Chanel J12 Atelier Couture Automate Calibre 6


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April 2024

 Chanel J12 Atelier Couture Automate Calibre 6

With the J12 Atelier Couture Automate Calibre 6 watch, Chanel demonstrates its watchmaking virtuosity, showcases its aesthetic signatures and displays creativity and humour centred around the animated figure of Gabrielle Chanel herself, in her workshop. We met Arnaud Chastaingt, Director of Chanel’s Watchmaking Creation Studio.


hanel made its watchmaking debut in 1987 with the aptly named Première watch. Nearly 40 years later the Première, subtly revisited in 2022 by Arnaud Chastaingt, Director of Chanel’s Watchmaking Creation Studio, is more desirable than ever. Its case, in the shape of the Place Vendôme, is a manifesto in its own right: Chanel set out to shake up watchmaking by imposing its own aesthetic codes.

This intention was confirmed a few years later with the release of the transgressive all-black, and subsequently all-white, ceramic J12 in 2000. The incredible success of this watch, quickly described as “the first watchmaking icon of the 21st century”, has led Chanel to continually reinvent the J12 while preserving its flawless silhouette and “allure” – a term now synonymous with the figure of Gabrielle Chanel herself.

Arnaud Chastaingt
Arnaud Chastaingt

“Of all the creations of the House of Chanel, watchmaking is the only discipline that Gabrielle Chanel never attempted,” explains Arnaud Chastaingt. “However, she always had her own singular interpretation of style, and she left us with a fascinating aesthetic vocabulary. The Première watch, the starting point of our watchmaking journey, is a lesson in style, executed with supreme confidence. It is part of a rigorously codified universe within which immense creative freedom can flourish.”

A vast creative playground

Having entered the watch industry “from the top”, Chanel was initially regarded with some condescension by major Swiss watchmakers. But it has patiently built up its watchmaking legitimacy, imposed its own rigorous stylistic vocabulary, acquired its own means of production, successfully ventured into high-end mechanical watchmaking, brilliantly executed artistic crafts and collected major awards. In short, Chanel has become a key player at the forefront of the international watchmaking scene.

Arnaud Chastaingt, who joined Chanel 11 years ago after 20 years in watchmaking and high jewellery watchmaking at Cartier, is enthusiastic about “the extraordinary creative playground” offered to him by the Studio he leads. “I am a creator. I design objects to inspire dreams.”

 Chanel J12 Atelier Couture Automate Calibre 6

Drawing inspiration from the customs, practices and seasonality of couture, Chastaingt pioneered the Capsule collections, “which offer new ideas and play with Chanel’s iconic designs”. He also looked to Chanel’s couture crafts and codes, incorporating embroidery, ribbons, stylistic borrowings such as the use of trim to emphasise garment structure, materials like tweed, and even accessories from the dressmaker’s trade, such as the pincushion that became a watch, or horological experimentation with buttons.

“I’m very lucky because I have real freedom, which brings real responsibility. Creation is at the heart of what I do. I am accompanied in this by expert and talented teams both at my Studio at Place Vendôme, and at the Chanel Manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.”

Mademoiselle takes over the entire dial

Among all of Chanel’s stylistic motifs, the figure of Gabrielle Chanel herself has become an icon in its own right, immediately conjuring up an unmistakable sense of style. Mademoiselle’s silhouette has been used in a variety of playful ways, becoming central in the Mademoiselle J12, where she indicates the time with her arms.

When watchmakers asked Arnaud Chastaingt what to expect next, he explained, “Everything begins with a sketch. I always start by asking myself what story I’m going to tell. And I was also obsessed with automata. That’s how I came up with the idea of making Gabrielle Chanel appear as a heroine, working in her atelier at 31 rue Cambon.”

Seventeen years after the launch of the J12, Chanel revealed the “Mademoiselle J12” displaying the figure of Mademoiselle Chanel in the centre (on a sapphire disc affixed to the dial), indicating the hours and minutes with her articulated arms.
Seventeen years after the launch of the J12, Chanel revealed the “Mademoiselle J12” displaying the figure of Mademoiselle Chanel in the centre (on a sapphire disc affixed to the dial), indicating the hours and minutes with her articulated arms.

In the sketches he made for the dial of this watch, Arnaud Chastaingt brought together many of Chanel’s primary codes and emblems: the door of Gabrielle Chanel’s workshop with the ‘Mademoiselle Privé’ plaque, her suit and signature wardrobe elements, dressmaker’s scissors, spools of thread, the quilted floor, the dressmaker’s mannequin, fabric swatches, the tweed panel against the wall, and the camellia-patterned fabric.

In this setting, the figure of Mademoiselle and the dressmaker’s mannequin on which she is working both come to life in unison, at the push of a button.

