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

Singapore Tatler Jewels & Time - - CONTENTS - 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.

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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