2020 marks 20 years since the first high-tech ceramic watch was released under the Chanel logo. Since their inception, they have become one of the main objects of desire for many years, both for women and men. They were created from scratch by Jacques Elle, then the creative director of the house. Almost two decades later, the iconic J12 comes with a redesigned design and a completely new movement. And Chanel once again demonstrates the power of its logo, which stands among the serious manufacturers of Swiss watches.
Nicolas Beaux, Arnaud Chasten © press service
- Is there a specific designer behind the new watch, as then, 20 years ago?
- Nicolas Beaux: Yes. This is Arnaud Chasten, director of the creative studio Chanel Watches. A man who remained behind the scenes for five years, but thanks to him we won the last three Oscars - the Grand prix d'Horlogerie de Genève.
- Arno, what do you remember about the era of the 2000s?
- Arnaud Chasten: In 2000 I was 20 years old, I studied design in Paris. I've always liked the Chanel brand. The launch of the J12 black ceramic watch (I heard about it from friends) was a revelation for me. I remember the first time I saw an advertising campaign created by Jacques Elle, who was responsible not only for the design of the items, but also for the communicative image of the brand. Then another revolution took place - the J12 watch made of white ceramic. My admiration for Chanel has become something of an obsession. In the same 2003 I started working in the department of Cartier watches, and 10 years later I moved to Chanel. Honestly, I would never leave Cartier for any other house.
- Was it scary to take on the J12 project?
- A. Sh.: For me, J12 is an object of inspiration. When I first came to Chanel, and Nicolas is a witness to this, I in no way wanted to change the design created by Elle. My respect for this man and his creations was too great. I decided to put the J12 into new territory: I created a special Mademoiselle J12 watch with a Mademoiselle figure, I came up with a tiny J12 in the form of a ring. But I always knew: one day the day will come when I will have to face the original design. And today I am responsible for the future of this collection. The project began four years ago and has become, perhaps, the most difficult in my life. It's much easier to create a design from scratch like Code Coco or Monsieur. But I made a paradoxical decision: simultaneously change everything and nothing. I would compare my approach to that of a surgeon rather than a designer. For no other Chanel watch I have done so many mock-ups and prototypes as for the J12. One inaccurate detail could ruin everything. In the end, compared to the original drawing, I changed 70% of the design components.
- At first glance, these changes are imperceptible.
- A. Sh.: This is a good compliment! I started with the bezel - the metal ring around it felt too big, I made it thinner and changed the proportions. This made it possible to open the dial more, to increase its size, although the diameter of the watch remained the same - 38 mm. The number of notches on the bezel has also changed - from 30 to 40. The crown has become thinner, and the links of the bracelet are longer. The watch face has also changed: the applied indexes have become even more graphic and are now made of ceramics, the hour and minute hands have become equal in thickness, and the Automatic and Swiss Made inscriptions have received the Chanel signature font. Instead of a blank steel case back, there is a sapphire crystal circle through which the new automatic caliber 12.1, created by the Swiss manufacture Kenissi, is visible. By the way, it was this steel cover that gave out the age of the watch,because it was constantly scratched with a buckle.
- Why is it important that this movement belongs to Kenissi?
- N. B.: We started in 1987 with Premiere watches, at the G&F Châtelain factory we produced straps and bracelets, then we introduced ceramics, setting with stones and finally began to make our own movements for watches Monsieur de Chanel, Première Squelette Camélia, Boy Friend Skeleton … But mass production of calibers is difficult, so we were looking for a reliable partner (as we often do in the fashion segment) to ensure uninterrupted supplies. He must be independent so that no one can buy or absorb him, and he must also share our values in the field of luxury goods. In 2015, we got to know Kenissi, which developed calibers for the Tudor, and realized that we needed just such a partner to update the J12 line. Chanel has decided to become a minority shareholder in Kenissi. They have a production facility in Geneva,and in 2021, new buildings will be launched, which are being built in Le Locle, not far from our factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Automatic movements for the new J12 Kenissi create exclusively.
Serial production of calibers is difficult, so we were looking for a reliable partner.
Is design just as important in the new caliber?
- A. Sh.: Of course! I didn't want to use a traditional crescent moon so that the watch is recognizable from the inside out. The result is a rotor with a hole in the form of a perfect circle. It took heavy metal to make the hole so large for the inertial mass - we chose tungsten. In general, the number of caliber components remained the same.
- N. B.: In technical terms, caliber 12.1 has a COSC chronometric precision certificate, a five-year warranty and a 70-hour power reserve. In the original 2000 version, the power reserve was 42 hours.
- How has the price of watches changed?
- N. B.: Not significantly. The cost has increased from € 5000 to 5300. The watch will go on sale on May 1, but in the meantime we are happy to present the novelty at the exhibition in Basel. The previous design is discontinued.
- If I remember correctly, the very first J12 watches did not participate in Baselworld?
- N. B.: Yes, in March 2000 we staged the premiere of J12 made of black ceramic at Le Bourget airport. A huge hangar, the size of a football field, was turned into an immense body of water, and the clock floated to the surface of the dark water. At the Basel exhibition, Chanel first took part in 2003, when the J12 in white ceramic appeared. Then there was an outbreak of bird flu and we were afraid that the exhibition would simply be closed due to the epidemic due to the massive arrival of Asian journalists and buyers.
- Nicolas, how would you describe the Chanel Watches phenomenon?
- N. B.: The first Chanel watches were released more than 30 years ago (I then worked for another brand, came to Chanel in 2002). At that time, fashion brands did not make watches yet, and most of the famous watch houses adapted the existing male models to the female wrist (ladie's size) and covered them with diamonds. Therefore, the entire world of watchmaking amused itself, looking at the first real women's Premiere watch, made by the French fashion house. But there was no taboo for Chanel, the company had its own view of the woman and her style and its way straight to her wrist and heart.>