The J12 watch has joined the No.5 perfume and the 2.55 handbag as one of Chanel's most recognisable products
When Jacques Helleu, Chanel’s artistic director, debuted the Chanel J12 – dubbed as a sports watch for the fashion set – in 2000, it ticked a number of horologic firsts, or at least near-firsts. It was one of the first watches to be constructed fully from black ceramic, sparking a trend for the glossy, robust material, and was one of the first watches to be marketed as unisex.
Unusually for Chanel, it did not reference the house’s signature iconography and instead drew influence from the elegant lines of America's 12-metre J-class racing yachts, built during the 1930s. A white iteration of the J12 followed in 2003.
It's fair to say that at the time, Chanel carried little weight in horological circles. The French house now boasts an atelier in the Swiss watchmaking town of La Chaux-de-Fonds and has a run of successful models under its belt, including the Boy.Friend, Code Coco and Monsieur de Chanel timepieces.
In 2019, the J12 received a subtle refinement, under the leadership of Arnaud Chastaingt, director of the Chanel Watchmaking Creation Studio in Paris. The steel back-case was replaced by scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, which allowed visibility of a new movement. This was developed in the Kenissi manufacture in Geneva, in which Chanel (along with Tudor) now owns a stake. Additionally, the bezel was narrowed and the numerals and indices were redesigned. The overall effect was a sleeker, more modern aesthetic, with high-tech internal updates.
This year, the Chanel J12 turns 20. To mark the occasion, Chanel has enlisted muses including Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Liu Wen, Keira Knightly and Ali MacGraw to reflect on the past two decades and the notion of time.
The fashion house has also launched the limited-edition J12.20, which features a classic white ceramic dial, beautifully adorned with signature motifs, including the camellia flower, the comet star and a bottle of Chanel No.5 perfume. Rhodium-plated, diminutive designs are positioned on both the bezel and the dial of the watch, complemented by 12 glittering diamonds. The J12.20 is priced at £6,500 and fittingly limited to 2,020 pieces.