CHANEL celebrates 20 years of the J12 watch
By: Alina Fowler
June 18, 2020
Twenty years of audacity, twenty years of success. Twenty years of an incomparable watchmaking journey.
The J12 watch is the embodiment of revolutionary change in the standards of feminine watchmaking. Jacques Helleul, the artistic director of Chanel who produced the emblematic silhouette, took it upon himself to create the watch that was crowned the first watchmaking icon of the 21st century.
Since its first appearance in 2000, the J12 has combined a unique artistic approach to technical expertise; capturing the essence of its time period in its boldness and innovation.
Three years after its initial release in black, J12 surprised audiences with white ceramic in both its 38-mm and 33-mm versions. This stylistic palette choice produced an immense shock to the watchmaking industry. All the more, it was a seismic advancement from the previous year’s model, which pioneered the inclusion of a chronograph.
In 2005, the J12 Superleggera watch evolved to not just include a chronograph, but also a tourbillon. The addition proved to be astonishing to watch buyers, who praised the unique style and craftsmanship. Furthermore, the watch had exhibited ultra-lightness due to its aluminum skeleton.
Chanel’s partnership with Audemars Piguet in 2008 resulted in the birth of a high-end calibre watch (AP 3125), in which Chanel redesigned the balance bridge and curated a golden rotor coated in black ceramic. The next year, the partnership carried on, bearing a limited series of five watches, all powered by the previous year’s caliber 3125.
In 2009, Chanel’s Swiss workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds constructed the J12 Noir Intense, which proved to be yet another pioneer in the watchmaking industry. This model boasted 724 baguette diamonds, giving the new watch amazing allure.
Chanel’s 2010 model, the J12 Marine, iconized sport-chic timepieces. Water-resistant to 300 meters with a sleek rubber strap, the watch was every deep diver’s dream.
That same year, Chanel entrusted one of the most respected horologists, Giulio Papi, to design the J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse. The unique design was offered in both high-resistance black and white ceramic with gold. It combined many of the world’s firsts, a tourbillon, digital minutes display, retrograde minutes hand, 10-day power reserve, and a retractable crown.
The 2011 model broke away from black and white – J12’s fundamental colours – and opted for a titanium ceramic. The new material was eye-catching; transforming light into an array of vibrancy and life.
The J12 Moonphase, released two years later, merged a deep blue aventurine J12 watch face with a mechanical display of different moon phases, combining femininity with the distinctiveness that characterised the J12 line.
2014 encompassed an adventurous turn for the watchline, with the release of the J12-G10 watch. A partnership with the infamous military NATO bracelet, the J12’s large-scale alligator leather was replaced with nylon and baguette cut diamonds.
Just two years later, the J12 XS line was released. This 19-mm miniature watch face version was featured on gloves, cuffs, and rings. Designed by Arnaud Chastaingt, the new Director of the Chanel Watchmaking Creation Studio, the J12 XS embodied an unexpected and paradoxical take on the J12 line.
In 2018, Chanel presented a set of 12 one-of-a-kind watches, decorated with abstract compositions in their ceramic. Moreover, when combined, the set surprised audiences by forming a polyptych, showcasing a graphic design by Chanel’s Watchmaking Creation Studio.
Chastaingt transformed the silhouette of the J12 by softening its profile. All the while, sustaining the watch’s true character, rooted in legend and success. Chastaingt’s delicate makeover to the J12 earned Chanel an award at the 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève ceremony in the Ladies’ category.
Now 20 years old, the J12 line has not yet lost its touch, as Chanel launches two new J12 models this year.
The J12 Paradoxe is a combination of light and mystery, as two ceramic cases are fused together – one black and one white. Living up to its name, the final fusion of the cases reveals the opposing nature of the hues.
Seemingly contradictory to the J12 Paradoxe, the J12 X-RAY abolishes colour altogether. Its plate, timer, bridge and cog bridge are all made of sapphire crystal. Similarly, it’s the first of its kind to have a strap composed solely of raw sapphires. And the diamonds in this sapphire chain give the illusion of 12 diamonds perfectly balanced in suspension.
For its 20th anniversary, the J12 wants to play. Twenty symbols from the Maison Chanel (a 2.55 bag, a camellia, a bottle of No5 perfume, a tweed jacket to name a few) and 12 embedded diamonds make up the J12•20. It’s a limited edition that encapsulates freedom and is also available in an Haute Horlogerie enamelled version, numbered and limited to five pieces.
Learn more about the Chanel J12 watch at chanel.com