It is ironic that Chanel’s J12, one of the most successful luxury ladies’ sports watch designs, was not meant to be a timepiece for women. Decked out in sleek, high-tech black ceramic with incredible allure, the first unisex 38mm edition was launched in 2000 after seven years of research and development.
It was designed by the late Jacques Helleu, Chanel’s artistic director for over 40 years, who wanted to create a timeless yet sporty all-black watch for himself. Inspired by his most loved worlds of automobiles and sailing, Helleu admired the chassis lines of racing cars and, above all, the fine profiles of the America’s Cup racing class yachts, the J12. The watch would take on this moniker as its name.
Without ever losing its identity, the iconic watch has been reinvented over the years in myriad permutations with a palette of complications. Two decades on, it still captures the spirit of time as it continues to shake up the codes of watchmaking. The maison celebrates 20 years of the J12 with new releases, such as the J12.20 that showcases 20 Chanel icons as rhodium-plated motifs on the watch dial and bezel, as well as the ground-breaking J12 X-Ray, a first-of-its-kind 12-piece limited-edition creation featuring a strap entirely composed of links cut from raw transparent sapphires.
Keeping to the monochromatic palette that has become synonymous with the collection, the ceramic and steel J12 Paradoxe pushes boundaries by blending black and white in the most unexpected manner. What looks like an optical illusion is, in reality, a provocative 38mm timepiece with a striking ceramic case that is two-thirds white and one-third black.
Designed by Arnaud Chastaingt, director of the Chanel Watchmaking Creation Studio, the arresting aesthetic of the J12 Paradoxe is achieved by cutting and fusing two black and white ceramic cases of different dimensions. On its own, ceramic is four times harder than steel, but it becomes brittle when it’s worked on by a machine. Ensuring a perfect cut requires a specific expertise that the Chanel Manufacture in Switzerland has mastered. Once cut, the parts are anchored by a metallic support into which the sapphire caseback is set. The dial is revealed to be almost completely covered in white, contrasted by a genius stroke of black on its right side. Using tampography, the ring of the bezel is initially coloured black, then white, making it truly two-tone.
The 20-piece limited edition J12 Paradoxe Diamonds retains the same dramatic aesthetic, with an intriguing haute joaillerie twist. Set in 18k white gold, the right section of the watch flaunts 87 baguette-cut diamonds weighing a total of 4.40 carats, as well as a diamond-set crown. This is juxtaposed beautifully by sleek black ceramic on the left side of the case and the lacquered black dial. Water resistant to 50 metres, both Paradoxe models are driven by the COSC- certified automatic Calibre 12.1 with a 70-hour power reserve, a new movement exclusively manufactured for Chanel.
In 2017, Coco Chanel made a special appearance on the dial of the playful Mademoiselle J12, in a whimsical caricature set above the dial with her hands telling the time. For the 20th anniversary of J12, she returns in the form of a stylised charm fastened to the watch crown, dressed in a suit embellished with 224 diamonds and white gold braiding. The Mademoiselle J12 Acte II quartz timepiece is adorned with a bezel set with 46 baguette-cut diamonds weighing 3.90 carats, and a dial graced by 12 diamond indexes. Available in black or white ceramic models with 18k white gold cases, the 20-piece limited edition features a subtle hallmark detail found on all Mademoiselle J12 models – a diamond set on the back of the watch.
(All images: Chanel)