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The Chanel J12: same but different

The Chanel J12: same but different

Friday, 22 March 2019
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

As it approaches its twentieth anniversary, the J12 has been given something of a makeover. Considered the twenty-first century’s first iconic watch, its “metamorphosis” takes the form of subtle, almost imperceptible differences. The one major change is the Calibre 12.1 inside, Chanel’s first base movement, made by Kenissi.

Early January, Chanel published a rather brief announcement that it had taken a stake in Kenissi, and would be presenting, at Baselworld, a watch equipped with an automatic movement by the young Swiss manufacturer. We now know that the watch in question is the J12, newly refined on the eve of its twentieth anniversary. The movement, meanwhile, is the COSC-certified Calibre 12.1, delivering 70 hours of power reserve and wound by a tungsten oscillating weight which Chanel’s Watch Creation Studio insisted be a perfect circle, one of the signatures of a Chanel Fine Watch.

The J12 watch now features the Caliber 12.1
The J12 watch now features the Caliber 12.1
Strategic alliances

It’s fair to say this is a major development for Chanel. Until now, the Parisian firm had been noted for the high-end movements it designs and makes at its own G&F Châtelain manufacturing wing, acquired in 1993 and which can count on a supply of high-tech components from Romain Gauthier (which sold a minority stake to Chanel in 2012).
Having steadily and patiently assembled the necessary expertise, Chanel has given some stunning demonstrations of its new capabilities with Haute Horlogerie Calibres 1, 2 and 3; a skeletonised version of the latter inside a Boy.Friend watch with gem-set bezel took the Ladies’ Watch prize at the 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. All that was missing was the strategically important addition of a “tractor” base movement.

Which is where Kenissi comes in. Alliances have been prominent in Chanel’s growth as a watchmaker, from collaborations back in the day with Audemars Piguet Renaud Papi for exotic interpretations of the J12 to a stakeholding in F.P. Journe. With Kenissi, it’s certainly found a partner that’s up to the job. Virtually unheard-of a year ago, Kenissi started out making sapphire crystals then became the industrial arm of Tudor, Rolex’s sister brand, which has been making its own movements since 2015. In fact Kenissi’s development has been such that the manufacturer is scheduled to leave its premises in Geneva in 2021 and move to a new production site in Le Locle, currently under construction. Given that Tudor and Breitling supply each other with their in-house movements – Breitling’s B01 chronograph movement is the Tudor MT5813 while Tudor’s MT5612 three hands/date calibre is Breitling’s B20 –, we’re talking substantial production volumes here. Exactly what Chanel needed for its J12, now powered by the Calibre 12.1, exclusively developed and made for Chanel by Kenissi.

An impression of lightness

So much for the “engine”; the design of Chanel’s flagship timepiece has also come under scrutiny, a task assigned to Arnaud Chastaingt, at the head of Chanel’s Watch Creation Studio since 2013. First things first: this update has left the J12’s identity intact. Rather than sweeping changes, Arnaud Chastaingt has introduced subtle differences to give this legendary timepiece a new allure without altering its essence. The bezel is slimmer, creating a larger dial opening, and the number of notches around the bezel has increased from 30 to 40. The width of the crown has been reduced by a third, and the ceramic cabochon set in it is slightly flatter. The railway track in the dial centre is more prominent and hour dots have been added.

The shape of the hands has been tweaked and the indexes have been redesigned, as has the typeface for the numerals, which are now in ceramic and applied to the dial. The case is slightly thicker and now entirely in ceramic with a sapphire back (as opposed to the previous steel back). Chanel describes these changes as “visually consistent” and creating “an impalpable but real impression of lightness that is both visible and invisible”, concluding that “because the J12 can only ever be itself, it had to evolve. Evolve without changing!”.

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