Chanel’s latest launch: the Boy.Friend
When you hear the name “Chanel” you probably think of the iconic scoop-neck, hipbone skimming jackets, or the slim, bobbed silhouette of Mademoiselle herself or the musky, sensual aroma of No5. You probably don’t immediately think of watches. We’re not blaming you for that because Chanel only launched its first watch collection in 1987. In contrast, its first fine jewellery pieces were designed by Coco Chanel in 1932 and presented in her “hôtel particulier” at 29 Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. However, Chanel’s first foray into timepieces was equally steeped in the brand’s history. The Première, with its elongated, octagon case, was inspired by the shape of the Place Vendôme in Paris, where Chanel took up residence at the Ritz Hotel and where the brand’s first watch boutique opened in 1990.
The recent incarnation of the Chanel Première
By 1997, Chanel moved its fine jewellery and watch boutique to 18 Place Vendôme, directly opposite the Ritz, a sure statement that this was a house taking its watch making seriously. But still the critics griped, claiming that Chanel was first and foremost a fashion Maison, with its watches being a mere entry-level sideline. It wasn’t until 1999, when the J12 came out that Chanel slowly started silencing its critics.
The J12 (above) was a major statement for Chanel to make. Designed by Jacques Helleu, the creative director at the time and man credited with re-establishing Chanel as major name in the modern fashion market, it really was something different. It was unisex, for starters, and it was also a luxury timepiece in ceramic – something that just wasn’t really done. It was a massive and much-imitated success and provided the perfect foil for Chanel’s first collection that was to illustrate both its watch and jewellery prowess. Launching five years later, in 2004, as an illustration of what the Maison could do, the J12 was given a fine-jewellery makeover, with baguette-cut diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies adorning bezels, dials and bracelets. A year later, Chanel upped the ante again with its tourbillon with a ceramic baseplate – a sign that it didn’t want to be sidelined in the watch world any longer. And the Maison continued to produce haute horlogerie. In 2008, the J12 calibre 3125, which had an automatic movement inside that was made by Audemars Piguet exclusively for Chanel, was released alongside the more “fashion” Première in ceramic.
Then in 2010, it astounded everyone with its J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse (above). This had an unprecedented combination of complications and world-firsts: tourbillon, digital minute display, retrograde minute hand, ten-day power reserve and a retractable vertical crown. Unsurprisingly this was not Chanel’s doing, but had been masterminded by the legendary Giulio Papi and his team. Chanel’s own titanium ceramic followed and then came 2012’s breathtakingly gorgeous Première Tourbillon Volant (below); again a collaboration with Renaud et Papi.
Such was the horological and jewellery mastery exhibited in this watch that it was named Best Ladies Watch at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève that same year. 2012 also saw the launched of the Mademoiselle Privé range, which has been a collection where Chanel’s most enduring motifs – camellias and Chinoiserie – have been rendered in rare and unusual crafts and showcased on watch dials.
Mademoiselle Privé watch with black lacquer dial adorned with yellow-gold camellias and quail eggshell, applied using the Maki-e technique
As we get halfway into another year, Chanel continues to impress both the watch and fashion world with its latest, and entirely new, collection, the Boy.Friend – its name a clever reference to the close relationship one has with one’s watch. It is a confident, bold watch from a brand that doesn’t have to apologise anymore for its place in the watch world. And, given Chanel’s abhorrence of apologies, we think she’d have approved.