More than just a novelty, the Chanel J12 is enjoying enduring success after more than two decades. Allyson Klass tracks its fascinating journey.
It’s incredible to think that Chanel’s J12 – arguably the first watchmaking icon of the 21st century – was created by Jacques Helleu, Chanel’s artistic director for over 40 years, to fulfil his own desire for a timeless yet sporty black watch.
Inspired by racing cars and the refined profile of sailing yachts in the America’s Cup, Helleu went on to name the watch J12 – after the 12m J-class racing yachts from the 1930s. Launched in 2000 after seven years of research and development, the sleek, high- polish 38mm timepiece in all-black high-tech ceramic and steel was avant-garde, distinctive and, above all, unisex.
Helleu did not simply design a watch, he created a legend. By transforming ceramic into a precious material, the breakthrough Chanel J12 redefined the standards of 200 years of feminine watchmaking. Its audacity and innovation captured the spirit of the time, shaking up design codes with its potent combination of a unique artistic approach and exquisite technical expertise.
Through the years, the cult classic has taken the guise of myriad identities, unravelling in a palette of watch complications.
Here, we follow the blazing trail of significant Chanel J12 releases over the last 21 years.
Driven by a self-winding movement, the Chanel J12 debuts with a chic 38mm model in full-black, high-polished ceramic.
The 41mm J12 Chronograph with self-winding COSC-certified chronograph movement.
The very first quartz-movement J12 in white ceramic and two sizes: 33mm and 38mm.
In a 41mm size, the J12 Superleggera (Italian for “super light”) – in black ceramic and lightweight anodised aluminium with a COSC-certified chronograph movement – is 20 per cent lighter than a classic J12.
The 42mm J12 GMT with a self-winding movement and second time zone.
The 42mm J12 Calibre 3125 with bezel, dial, crown and bracelet in matte black ceramic and yellow gold. Custom-made by Audemars Piguet for Chanel, its self-winding mechanical movement flaunts a redesigned black ceramic-coated balance bridge and gold rotor.
A 42mm haute horlogerie piece powered by the Calibre 3125, the J12 Noir Intense is the world’s first watch set with 724 baguettes cut from a single block of black ceramic.
The J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse’s innovative design was entrusted to an expert team of master watchmakers at one of the world’s most respected independent haute horlogerie manufactures – Renaud et Papi Manufacture (APRP). Powered by the Chanel RMT-10 Calibre, the unique 47mm piece in white ceramic and white gold is a compendium of innovations, complications and world firsts, with a tourbillon, digital minute display, retrograde minute hand, 10-day power reserve and retractable vertical crown.
Equipped with a self-winding movement, the 41mm J12 Chromatic eschews staple black or white and is cloaked in titanium ceramic that boasts a grey satin finish and dial with circular guilloche.
Driven by a self-winding movement, the 38mm J12 Moonphase’s opaline satin-finish dial flaunts the different moon phases on a deep blue aventurine disc.
Housing the Comète Flying Tourbillon Calibre designed exclusively for Chanel by APRP once again, the 38mm J12 Flying Tourbillon in white gold and diamonds is a numbered and five-piece limited edition.
Designed by Arnaud Chastaingt, who’s now in charge of the Chanel Watchmaking Creation Studio, the J12·XS sees the watch take shape in a downsized 19mm version and featured in various iterations including a ring, leather gloves, small cuff and this Black Lesage Cuff.
The whimsical J12 Mademoiselle in white ceramic features a caricature of Gabrielle Chanel in a hat, braided suit and pumps printed on a sapphire glass plate and affixed onto the white lacquered dial. Her rhodium-plated arms playfully indicate the time on this 38mm limited edition of 555 pieces.
Chanel presents a set of 12 one-of-a-kind white ceramic and gold watches, each decorated with an abstract composition made with ceramic marquetry. Together, they form a polyptych showcasing a graphic design by the maison’s Watchmaking Creation Studio.
The J12 gets a makeover with a refined bezel, redesigned numeral typography, reduced crown width and slightly increased case thickness. The watch now has a one-piece black or white 38mm ceramic case equipped with a sapphire crystal caseback for the all-new Calibre 12.1 to be admired. The new movement is exclusively designed and developed by Kenissi, a Swiss manufacture in which Chanel owns a stake.
The J12 X-Ray features a 38mm sapphire crystal case and strap composed of links cut from raw sapphires – an industry first. Designed and assembled by the Chanel Manufacture, the new hand-wound Calibre 3.1 plate, timer and cog bridges are made of sapphire crystal, allowing the movement to be seen from the front and back.
Unveiled in September, the J12 Calibre 12.2 Edition 1 marks the launch of Chanel’s new Calibre 12.2. The automatic COSC-certified manufacture movement is a technical tour de force in miniaturisation as every one of its 174 components was either reduced in size, reshaped or relocated within the movement. This exclusive 33mm first edition features a tone-on-tone design in black or white ceramic and steel with a bezel of varnished baguette-cut sapphires in the corresponding colour. Each model is a limited edition of 555 pieces.
(All images: Chanel)
This story first appeared in the Nov 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.