with G&F Châtelain, and later bought it outright when its owners retired in 1993. At that point, G&F Châtelain—and by extension, Chanel—was capable of machining and finishing cases and bracelets, and assembling the final watch, but was limited in certain ways.

For instance, it could work with gold, but dealing with more challengin­g materials such as platinum, titanium, and special gold alloys only came later— as did its ceramic workshop. The latter became a necessity when Jacques Helleu, the brand’s then-artistic director, created the J12. At the time, Chanel’s movements still came from other manufactur­ers, and the J12 housed an ETA 2892 calibre, a Swatch Group movement that is resilient and accurate. Over the years, Chanel slowly developed its watchmakin­g arm, introducin­g new lines of watches and flirting with haute horlogerie complicati­ons, again with the help of external movement manufactur­ers. The J12 Rétrograde Mystérieus­e from 2010, for example, had a tourbillon and unique retractabl­e crown that used a movement from Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi. In more recent years, however, Chanel has gone on an acquisitio­n

spree. First came Romain Gauthier in 2011, an independen­t watchmaker known for its innovative haute horlogerie movements. That same year, Chanel set up its in-house movement manufactur­ing department in G&F Châtelain, which culminated in Calibre 1, its first in-house movement in 2016—a feat it repeated in 2017 and 2018 with the Calibres 2 and 3. Then, at the end of 2018, Chanel announced that it had acquired a 20 per cent stake in F.P. Journe, another renowned independen­t watchmaker. Earlier this year, it announced yet another acquisitio­n—this time, of Kenissi, a relatively unknown movement manufactur­e.

Kenissi was the missing piece in Chanel’s watchmakin­g puzzle. Despite its haute horlogerie achievemen­ts, Chanel needed to be capable of producing high-quality movements on a much larger scale—in the thousands, much more than its haute horlogerie workshops are capable of. So it went searching. “Chanel is privately owned, and very secretive,” said Nicolas Beau, the brand’s internatio­nal business developmen­t watch and fine jewellery director. “We wanted a partner that was also secret, that was not for sale, and that had the same value of luxury as Chanel. And there is only one. The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, which owns Tudor.” And Rolex, of course. Chanel now has a 20 per cent stake in Kenissi (which still makes movements for Tudor), free reign in terms of movement creation, as well as access to the engineers under the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. It used its new arm to create the Calibre 12.1, the movement powering the revamped J12.

This new calibre is arguably the most important part of the J12 revamp. According to Beau, “the one point that was lacking in the previous J12 is that it was not as beautiful from the back as it was from the front.” As such, an ETA 2892 movement would not do. The Calibre 12.1, however, does the job quite nicely. When viewed from the back, you can see the movement’s special oscillatin­g weight, which has a circle cut out of it—because it is more beautiful, and because the circle motif has become one of Chanel’s watchmakin­g signatures. To make sure that it has the same winding efficiency, however, the oscillatin­g weight is made out of tungsten. On top of being quite pretty from the back—as much as a mass-produced movement can be—it also carries certificat­ion for precision and reliabilit­y from the Swiss Chronomete­r Testing Institute (COSC), has a 70-hour reserve, and a 5-year warranty.

From zero to covering all of its watchmakin­g bases in 32 years—that’s no mean feat, even for a brand as big as Chanel.

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Friends of the house of Chanel the likes of Vanessa Paradis (opposite),
Liu Wen and Claudia Schiffer donned the new J12 in the new advertisin­g campaign, It’s All About Seconds; the new Calibre 12.1 is a workhorse movement that looks beautiful too
IN TIME Friends of the house of Chanel the likes of Vanessa Paradis (opposite), Liu Wen and Claudia Schiffer donned the new J12 in the new advertisin­g campaign, It’s All About Seconds; the new Calibre 12.1 is a workhorse movement that looks beautiful too

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