Chanel made its entry into the very closed circle of haute horlogerie in 2005 with its J12 Tourbillon. This complication was followed in 2010 by a very original and amazing timepiece, the J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse. A world first, this grand complication was combined with a tourbillon, a retrograde minute hand, digitally displayed minutes, and a retractable, vertical crown.
Today, armed with this patiently acquired watchmaking expertise, Chanel is taking an additional step by offering women the opportunity to enter into the world of grand mechanical complications. But, Chanel oblige, this first feminine incursion into the universe of timekeeping complexity must, of course, be as poetic as it is mysterious, as pure in appearance as it is complex and exceptional in its construction. It is thus natural that the brand turned its attention to the tourbillon, but not a traditional tourbillon, a flying tourbillon.
The particularities of a flying tourbillon
Traditionally, the carriage of the tourbillon—in which the regulating organ of the watch, i.e. the escapement, the balance and the balance spring, is suspended—oscillates between the base of the movement, the plate, and the upper bridge that together support the carriage on its axis.
In a flying tourbillon, there is no upper bridge and the cage seems to be whirling around weightlessly. But this freedom is not exempt from technical constraints because, even without the upper bridge, the flying tourbillon must still be able to withstand shocks at least as well as a traditional tourbillon. It is therefore necessary for the watchmakers to pay even closer attention to the precision of the tiny construction and to the three-dimensional assembly of the carriage. As the brand always does with its haute horlogerie pieces, Chanel worked closely with the constructors, engineers, and master Swiss watchmakers at Renaud & Papi (APRP), the advanced research and development arm of Audemars Piguet, to develop this flying tourbillon.
A floral carriage in motion
Chanel decided to introduce this flying tourbillon into the heart of the Première watch, and this union was carried out with the utmost grace and discreet refinement. While many complicated watches show off their complexity by boldly displaying the movement, the Première Tourbillon Volant maintains a certain degree of reserve. The flying tourbillon in the Première functions nearly in secret, its carriage having been transformed into a camellia, the favourite flower of Mademoiselle Chanel. The stylised motif of the camellia rotates magically above a very pure dial in ceramic.
While the eye might catch a glimpse of the complexity of the elements that make up the flying tourbillon in between the movements of the camellia, it is especially drawn to the floral spectacle.
The carriage of the flying tourbillon was de-signed to be as large as possible, in order to emphasise the animation. The edges of the camellia’s petals are made of metal and the heart of the petals is filled with a lattice that gives the flower its delicate texture.
In order to keep the carriage as lightweight as possible, this lattice was designed using the Mimotec process. (This process is used to make micro-components that offer an exceptional degree of precision as well as superlative surface finishing.) The external elements that make up the camellia are screwed in at three points directly onto the flying tourbillon carriage. At the centre of the tiered flower is a cabochon delicately set with diamonds.
The camellia makes one revolution per minute, with the petals indicating the passage of the seconds. The hour and minute hands have been placed off-centre higher up on the dial. The baton-shaped hands, characteristic of the Première timepiece, have been slightly raised since they must pass above the flying flower. Moving around a black ceramic dial, the hands have also been decorated with diamonds, which represents a feat in itself, given their size and the meticulous manner in which they are set. The impression of depth is reinforced by the shadow formed by the CHANEL signature.
A place for light
While preserving the perfectly balanced proportions, the case of the Première Tourbillon Volant has taken on new dimensions: 28.5 mm by 37 mm, as compared to 19 mm by 26 mm in the traditional Première. Its stylised geometry is on two levels. A bezel is fitted on top of the case middle and surrounds the entire perimeter. The corners have been truncated, conferring additional dynamism to the piece, providing plays of light that emphasise the beauty and value of the rotating floral sculpture.
The two levels of the case also offer the possibility of creating many variations for stone setting. The base of the case can be set with vertical baguette diamonds, for example, rectangular along the entire perimeter except on the truncated corners, which are highlighted by square baguette diamonds, and the side of the bezel can be set with round diamonds. Alternatively, the bezel can be set with baguette diamonds or diamonds combined with coloured precious gemstones, thus mixing the fire of their colours and sparkle, and creating many different harmonious arrangements. The possible variations and combinations are endless.
On the side of the case, the large crown is also set with baguette or round diamonds. Its size permits easy winding of the manually-wound mechanical movement (TDC 10) that drives the Première Tourbillon Volant.
With 40 hours of power reserve, this movement has been mounted on a rectangular bottom plate, decorated with a blackened Côtes de Genève pattern. The other finishing touches are exceptional: the various component parts are chamfered, drawn and circular grained by hand in the highest tradition.
Finally, to maximize comfort for the wearer, the Première Tourbillon Volant is mounted either on an alligator leather or satin strap that is perfectly integrated into the case. The integration of case and bracelet offers remarkable suppleness. Available in three different lengths, the bracelet comes with a fold-over clasp whose cover is set with baguette diamonds.
The watchmaking complexity of the Première Tourbillon Volant, combined with the extreme artisanal care in the stone setting and finishing, make this a very rare object. In 2012, Chanel has thus planned to create 20 of these remarkable timepieces set with diamonds.
Source: Europa Star April - May 2012 Magazine Issue