The Chanel J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse

March 2010

A surprising technique at the service of design.

The presentation of the new complicated J12 watch by Chanel was like a small explosion. In keeping with the brand’s DNA, the new J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse has a case that combines high-tech ceramic with 18 carat gold. Yet, the unusual and contemporary dimensions of its 47-mm dial also command respect. But this is not the only surprising feature of this remarkable demonstration of advanced technology. It is offered in a limited series of only ten numbered watches in black ceramic and white gold, and ten pieces in black ceramic and pink gold, as well as a single timepiece in white ceramic and white gold. Subtly disconcerting, these 21 rare creations have broken with the codes of classic watchmaking to explore a new way to display the time. They also envision the future of mechanical timekeeping with an innovative way of winding its manual calibre, developed exclusively for Chanel by Renaud & Papi.



A new way of winding
Chanel’s desire to offer a watch with a perfectly round case meant that their engineers had to come up with a new place for the crown. The solution was to position the crown vertically rather than the normal lateral placement. By integrating the crown at 3 o’clock on the dial, and therefore at the heart of the movement, Chanel found itself with the difficult task of rethinking both the mode of operation of the winding system as well as the mode of display that was now disrupted by this new technical element.
To maintain a harmonious and purely round design, the brand’s watchmakers integrated the crown into the case, right through the sapphire crystal, leaving only the strict minimum protruding to be pushed by a finger. Once pushed it moves upward, as if by magic, where the crown is used to wind the watch or to set the time easily even when the watch is on the wrist. Before doing one of these operations, it is indispensable to first select the desired function. Thus, to wind the two barrels of this calibre, guaranteeing 10 days of power reserve, you must first press firmly on one of the twelve ceramic inserts that are placed around the bezel of this precious timekeeper. The ceramic insert used for winding is situated at 4 o’clock and the ceramic insert used for setting the time is located at 2 o’clock.

A new way of reading the time
Because it is incorporated into the decorative elements of the watch, this selector mechanism, made of ceramic inserts, is invisible. Of a rare simplicity, it is nonetheless highly robust since the ceramic segments move the interior cones whose sides tangentially push the activating rockers. After pushing the ceramic insert at 2 o’clock, the crown can be rotated to move the hands. It is during this initial contact that the J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse becomes a true objet d’art.
The watch’s display mode, while seemingly conventional at first, is in fact totally surprising. After displaying the first ten minutes in a classic fashion, the minute hand reaches the crown, which blocks its way. It then begins to regress or move backwards. During the following minutes, the minute hand continues its backward journey until it reaches minute 20 on the dial. It makes this reverse journey in exactly ten minutes, thus covering each five minute segment on the dial in one minute of movement. During this strange journey, the hour indicator remains correct but what happens to the minutes display between 11 to 19? The solution was to use a digital display located under a small loupe at 5 o’clock that registers the minutes from 11 to 19. When the minute hand regresses to the 20-minute mark, it then continues analogically along its normal path, while the digital display goes blank.
At first glance, as disconcerting as it is profoundly original, this concept offers its wearer a unique display, letting him concentrate on the various elements in this unusual spatial representation.


A new mode of construction
Let’s talk a bit about the geometry of the space. We must say that the Chanel’s RMT-10 calibre is endowed under its very classic appearance with a tourbillon escapement composed of 85 elements with a very contemporary architecture, due in part to the atypical placement of the retractable and patented crown at the heart of the movement. Very different from the usual display, this 10-day manual-winding mechanical movement features a main plate and bridges made of high-tech ceramic. This is, however, not the only futuristic material used by the brand in this timepiece. Among the 315 carefully finished components, there are various original parts machined from materials of the future. As an example, the bridge of the double barrel and the retrograde mechanism are made of black anodically inactivated (eloxided) aluminium, a metal also used for the digital minute indicator disc. Titanium is employed for the bridge of the trailing minutes. Assuredly futuristic, this watch totally incarnates the orientation Chanel has adopted: place the technical at the service of the aesthetic. And, it is a strong bet that some of the advanced technologies found in this completely original watch will be found in series watches in a few years. Definitely a watch to follow!

Source: Europa Star April - May 2010 Magazine Issue