When the Chanel J12 was unveiled in 1999, it was ahead of its time. Not only did it have a boldly unisex design that stood out from the mainstream aesthetic in high-end watchmaking during that era, it was crafted in ceramic, which was not commonly used for watches at that time.
As with most unconventional things, it drew mixed reactions. Not to mention that Chanel’s entry into serious watchmaking, unsurprisingly, wasn’t immediately accepted—it was seen as a fashion name, despite its luxury status. But one thing’s for sure, whether people loved or hated it, the J12 drew a lot of attention.
Twenty-three years later, opinions about it have certainly changed. The J12 is now a modern watchmaking icon, having been extended into a wide-ranging collection that Chanel has used as a central point for creative and horological exploration. Over the years, the French house has stunned us with its many interesting variations of the timepiece, whether it is done via fun, trendy designs, extravagant gem-setting, unusual new materials or even high complications. Its ultimate accomplishment? Making a successful and impactful step into high watchmaking as a brand that originated in fashion.
Just last year, Chanel introduced an important update to the 33mm version of the J12. The new models are fitted with a self-winding movement, marking a change that will be continued in future iterations. This is the first time the small J12 model is getting an automatic movement, which pushes the watch towards higher standards. It also means that it is now on par with the larger J12 model in a 38mm size, which the house updated a few years back by giving it the self-winding calibre 12.1. It is made by the Swiss movement maker Kenissi, in which Chanel has a stake.
The 33mm version gets the calibre 12.2, which is also Kenissi-made. This movement is a miniaturised version of the calibre 12.1, in which every component has been adjusted so that it fits a case of smaller dimensions without affecting performance. The calibre 12.2 is chronometer-certified by the COSC, the institute responsible for certifying the accuracy and precision of Swiss watches, and has a power reserve of 50 hours. It is also decorated and features an oscillating mass that is in the form of a circle, which can be admired through the sapphire crystal caseback of the watch.
Aesthetics-wise, the new 33mm is no different from the 38mm. Besides the display caseback, it has a lacquered dial with Arabic numerals for hour markers, a polished ceramic and steel case, and ceramic bracelet. Following the J12 tradition, it is available in white and black.
While those who prefer a smaller- sized watch will appreciate the improved 33mm, others who may have had their eye on the 38mm model have more luxurious options to choose from this year.
Chanel has released a subtly and stylishly gilded new version of the 38mm that features 18-carat gold accents on the crown, bezel, hands and Arabic numeral hour markers. Even the oscillating weight that can be seen through the display caseback is golden; the gleaming sheen was added via galvanic treatment. You’ll get to choose, of course, between black and white—both hues that define the Chanel universe, whether it comes to watches or fashion.