The Chanel Boy.Friend watches debuted in 2015, and when Cara Barrett went hands-on with it she noted that the idea behind the name was that if you wore it, your boyfriend would want to steal it from you. The watch originally came in Chanel’s “beige gold” (an alloy that’s slightly lighter than yellow gold, but not as obviously coppery as pink gold) with a diamond bezel, and white gold. I don’t know about the idea of inducing larceny in one’s significant other but I thought then and still think it’d make a perfectly fine men’s dress watch – the Tank Louis Cartier, large model, is 33.7 mm x 25.5 mm, and the Boy.Friend Skeleton of 2018 is 37 x 28.6, so the wear experiences of the Tank LC and Boy.Friend Skeleton approximate each other pretty well. The latest version of the Boy.Friend Skeleton uses the same in-house Caliber 3 movement as the original Boy.Friend Skeleton (the movement, you might be surprised to hear, has bridges that were developed by Romain Gauthier) but with deep scarlet plates and bridges and is housed in a full synthetic sapphire case.
Chanel gets its movements from a number of sources but some of the higher-end calibers are made at Chanel’s factory in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, including the jump-hour Caliber 1 (used in the Monsieur de Chanel) and in the past, it’s used movements supplied by, surprisingly enough, Audemars Piguet (including the AP caliber 3120, in the J12 collection) so while it’s easy to dismiss Chanel watches as “fashion watches,” to do so would be to miss the fact that the company does take watchmaking seriously enough to design and make its own specialized movements, as well as work with some of the most respected names in fine watchmaking.
The original Chanel Boy.Friend skeletonized watch was not, interestingly enough, called a Boy.Friend watch by Chanel, but simply the Caliber 3, although the case was certainly a Boy.Friend case. Whether you have a boyfriend, are a boyfriend, or are interested in boyfriend-adjacent matters in general, is perhaps less to the point than the fact that it’s a good-looking watch with an interesting movement that has the kind of overt elegance that traditional Swiss luxury brands sometimes struggle to achieve. I thought back when it launched that it would make a great everyday watch – I suspect that, like the Tank LC, it’s considerably more versatile than you might think at first glance – and I still think so. The Boy.Friend X-Ray Skeleton Red Edition, on the other hand, is anything but everyday.
One of the strong points of the Boy.Friend case is its geometry, which has always reminded me a little of the stopper on a bottle of No. 5. That resemblance is even more pronounced in the Red Edition, and the transparent case lets you get a full 360-degree view of the movement without sacrificing the clarity of the original case design. The use of sapphire for the case gives the watch an overt gem-like quality absent in the original Caliber 3, and the material doesn’t just reveal more of the movement – like the facets of a diamond, it captures, refracts, and reflects light, amplifying the visual impact of the movement as if you were looking at it in a hall of mirrors. There are an infinite number of shades of red and for the Red Edition, Chanel chose an extremely saturated, almost purple-red color – a nighttime, going-out-on-the-town carmine, verging on purple. The color is sensual and celebratory and while the Caliber 3 felt quietly luxurious, the Red Edition isn’t remotely subtle – instead, it has all the seductive draw of a pigeon’s-blood ruby, and like a ruby, it changes moment by moment, depending on how the light hits it. The whole question of watches made specifically for women or explicitly for men is one that’s more or less been put to rest by now, except maybe for the incurably argumentative among us – watches exist on a continuum ranging from the stolidly practical to the floridly decorative and whimsical and everything in between, and it’s really just a matter of taste and circumstances. Chanel also explicitly states that the design deliberately plays with subverting traditional masculine and feminine design codes.
A more relevant observation might be that there is a place and a time for everything and the Chanel Boy.Friend X-Ray Skeleton Red Edition is probably not a watch I’d try to wear to say, a down-to-brass-tacks business meeting, although there is something to be said for transgressing boundaries as a personal style choice. Transgression of style norms doesn’t have to have evoking outrage as a goal – sometimes it actually lets you see norms with fresh eyes and fresh appreciation. Many years ago, when I was working in advertising I rode up the elevator at the Brooks Brothers flagship store with a gent who worked there. He was wearing a suit in a very loud purple windowpane check, a shirt with a club collar and gold collar pin, and a tie that must have been four inches wide with a hand-painted picture of (I presume a favorite) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on it. The whole thing should have been a train wreck, and it was the exact antithesis, more or less, of what you’d expect from suiting at Brooks Brothers but somehow, it worked. So are there circumstances under which this would be a transgressive watch to wear? You betcha. I still don’t think it’s anything close to an everyday watch but if you’re looking for a scene-stealing showstopper, day or night, this might be for you. Purely from a design standpoint I think it’s one of the coolest things Chanel’s ever done in fine watchmaking – I actually went back to Chanel’s booth at Watches & Wonders several times after our meeting, just to look at it – and I’d love to see it in the wild, on someone’s wrist, someday, preferably when I’d least expect it.