An androgynous yet elegant aesthetic has always been the core character at Chanel. With an undeniable cultural impact, it all started from Gabrielle Chanel’s daring idea of transgressing the anachronistic boundaries of womenswear that led the maison to its pinnacle within the fashion industry, which later became even more successful aided by the unequivocal talent of the late Karl Lagerfeld. When it comes to watchmaking, the French haute couture house has made its mark over the past two decades, primarily through the J12 collection, but also with astute investments in the watch industry, such as with Romain Gauthier and Kenissi, which allows Chanel to create watches that translate the unique essence of their fashionable garments.
Although the J12 is inarguably Chanel’s most iconic model, the Monsieur de Chanel collection is no less of a marvel of mechanical watchmaking. First making its debut at Baselworld 2016, the original reference was introduced in precious metal catered specifically to male audiences. It is not just another perfunctory accessory to go with the lookbook, quite conversely, the watch offers some interesting details to catch the eyes of watchmaking enthusiasts. Despite having only a simple, time only complication, Chanel employs a discreet and symmetrical display with the hour, minute and seconds neatly isolated, and backed by a different dial texture for greater legibility. But the most intriguing part that appeals to any watch enthusiasts is perhaps the use of a jumping hour and a retrograde minute display, which requires careful manipulation of torque to allow an instantaneous and reliable operation, given both mechanisms always change at the same moment.
What separates this Superleggera edition (or ultra light in English terms) from its previous variants is the choice of materials and the overall styling of the watch. And just as its name suggests, it uses a mix of ceramic and stainless steel for the case instead of precious metals to shave off weight, while the dial is now partially opened and exposes the hour wheel underneath for extra visual points. The guilloché pattern has effectively differentiated the hierarchy on the dial, separating the minute and hour display area from the second subregister that sits in the middle of the dial.
The best part is perhaps the Calibre 1 that enables the jumping actions on the dial side. It is the first in-house calibre developed for Chanel by Romain Gauthier, an independent watchmaker who counts Chanel as one of his stakeholders since 2011. Gauthier is responsible for the styling and manufacturing process of the movement, but we must note that Chanel then handles the production of the calibre and the watch within its own manufacture. It certainly exceeds one’s expectation of how a fashion label could achieve this level of movement construction on their first in-house calibre; it is noticeably thoughtful considering how the exposed ratchet wheel and the gear train are being held down by a circular bridge, with an interesting matte, anthracite finish.
The movement construction of the more recent calibres are further skeletonized and therefore more expressive of the contemporary aesthetic code of Chanel, which they use to their advantage to fuse their creative designs. In 2017, they came up with the Calibre 2 that plays with the movement structure to depict a flower blooming motif, followed by the Calibre 3 in 2019 that uses the blackened gear train to camouflage the wheels under the bridge for a floating visual. Their rather contemporary style is gradually becoming more elaborate despite conspicuously steering away from the traditional finishing technique, which might just be what it needs to venture into the flourishing market of younger audiences, or anyone looking for an alternative to the more traditional aesthetics of fine watchmaking.
It is surely not often for a fashion label of this scale to enter the more luxury-end of the watchmaking industry, even less so back in 1993, when Chanel chose to set foot in the Swiss Valley of La Chaux-de-Fonds and acquired G&F Châtelain. Through this and other strategic partnerships established in recent years, it will be very interesting to see how Chanel expands its presence in watchmaking; given the level of execution we can see in its in-house calibres and the Monsieur collection, the expectations are certainly high.