Despite just 32 years under its belt, Chanel’s portfolio of watches has become truly impressive. Nicolette Wong speaks to Frédéric Grangié, president of its watches and fine jewellery division, to find out more
Just a few decades ago, the idea of owning a Chanel watch would have been ludicrous— simply because it didn’t exist. While founder Gabrielle Chanel had created several spectacular jewellery collections, it was only in 1987 that the first Chanel watch, aptly named the Prèmiere, was created. Since then, Chanel has created several more impressive watch collections, the most notable among them being the J12, which has become an icon of the watch industry. In more recent years, Chanel has also endeavoured to deepen its watchmaking expertise to ensure that its haute horlogerie collections measure up to its renowned haute couture collections. In order to achieve this impressive level of watchmaking know-how, Chanel has invested considerable resources to develop and build up its own manufacture. It invested in and acquired G&F Châtelain, a watch assembly plant, in 1993, and set up an in-house watchmaking division in 2011. In that same year, Chanel also acquired a stake in the business of independent watchmaker Romain Gauthier so as to ensure the quality and long-term supply of its movement components. The move mirrors the French marque’s support of the couture houses of Massaro (shoemaking), Lesage (embroidery), and Lemarié (feather and flower craftsman)— all of which operate independently, and are free to take commissions from other maisons. In addition, news broke late last year that Chanel had also acquired a stake in yet another independent watchmaker, FP Journe—one with a reputation for truly spectacular watchmaking. (Turn to p.90 to find out more about the partnership in our interview with FP Journe founder François-paul Journe himself.) Perhaps the most impressive thing about Chanel’s efforts to improve its savoir faire, however, is that none of the watches it creates is for the sake of showing off its technical capabilities. “It has always been about creation,” said Frédéric Grangié, president of its watches and fine jewellery division. “The manufacture serves to make the designs possible, without making compromises on the key intention. And if it takes one more year to make it happen, it will take one more year.”
In a realm ruled by production and marketing deadlines, this philosophy speaks volumes about Chanel’s dedication to quality and luxury. Chanel has launched three in-house calibres over the past three years, beginning with the Calibre 1 in the Monsieur de Chanel watch in 2016, with the Calibres 2 and 3 following in each of the succeeding years. Of the three movements, it is the Calibre 3, which is housed in the Boy.friend Skeleton watch, that Grangié points to as a personal favourite, because “to do a skeletonised watch, which is that feminine and pure, is the perfect manifestation of Chanel’s approach to watchmaking”. The blackened wheels and bridges of the Calibre 3 are beautiful, visually striking, and even catch the eye of people without the slightest interest in haute horlogerie. And that beauty is undoubtedly part of what keeps Chanel fans coming back.
EYE FOR DESIGN Every Chanel watch, from the Boy.friend Skeleton (above), to the J12 and Code Coco were to created to showcase Chanel’s incredible design capabilities; even the Calibre 3 (main image) was engineered in collaboration with Chanel’s design department