When Arnaud Chastaingt set foot in Paris 20 years ago, he harboured big aspirations. He was chasing after a dream in the world of design. Though he confesses that his interest lain in fashion at the time, he found his true calling in watchmaking. The wish he longed for would be granted in 2013 when he was offered his dream job at Chanel, tasked with leading the maison’s watchmaking endeavours.
It is no surprise that Chastaingt looks to Paris for inspiration. The city of love as it is often called, has served as an inexhaustible well of inspiration, cherished by artistes, novelists, designers and filmmakers near and far. There is another art form here to behold, and it has inspired the watchmaker to create a new immersive capsule collection. This, as Chastaingt reveals, is none other than French electronic music.
“Electronic music transcended the frontiers of music and created an aesthetic culture,” he says, adding that the movement gave rise to a “radical new visual universe,” which he further explains as “eccentric, a reflection of nightlife and its atmosphere.”
The Chanel Electro capsule collection, he continues, is akin to a party in which Chanel’s classic timepieces are invited to “perform on scene and to borrow from the codes of this universe.”
While Chanel is as technically capable as any other watch brands, Chastaingt asserts in order to reinterpret fine watchmaking, one has to think beyond the confines of technical aspects.
“I don’t like the term complications. Why complicate things when they can be simple?” Chastaingt muses.
Complications are referred to in the watchmaking lexicon as any feature of a mechanical timepiece beyond the display of hours, minutes and seconds. For example, a chronograph function will fall squarely under this category. To showcase savoir-faire and in the spirit of one-upmanship, watch brands periodically outdo each other in maximising the number of complications that can be fitted into a single watch.
To that point, Chastaingt instead prefers to talk about watchmaking affirmations. “Chanel has a unique definition of fine watchmaking,” he says, “and fine watchmaking is the ultimate expression of my vision of Chanel watchmaking.”
He reveals that although traditional watchmaking created and appropriated “fine watchmaking” to describe watches with complications, to him, it is simply a term to describe the art of watchmaking. Chanel’s artisans are seen as artists who have mastered the art form and the maison’s timepieces are treated as collaborative artwork, with each artist painstakingly contributing to the final work. A jeweller, an engraver, an embroiderer or an enameller, they are all artists.
The Chanel Electro capsule collection
Setting the pace for Chanel’s Electro capsule collection is the iconic J12, which is introduced in four spectacular versions, each interpreting Arnaud Chastaingt’s, director of the maison’s watchmaking studio, concept rooted in electronic music. The titular J12 Electro watch is limited to 1,255 pieces, fashioned from a combination of black highly resistant ceramic and steel. Though primarily black, the watch is illuminated by a pop of colour. And because “the depth of the black intensifies the colour,” says Chastaingt, “the union is radical and the contrast is graphic.”
The union, which he refers to, is the sequence of a black-lacquered dial with neon-rainbow- coloured indicators on both the bezel and the hour numerals. “The numerals feature a 12-colour gradient which accentuates the dial, the bezel and which gives it an electric feel,” adds Chastaingt.
This 38mm number is coupled with a black highly resistant ceramic bracelet and powered by the COSC-certified chronometer grade self- winding calibre 12.1. Thanks to the steel screw- down crown adorned with a black highly resistant ceramic cabochon, the watch is water resistant to 200 metres.
If you demand for coloured stones in lieu of numerals, the J12 Electro Dream aptly meets that. Produced in no more than 55 pieces for each of its two colour variants, the watch is made of matte black highly resistant ceramic and steel, or in white highly resistant ceramic and 18k white gold case. The timepiece is then set with a brilliant-cut diamond about 0.14 carat and subjected to black ADLC treatment, which means it is water resistance is revised to 50 metres – not that you will ever wear it on an underwater excursion. At the heart is the same chronometer-grade calibre 12.1, providing 70 hours of power reserve.
Upping the showmanship – as well as craftsmanship – is the J12 Electro Star. Only 12 pieces are produced and each is numbered, so you know exactly which you are owning. At 38mm, the 18k white gold case is lavished with 22 baguette-cut diamonds tipping the scale at around 1.33 carat with further 55 baguette-cut rainbow sapphires approximately 3.86 carats running down both sides of the case. Another 342 baguette-cut diamonds around 21.15 carats and 160 baguette-cut rainbow sapphires around 8.69 carats flow onto the 18k white gold bracelet.
Saving the best for last, Chanel is rewarding die-hard fans of J12 a priceless chance to collect a dozen of J12 watches all at once in a special box set. “I created the J12 Electro Box as a performance,” enthuses Chastaingt. He describes the set as “a black varnished box that unveils a polyptych of12 J12 timepieces the composition vibrates to the rhythm of the 12-stroke chromatic gradient.”
Within the box, each piece features a case based on the twin materials of matte black highly resistant ceramic and steel treated with black ADLC. The fun narrative begins as the 46 baguette-cut monochrome sapphires around 6.37 carats on each watch gently takes an evolving shade across the range, from pink to red, akin to a playlist that whisks the collector on a sensorial journey of discovery, with each track conjuring a different feeling.
Water resistant to 50 metres, the watch is equipped with a black ADLC-treated steel non-screw-down crown set with one brilliant- cut sapphire around 0.16 carat. Perhaps a little surprising, the calibre 12.1 powering all 12 watches isn’t spruced up with additional coloured sapphires on its rotor.
Now you may wonder just how many box sets are there in existence? Just one, and it is the crescendo of this year’s electronic music- inspired collection.
(All images: Chanel)
Read full story in Prestige Malaysia’s May 2021 issue on Magzter.