Chanel debuts its fourth manufacture movement, Caliber 12.1, in the new J12 that is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year

For a fashion brand, Chanel possesses serious clout as a watchmaker. It has worked with some of the best in the industry including respected movement makers Roman Gauthier and Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi. In recent years, it has also been quietly acquiring stakes in F.P. Journe and, most recently, movement maker Kenissi to bolster its technical capability.

In the case of the J12 with its polished and scratch-resistant ceramic case, Chanel revealed a thoroughly original and modern design when it was released in 2000. It quickly established itself as an undisputed pillar in the fashion house's collection.

The J12 personifies the audacity and the creative freedom of Chanel.
Arnaud Chastaingt

Almost 20 years later, the model is endowed with its first manufacture movement, Caliber 12.1, and features some subtle design updates by Chanel’s watchmaking creation studio’s director Arnaud Chastaingt.

Kenissi, of which Chanel has a 20% stake, developed the new Caliber 12.1 to the Parisian label’s specifications. It is certainly a step up from the previous ETA movement that used to power J12, boasting a 70-hour power reserve as well as chronometric precision that meets the COSC standard. (Side note: Kenissi also has a facility dedicated to Tudor.)

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In terms of design, the 38mm watch case is now entirely in ceramic, including the caseback that was previously in steel, and is slightly thicker to accommodate Caliber 12.1, which can be admired through the open caseback. Apart from these, the overall design has been refined to include slimmer numerals, an increase in the bezel notches from 30 to 40, and narrower crown.

There are nine versions to choose from including the limited-to-55-pieces Edition Noire with baguette pattern on the bezel and an opulent unique piece set with baguette diamonds.

In the Q&A below, Chastaignt elaborates more on the new design:

How did you decide what to keep and what to tweak?

“To change everything, without changing anything”. That was the paradox of this project. Creatively, I decided to take the approach of a surgeon. I scanned the J12 millimeter by millimeter with the objective to deeply understand how to sublimate the icon without distorting it.

I finally redesigned 70% of its components. In the end, the integration of the new Caliber 12.1 is undoubtedly the major evolution of this project.

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How would you describe its current look?

Mademoiselle Chanel once said: “True elegance is when the interior is as beautiful as the outside.” I made this my own vision when reinterpreting the architecture and the conception of the case.

The J12 now has a one-piece ceramic case equipped with a sapphire crystal so the new Caliber 12.1 automatic movement can be seen showing off the perfectly circular oscillating weight in tungsten.

Finally, the original bi-material case with its steel bottom no longer exists. The new J12 is ready for eternal youth, totally in coherence with the performance of its original high resistance material, the ceramic.

What do you think of Caliber 12.1?

As I said before, the integration of the new Caliber 12.1 is undoubtedly the major evolution of this project. I wanted the movement to be seen, which explains the sapphire crystal caseback.

What has always been your impression of J12?

It was love at first sight when I first saw it as a design student but I must admit that at that time, I did not have any affinity with the watchmaking universe. The J12 definitely changed my mind and I suddenly had a new vision of watches as objects of design.

The J12 is a powerful lesson in style, breaking and reinventing the rules of watchmaking. In fact, it personifies the audacity and the creative freedom of Chanel.

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