Transparency is almost always a good thing, be it in political donations, corporate bonuses or who your local member of parliament is having lunch with. It is a concept that Chanel has adopted as a motif in their watchmaking department, seen in the Boy.Friend Skeleton, their remarkable Monsieur de Chanel Pocket Watch (an almost US$800,000 skeletonised pocket watch set with 7.12 carats of baguette diamonds and held in an 18k white gold and obsidian lion-themed stand), and now most recently with the Chanel J12 X-Ray. The J12 collection has been making significant strides into the horological landscape of late, winning the 2019 Ladies Prize at the GPHG, and bringing the monochromatic vision of Coco Chanel to life through their full ceramic cases and bracelets. With the Chanel J12 X-Ray, you get the same classic J12 shape except, instead of ceramic, almost the entire watch is made out of sapphire crystal.
The bracelet is entirely sapphire apart from the pins that secure the links to one another; the case and dial are almost totally sapphire, and even the movement has been rebuilt to have sapphire bridges. The bezel and the hour markers are both set with baguette diamonds in white gold to add another dash of clarity that is so over-the-top you can’t help but be impressed by it. In fact, the entire watch is so brazen in the ostentatious appearance it gives off, that it’s hard to be left with any other impression than the sudden realisation you need to pick your jaw off the floor as you try to wrap your head around the watch that you are looking at. It is a remarkable feat of workmanship to produce such a range of components in sapphire crystal, and all for the unashamed pursuit of making one of the most visually impactful watches ever. Beyond the unambiguous flexing of watchmaking prowess from a brand best known in the fashion world (though it is worth remembering that Chanel are a part-owner of both F.P. Journe and Bell & Ross), it is a tastefully sized watch at 38mm in diameter and 10.7mm thick. So even if you had pellucid intentions to show off with your new Chanel J12 X-Ray, you don’t look like you’re compensating for anything by wearing a 50mm hockey puck.
You may know them best for their bags, their shoes, and their chic tweed jackets, but Chanel has consistently been upping the ante in the watch industry over the past few years. This year is no different. For 2019, Chanel is re-launching their popular J12 model on its 20th anniversary. Yes, it’s the one you are thinking of, the white or black ceramic ladies’ dive watch that graces the wrists of everyone from Victoria Beckham to socialites at the Dallas country club. But despite what you may think, this year’s release isn’t your average tennis bracelet. No, no, this J12 features a brand spanking new movement from Kenissi, a Geneva-based manufacturer that Chanel bought 20% of back in January of this year. Additionally, Kenissi has plans to open up a 150 square meter facility with Tudor. Kenissi will be supplying movements and parts to Chanel (and presumably Tudor), as well as other companies. Did we also mention that Chanel owns a 20% stake in F.P. Journe and has worked with Romain Gauthier on movement components?
There is a sort of dismissive attitude among The Faithful towards the Chanel J12. Which I understand. After all, it is a watch that comes from Chanel (a fashion house, mon dieu!) and it is easy to attack it as a derivative, luxury-brand ripoff of the Rolex Submariner. Of course, given the shenanigans you have to go through these days to get within spitting distance of buying a new Sub at retail, perhaps the J12 does not look so bad after all if you are cross-shopping. But let’s be honest – nobody is trying to decide between a Submariner and a J12. If you are considering a J12, chances are that what you want, is not a Sub, or a Doxa, or a Fifty Fathoms, or indeed any other sort of pseudo-technical, practicality-adjacent dive watch. If you are considering a J12, chances are, what you want is a J12.