The Chanel J12 is something rather rare in the watch industry today: a modern icon. With every brand fighting to create something of lasting merit, the J12 is a shining example of what can be made when someone from outside the traditional watch space, but with a passion for well designed objects, takes a clean sheet of paper and sets to work.
Created by the grand maison’s legendary artistic director, Jacques Helleu, and introduced to the market in 2000, the watch has been a huge success for the brand. As one would expect from the house of Coco, it was originally available exclusively in black, with white arriving as an option later, and was a hit with both men and women.
The J12 was at the nucleus of two trends: truly unisex style, reinforced by the androgynous looks that are so prevalent on the runway today, and a quest for larger timepieces. While it is now common to see women wearing a 40 mm sports watch, and men wearing diamond-set models, both were certainly not common at the turn of the millennium.
While the design of the watch has become etched in the mind of many who are familiar with both the fashion and horological worlds, after nearly 20 years on the market there was room for a small amount of improvement. Steered by Arnaud Chastaing, the director of the Chanel Watch Creation Studio, the new J12 retains many of the features that made the watch so successful, but also makes meaningful improvements in certain key areas.
The case continues to be crafted in ceramic (one of the key selling points of the J12 is its resistance to scratches, even when sat next to a diamond encrusted bracelet), and goes a step further than the original, getting rid of the steel back so that the watch is now almost entire made of the space-age material.
The design of the bezel has been revised with 40 instead of 30 notches to the edge, and is marginally thinner, allowing for the dial to be larger in diameter, introducing a bit more breathing room for the numerals (now made of ceramic) and other dial matters. The difference isn’t perceivable at first, but when compared to the previous generation of the J12, it is a noticeable improvement, likewise for other minor tweaks such as the revised typography, and the black Super Luminova now applied to the hands of the watches produced in black ceramic.
Perhaps the biggest step forward is the addition of an in-house movement, the calibre 12.1, a fruit of Chanel’s investment in Kenissi, Tudor’s movement producing venture. With a 70-hour power reserve and COSC-certification, as well as a distinctive winding rotor, the new calibre is both a technical and aesthetic step forward, which is deserving of the exhibition back the J12 now sports.
Some things that are great about the original J12 are still clearly present, such the sprung deployant clasp, which can also be found attached to the straps of other brands, most noticeably Richard Mille. Produced by Châtelain, which has been wholly owned by Chanel since 1993, the company also has a wealth of expertise in the manufacturing of ceramic components and stone setting, rather useful when your parent company produces models that regularly require such skills.
Overall, all these details ensure that nothing has changed with the new J12: it is an extremely solid upgrade to a watch that is almost perfect for its target demographic, and which the improvements made will be almost imperceptible to most, but will keep the model going for another 20 years.