After more than 30 years in the world of luxury watchmaking, Chanel set itself on a mission of exploring all the facets of belle horlogerie—beautiful watchmaking. At this year’s Baselworld fair, the brand celebrates the 20th anniversary of its iconic J12 with a new automatic movement by storied Swiss watch manufacturer Kenissi.
A Brief History
The J12 watch is born out of a desire; its story began when Jacques Helleu, artistic director of Chanel decided to create a watch with a special design just for himself. While drafting his first pencil lines, Helleu imagined it as timeless, sporty and all black. His inspiration came from the two worlds he loved the most: automobiles and sailing.
He greatly admired the chassis lines of racing cars and, above all, the regal silhouettes of the 12-metre J-class yachts racing in the America’s Cup. The latter would give the watch its name: the J12.
Long story short, the year 2000 became a milestone in Chanel’s watchmaking history as it launched the J12 collection. As the first Chanel sport watch, the J12 revolutionized the world of watchmaking with its black ceramic construction.
More importantly, it was crowned the first watch icon of the 21st century. Following the international success of the first J12, Chanel introduced additional models, including a J12 in white ceramic back in 2003.
Unsurprisingly, countless bejeweled and technical variations have since followed. Case in point: The J12 Tourbillon, which marked Chanel’s entry into the world of haute horlogerie and grandes complications back in 2005; the J12 Caliber 3125 in 2008; and the J12 Mysterious Retrograde in 2010 that comes with an APRP retrograde mysterious caliber, tourbillon and retractable crown.
A New Beginning
Back to the present, almost twenty years after the debut of the J12, Arnaud Chastaingt, director of the Chanel Watch Creation Studio, gave the watch a makeover while maintaining the core identity upon which the J12’s legend and success was built upon. Up front, to increase the dial opening, the bezel was refined with more notches—from 30 to 40—and a redesigned typeface and numerals. Also, like the ceramic cabochon that adorns it, the width of the crown was reduced by a third in order to complement the revised and refreshed bezel.
Indicators have been added to the inner railway, which itself has also been reworked. To fully anchor the J12 in the design codes of Chanel, the words “Automatic” and “Swiss Made” are now displayed in proper Chanel typography.
Furthermore, the “Swiss Made” inscription has been integrated on the flange for an aesthetically cleaner look. The original typeface of the numerals has also been redesigned by the Chanel Creation Studio. The numerals, by the by, are now applied in ceramic. On top of it all, the hours and minutes hands are now of the same width and feature longer luminescent areas for improved visibility under low-light conditions.
The case of the J12, on the other hand, has become slightly thicker—thankfully this was done without sacrificing its fluid lines. By softening and rounding its profile, the case appears no thicker than before. As a final touch, the caseback features a single piece of highly durable ceramic with, for the first time ever, a sapphire crystal glass that reveals the beauty of the movement.
What lies inside the new J12’s case comes from one of Chanel’s most recent acquisitions. To be exact, the house has recently added a 20-percent stake in the Kenissi manufacture to its portfolio. One of the results of this collaboration is the new 12.1 caliber automatic movement. The oscillating weight of the movement has been totally redesigned in tungsten to produce an openwork design while maintaining efficient rewinding power, as the Chanel Creation Studio wanted a perfect circle, one of the graphic signatures of Chanel Haute Horlogerie.
Having the same density as gold, the tungsten rotor is dense enough to ensure that the openwork design of the rotor allows it to rotate efficiently, thereby effectively powering the watch with every single movement. On top of that, the caliber 12.1 is chronometer-certified by the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres—the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute) and offers a power reserve of 70 hours.
Above all else, Chanel’s watchmaking creations have always highlighted the savoir-faire and creativity of the house. Contemporary yet timeless, the J12 conveys a unique allure and expresses a unique vision of time. Staying true to its origins with the black and white high-resistance ceramic while integrating the know-how accumulated by Chanel since the birth of the model, the new J12 will definitely become iconic. At the dawn of the collection’s 20th anniversary, Chanel’s J12 once again transforms itself without losing its essence.