There has been a change in the way that haute horlogerie by traditional fashion brands is perceived, and no other embodies this evolution better than Chanel. While it was once sufficient to produce a watch laden with precious and semi-precious stones, or with a brand detail on the dial, there is now an emphasis on how the watchmaking element, the movement, the design, and the overall function of the timepiece blends with the jewellery or the brand.
Chanel’s Watchmaking Creation Studio, now helmed by Arnaud Chastaingt, envisions and creates some of the finest examples of watchmaking on the market. The journey started 22 years ago. The J12 model was launched in 2000 becoming iconic almost immediately. It demonstrated that the demand for a luxury fashion house that could also manufacture fine watches existed. It was not just the design, but the materials used. The case and bracelet were made of black ceramic. Although now considered commonplace, at the time, it was a ground-breaking decision. There were new techniques to be learned beyond the machining of the material; polishing and finishing had to be executed to a level that made the J12 a luxury product in look and feel.
There is a time for work and a time for love. That leaves no other time…– Coco Chanel
What separates Chanel’s haute horlogerie from other fashion houses is the combination of elements. Not only are the designs proprietary and instantly recognisable, but they manufacture their own movements and integrate their own jewellery aesthetics. Initially, when the J12 was launched, Chanel acquired movements from third party suppliers. There is nothing new or different in this, but Chanel did so from a number of high-end sources, including Audemars Piguet. Their ambition and commitment have recently been realised with their own manufacture in La-Chaux-de-Fonds where they design and make specialised movements, as well as work with some of the most respected names in the world of fine watchmaking.
The Chanel J12 Diamond Tourbillon is a demonstration of their achievements so far in haute horlogerie. It retains their proprietary J12 design in ceramic, with an in house tourbillon movement that features a uniquely designed diamond on the rotating cage of the escapement. It is a stunning watch in conception, execution and capabilities. To start with, the watch fulfils Coco Chanel’s dictum that “Elegance is when the inside is as beautiful as the outside.” The 38mm diameter case and bracelet, along with the movement, are finished in an austere matt black, which is relatively simple in appearance, but does illuminate the interior gears and parts, as well as the diamond elements within the watch.
The movement is Chanel’s own calibre 5 (one can’t but wonder…), the first flying tourbillon made by the French luxury brand. It is, in technical terms, a manual wind with about 42 hours power reserve, with hours and minutes. The plates front and back are black coated steel. The finishing on the gears and other parts of the movement is at the very highest level of watchmaking. The jewellery elements are integrated into the movement in a meaningful way. The hands are set with diamonds, along with the cage of the flying tourbillon. But what makes this a true tour de force haute horlogerie jewellery piece is the solitaire diamond (approximately 0.18 carats) positioned in the centre of the rotating tourbillon cage. Precisely cut to maximize its brilliance, the diamond turns around to the rhythm of the seconds, creating a hypnotic effect. The black coated steel crown is set with a single diamond (about 0.15 carats).
The J12 is also functional. Ceramic is an ideal material for an everyday watch as it is highly resistant to scratching and dents, retains its finish, and is completely hypoallergenic. A triple folding steel bracelet ensures the J12 stays on your wrist. Water resistant to 50 metres, it combines elegance with utility. The enduring appeal of the J12 has shown that it was stylish yesterday, now and it will be in years hence. This model is available in a limited edition of 55 pieces, at £82,500. Chanel’s haute horlogerie is now a long way from being a fashion watch brand. Their timepieces are known for their style and respected for their horological content. I feel Coco would have approved, after all, “fashion changes, but style endures.”
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