I am coming up on my first year as a “watch person,” and I’ve finally seen enough in the metal to create a sort of mental reference library and a more discerning frame of reference. Watches still frequently surprise me when they settle onto my wrist (it has only been a year, after all), but I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what my dealbreakers are. And I know what tends to make me go all googly-eyed and financially reckless.
I put my instincts to the test during Watches & Wonders, and I was generally pretty good at spotting from a distance A) the watches I would like once I tried them on, B) the ones that wouldn’t be for me, personally, but that I could still appreciate, and C) the ones that would be loved by a very passionate few, not including me. But when I wandered into the Chanel booth (honestly, the biggest surprise of Watches & Wonders is that booths are actually full-sized luxury boutiques and not like Comic-Con stalls) and happened upon the J12 X-Ray Red Edition, I found myself fully stumped.
The case and bracelet of the Chanel J12 X-Ray Red Edition were made from crystal sapphire (previously seen on the J12 X-Ray in 2020) and are see-through yet hefty. Hmmm. The 18k white gold bezel was chock-full of 46 rubies. Huh. True to the X-Ray name, you can look inside from pretty much any angle and see parts of the Caliber 3.1 in-house manufacture movement whizzing away. Curious.
With a little context, the parts of the whole begin to make some sense. Chanel has used this movement in the X-Ray before (building on the Caliber 3 movement found in the aptly named Caliber 3 watch) with the plate and bridges in crystal sapphire. The rubies are part of Chanel’s new Haute Horlogerie Red Edition collection. Red is one of the brand’s signature colors (beige, black, gold, and white are the others if you’re brushing up on your Chanel knowledge) and it’s tied to the brand’s founder. Gabrielle Chanel famously said (and the press release helpfully reminded me), “If you’re sad or heartbroken, make yourself up, dress up, add more lipstick, and attack.”
While I’m sure that quote has made its way into its fair share of Instagram selfie captions, it is also quite appropriate for this new J12. This watch feels significantly more dressed-up than its previous transparent sister. Where the Chanel J12 Xray seemed designed to prove a point – that Chanel takes their watches seriously – and other J12 watches are known for their top-notch use of ceramic, this one toes the line between Chanel’s more serious watchmaking pieces (the ceramics, the Boy-Friends, the aforementioned Caliber 3) and those pieces that could be considered exquisite baubles that tell the time. Doesn’t it seem at least a tiny bit cheeky that rubies, which are usually relegated to a supporting role inside of the movement, are front-and-center here? With everything cast in white gold or clear?
But all of that is an intellectual exercise. What stumped me about this watch was how it would wear and how I would feel. As a card-carrying member of the jelly-sandal generation, I assure you I love a see-through accessory as much as the next nostalgia-ridden Millennial. With a transparent watch, especially on a bracelet, you feel that you are part of the watch – or that the watch is a part of you. I put it on and it looked one way, Tiffany Wade put it on and it looked another.
In person, the crystal sapphire is gorgeous in the way it plays with light. In an instant you see that the transparent bracelet is the only rational decision – this watch would make zero sense on an alligator strap.
The 38mm size is a little bigger than I would like, but it doesn’t feel like a monster (I do, admittedly, have a chubby wrist) and the sapphire works in its favor to make it feel lighter both visually and physically. It is fun to wear, fun to look at, and absolutely not my watch. But in some alternate universe where I am a hard-partying It Girl without an Instagram account, it could be.
This watch is not a red lip, classic and glamorous. It’s much closer to a rebellious smear of blush – bold and intentional, announcing its presence and self-aware glamor. The watchmaking bonafides that Chanel has steadily accumulated over the years make it a heavy-hitter in its own way. And in a world of steel copycats, this watch dares to be different, demands to be taken seriously, and is fully, completely, Chanel.
Chanel has dressed three of its haute horlogerie watches up in daring shades of red for 2022.
Following 2020’s X-Ray watches milled from transparent sapphire crystal and last year’s focus on neon rainbow watches, 2022 sees three timepieces recreated to honor one of Coco Chanel’s favorite colors.
The Chanel J12 X-RAY Red Edition Rouge – which is limited to 12 pieces – uses 92 baguette-cut rubies to bring contrast to its sapphire crystal case and bracelet and 18K white gold bezel, crown and folding clasp. Even the plate and bridges of the manually wound 3.1 manufacture movement are made of transparent sapphire crystal, revealing movement components usually obstructed.
“As a stylistic device, I have used it on three Haute Horlogerie creations,” says Arnaud Chastaingt, Director of the Chanel Watchmaking Creation Studio. “I like the boldness of a movement made up in red, the sensuality of the marriage of beige gold and rubies, the authority of a glossy red strap against a wrist. There is nothing faint-hearted about red! It has an uncompromising elegance.”