More than just a novelty, the Chanel J12 has enjoyed lasting success after more than two decades. Allyson Klass follows his fascinating journey.
It’s amazing to think that the Chanel J12 – arguably the first watch icon of the 21st century – was created by Jacques Helleu, artistic director of Chanel for over 40 years, to fulfill his own desire for a black watch to both sporty and timeless.
Inspired by racing cars and the refined profile of America’s Cup sailboats, Helleu then named the watch J12 – after the 12m J-class racing yachts of the 1930s. Launched in 2000 after seven years of research and development, the sleek and polished 38mm high-tech ceramic and all-black steel timepiece was avant-garde, distinctive and, above all, unisex.
Helleu didn’t just 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 women’s watchmaking. His daring and innovation have captured the spirit of the times, shaking up design codes with his powerful combination of a unique artistic approach and exquisite technical expertise.
Over the years, the cult classic has taken on the appearance of a myriad of identities, unfolding in a palette of horological complications.
Here we follow the blazing trail of significant Chanel J12 releases over the past 21 years.
Powered by a self-winding movement, the Chanel J12 begins with a chic 38mm model in fully black and highly polished ceramic.
The 41mm J12 chronograph with COSC certified self-winding chronograph movement.
The very first J12 quartz movement in white ceramic and two sizes: 33mm and 38mm.
In a size of 41mm, the J12 Superleggera (Italian for “super light”) – in black ceramic and lightweight anodized aluminum with a COSC-certified chronograph movement – is 20% lighter than a classic J12.
The 42mm J12 GMT with a self-winding movement and a second time zone.
The caliber J12 3125 of 42 mm with bezel, dial, crown and bracelet in matte black ceramic and yellow gold. Made to measure by Audemars Piguet for Chanel, its self-winding mechanical movement features a redesigned balance bridge covered in black ceramic and a gold rotor.
A 42 mm piece of haute horlogerie powered by caliber 3125, the J12 Noir Intense is the world’s first watch set with 724 baguettes cut from a single block of black ceramic.
The innovative design of the J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse was entrusted to a team of expert master watchmakers from one of the most respected independent haute horlogerie manufactures in the world – Renaud et Papi Manufacture (APRP). Powered by the Chanel RMT-10 Caliber, the unique 47mm white ceramic and white gold piece is a compendium of innovations, complications and world firsts, with a tourbillon, digital minute display, retrograde minute hand , a 10-day power reserve and a retractable vertical position. crown.
Equipped with a self-winding movement, the 41mm J12 Chromatic avoids black or white clasps and is covered in titanium ceramic with a gray satin finish and a circular guilloché dial.
Powered by a self-winding movement, the satin-finished opaline dial of the 38mm J12 Moonphase displays the different moon phases on a deep blue aventurine disc.
Once again housing the Comète Volant Tourbillon caliber designed exclusively for Chanel by APRP, the J12 Flying Tourbillon J12 in white gold and diamonds is a numbered limited edition of five pieces.
Designed by Arnaud Chastaingt, now head of the Chanel Watch Creation Studio, the J12 XS sees the watch take shape in a reduced 19mm version and presented in various iterations, including a ring, leather gloves, a small cuff and this Black Lesage cuff.
The whimsical J12 Mademoiselle in white ceramic features a caricature of Gabrielle Chanel in a hat, a braided suit and pumps printed on a sapphire glass plate and affixed to the white lacquered dial. Its rhodium-plated temples playfully indicate the time on this 38 mm limited edition of 555 pieces.
Chanel presents a set of 12 unique white and gold ceramic watches, each adorned with an abstract composition made in ceramic marquetry. Together, they form a polyptych featuring a graphic creation from the house’s Horological Creation Studio.
The J12 gets a facelift with a refined bezel, redesigned digital typography, reduced crown width and slightly increased case thickness. The watch now features a 38mm black or white ceramic monobloc case fitted with a sapphire crystal caseback to admire the all-new caliber 12.1. The new movement is exclusively designed and developed by Kenissi, a Swiss manufacture in which Chanel has a stake.
The J12 X-Ray features a 38mm sapphire crystal case and an industry first bracelet made of links cut from raw sapphires. Designed and assembled by the Chanel Manufacture, the new platinum, minute track and gear bridges of the new hand-wound Caliber 3.1 are made of sapphire crystal, allowing the movement to be seen from the front and back.
Unveiled in September, the J12 Caliber 12.2 Edition 1 marks the launch of the new Caliber 12.2 from Chanel. The COSC-certified automatic manufacture movement is a technical tour de force in terms of miniaturization since each of its 174 components has either been reduced in size, reshaped or moved within the movement. This exclusive 33mm first edition features a tone-on-tone design in black or white ceramic and steel with a varnished baguette sapphire bezel in the corresponding color. Each model is a limited edition of 555 pieces.
(All images: Chanel)
This story first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.