It took five years to achieve the dial animation. “In an adventure such as this, our watchmakers are central. Behind its playful appearance, the mechanism is highly complex,” Arnaud Chastaingt explains. “The watchmakers need time to achieve the most beautiful and efficient results. Time is our real ally. I always listen to them, because they possess the know-how. The absolute reliability of the product is crucial.”

A simple set of circles

The genesis of the J12 Atelier Couture Automate Calibre 6 is a perfect example of a creative approach in which stylistic and technical aspects work in tandem to encompass every aspect of the watch, including its movement. “I don’t really like the usual definition of Haute Horlogerie that focuses primarily on watchmaking complications,” says Chastaingt. “I prefer the concept of watchmaking expression. For me, Haute Horlogerie is a vast and free field of expression that encompasses watchmaking savoir-faire, jewellery expertise, fashion inspiration and mastery of various artistic crafts. As for the movement itself and its architecture, although it is a sophisticated and complex calibre, my aim is to remove any visual pollution, to go for what is the most pure, the most elegant and the most apparently simple while, of course, respecting the essential requirement of mechanical efficiency.”

The stripped-down architecture of the Calibre 6 that drives the watch and sets in motion the animated theatre on the dial is a direct descendant of the Calibre 1. Released in 2016 to power the Monsieur watch, the Calibre 1 was the first mechanical Haute Horlogerie movement entirely conceived and designed by Chanel’s Watchmaking Creation Studio and developed, built and assembled in the Chanel Manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

The Calibre 6
The Calibre 6

The Calibre 1 is a manifesto, showing how aesthetics and technical efficiency can be intrinsically linked. Made up of an elegantly assembled set of circles, it reveals a magnificently refined arrangement of skeletonised black and slate grey circular wheels and bridges, combining great technical virtuosity (instantaneous jumping hours, retrograde minutes, two barrels mounted in series) with an architecture of unique minimalistic elegance and an appearance of ‘apparent simplicity’.

All these qualities are present in the Calibre 6 that drives the J12 Atelier Couture Automate Calibre 6. “The architectural charter that the Calibre 1 debuted in 2016 was intended to develop organically over the long term,” Arnaud Chastaingt points out. “Its basic principles are to always go for the obvious by espousing minimalism, to design an architecture around the circle, to favour black, to simplify, to cut”.

In order to translate these principles from the Calibre 1 to the Calibre 6, it was first necessary to adapt them to the smaller diameter of the 38 mm J12, while still accommodating the 355 components necessary for the operation of both the movement and the automata. This is around twice as many components as other Chanel Manufacture movements.

The result is utterly stunning. Everything appears to be perfectly arranged into a configuration of circular wheels and bridges. The rubies protecting the wheel axles are in a perfect arc, and the two circular bridges are simply overlapped. None of the cams that drive the automata are visible. The animation is activated on demand by a discreet pusher at 8 o’clock: Mademoiselle swivels her hips, moves her head and raises the arm that holds the scissors, as the dressmaker’s dummy jigs up and down.

Ceramic with the highest level of finish

“The challenge was to retain a relatively slim profile despite the additional cam mechanisms for the automata, and the need to give the animation space to move on the dial,” Arnaud Chastaingt explains. “As a result, the decision to top the case with a glass box crystal was an obvious one. That made it possible to keep the case at a relatively contained thickness of 13.65 mm including the glass box, while magnifying the animated scene of the dial.”

The J12 Atelier Couture Automate Calibre 6 also provides a demonstration of Chanel’s mastery of ceramic processes, treatment and finishes, built up over the course of more than two decades. “For the first time we have applied a specific, very gentle chamfer to both the case band and the bracelet links, which further enhances the matte black ceramic. The result is a soft, velvety shape that offers both visual appeal and comfort on the wrist.”

In addition, the setting of the black-treated steel bezel with 48 baguette-cut square diamonds gives the watch a lustre that slims down its silhouette even further.

Over and above its technical and aesthetic ingenuity, this watch wonderfully illustrates the strength and distinctiveness of Chanel’s Haute Horlogerie: allure, purity and high-tech in the service of creation.

Chanel J12 Atelier Couture Automate Calibre 6
Limited edition of 100 pieces. Diameter 38 mm, thickness 13.65 mm. High-strength matte black ceramic case and bracelet, polished caseband fluting and links. Triple folding clasp. Brass hands with black galvanic treatment. Brass dial base. Dial motifs with metal plating and transfers. Black ADLC crown set with a brilliant-cut diamond. Bezel set with 48 baguette-cut diamonds. Sapphire glass box crystal. 18K gold caseback engraved “Limited to 100”, sapphire display back. Water resistant to 50 metres.
Calibre 6 Movement
Manual winding, 72-hour power reserve. Hours, minutes, automata. 355 components. 54 rubies. 28,800 vph (4 Hz), variable inertia balance and shock protection. Diameter 28.40 mm (12.5’’’), thickness 7.7 mm.

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