CHANEL, The Great White

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December 2011

Gold is yellow, pink, white, and sometimes even has a blue tint. Platinum is pale grey with a Nordic glow. Steel comes in a more intense grey with a vivid brilliance. But, there is no mineral or alloy in nature that is white, pure and intensely white. As a result, white had become nearly taboo in “real” watchmaking. It was only associated with inexpensive materials confined to small seasonal and ephemeral watches. In a word, white was only for fashion.

That is until…

…until 2003, when Chanel introduced its already famous J12 clothed in brilliant white. (It was born black in the year 2000.) Chanel? A white sports watch by Chanel? The watch community could not believe the audacity of what it was seeing. Yet, the public would ultimately decide.
What the watch pundits did not understand was the magic of ceramics. More precisely, they did not understand the magic of the colour “white” that came from a material born nearly 30,000 years ago, during the Palaeolithic era. The oldest known art of man, ceramics was discovered well before glassmaking and metallurgy. It thus can be considered a “noble” material in all senses of the word. It is also a material that, in the 21st century, has earned a reputation for high-tech sophistication, with its many applications in the aerospace and medical industries.
This “technical ceramic,” as it is also called, produces a material with a low density and is therefore lightweight, but which has a hardness factor well above that of steel (only sapphire and diamond are harder). It is also resistant to the most intense thermal shocks and to the most aggressive and corrosive chemicals. It is a material that does not age, is highly scratch resistant, has insulating properties, and is biocompatible.
Even beyond these remarkable characteristics, ceramic is incredibly sensual, and it absorbs body heat. A comfortable material with a silky feel, the unique and subtle interior glow of ceramic evokes—if we must find an equivalent material—the essence of ivory.
In 2003, against all expectations, the high-tech, pure and spotlessly white ceramic Chanel J12 would become a new aesthetic standard in watchmaking. From then on, white would be one of timekeeping’s noble colours. Two years later, in 2005, Chanel struck again with a watch that would firmly establish the reputation of this noble material. With its white ceramic J12 Tourbillon, Chanel took its first steps into the sacrosanct circle of haute horlogerie. For the very first time, a tourbillon was presented in this high-tech material. Yet, even more impressive, the main plate of this exceptional timekeeper—available only in a limited series of 12 timepieces—was also made in white ceramic. It was a technical revolution that produced the first grand complication mounted on a 2-mm thick ceramic plate, machined to a tolerance of 1/100th of a millimetre, and visible at the back of the watch under a transparent sapphire crystal. It was also an aesthetic revolution that combined, for the first time, the complexity of a tourbillon and the mysterious silky shimmer of white ceramic. With its bracelet, also carved out of this lightweight material and as flexible as it is resistant and timeless, the J12 Tourbillon reconciled the demands of mechanical watchmaking with great wearable comfort.

Limited and numbered edition of 12 watches. 18-carat white gold and high-tech* white ceramic. Manual-winding movement, Tourbillon CHANEL 05-T2 on a high-tech white ceramic main plate (a Chanel exclusive). Power reserve: 100 hours. 21,600 vibrations per hour. 10½ line calibre. Movement height: 5.3 mm. Encasing dimension: 28.50 mm. 17 sapphires. Number of components: 171. Screw-in crown, water-resistance to 50 metres. Triple fold-over clasp in 18-carat white gold. Diameter: 38 mm. *High technology material, highly resistant to scratches.

Today, Chanel has taken another step with the presentation of its new J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse (J12 RMT) in white ceramic. This remarkable watch sums up the technical and design achievements of Chanel in the domain of white. Here, the white ceramic not only clothes the piece but also constitutes the major component parts of this unusual haute horlogerie timekeeper. As a reminder, the J12 RMT, a veritable concentrate of innovations, mixing horological complications with world firsts, integrates ceramic at the core of a complex movement in the most advanced manner yet. Thus, this very special retrograde watch does not have a lateral crown but a retractable vertical ceramic crown whose functions—time setting or winding of the mechanical movement—are controlled by two push-pieces, also in ceramic, placed respectively at 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock on the bezel. These two mobile ceramic inserts seem, at first glance, like two of a dozen ceramic inserts that form the bezel.

CHANEL, The Great White

Because of its position, the ceramic vertical crown effectively stops the minute hand in its tracks, thus preventing it from going past the ten-minute mark. But, starting at this point, the hand retrogrades peacefully and travels over to the 20-minute mark, where it again takes up its normal course. During this interval, the minutes between 11 and 19 are indicated by a counter located on a small minute disc, thus “digitally” indicating the time. And of course, the disc is also in white, as are the power reserve indicator (placed at 12 o’clock) and the large screw-in bridges that support the gear train.

CHANEL, The Great White

The white, the great white, this wonderful white that Coco Chanel described as going with everything (just as for black) underscores the vigorous architecture of the J12. It goes right to the heart of the form.
Apart from its obvious physical qualities, ceramic makes the watch delightfully lightweight. Wrapping gently around the wrist, its bracelet is composed of 48 curved white ceramic links. Individually polished, they confer an exceptional softness to the bracelet, thus providing a feeling of warm comfort. This warmth comes from the fact that ceramic is a conductive material and it absorbs and maintains the heat of the body part that it touches. Its very particular brilliance, which we might qualify as an interior glow, combined with the silky polishing, make the timepiece truly magical. The watch is forgotten on the wrist.
Launched in 2000 in black ceramic, the J12 becomes resolutely masculine and sporty with its vigorous lines, scratch resistance, and sturdiness. In 2003, with the introduction of the white ceramic timekeeper, an additional step was taken. Not only did Chanel dare to enter the world of sport, but it also broke all taboos by introducing the colour white into the world of masculinity. Yet, the sportiness of the piece does not detract from its elegance. With its balanced proportions, its determined lines, and the confidence of its design, the J12 exudes a remarkable overall harmony.
This sportiness is accentuated even more with the J12 Chronograph that, in the words of its creator, is “a superlative J12, ready for all uses”. Driven by a highly reliable self-winding Swiss mechanical movement and certified by the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute), the J12 Chronograph displays hours, minutes, and seconds, as well as chronograph functions and the date. In addition to this reliability, the case of the J12 Chronograph confers upon the timepiece an additional air of sportiness. The screw-in case back provides the high-tech scratch-resistant white ceramic case with water-resistance to 200 metres (20 ATM).
Also in ceramic are the two push-pieces activating the chronograph functions (start, stop, return to zero), the screw-in crown, and a crown protector. The case also includes a unidirectional rotating toothed bezel made of steel. Since reliability and readability go hand in hand, its dial offers numbers in relief made of Delrin along with luminescent hour markers and hands.

CHANEL, The Great White J12 CHRONOGRAPH High-tech* white ceramic. Self-winding mechanical chronograph movement, COSC** certified. Power reserve: 42 hours. Functions: hours, minutes, seconds (counter at 3 o’clock), date, and chronograph (12-hour counter, 30-minute counter, centre seconds). Unidirectional rotating bezel. Screw-in crown, water-resistance to 200 metres. Triple fold-over clasp in steel. Diameter: 41 mm. *High-technology material, highly resistant to scratches. **Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres.
Camille Lacour, Chanel’s new watch ambassador, wearing a white J12.

Even though the ceramic J12 was initially created for men, it is clear that women love it, too. This is undoubtedly due to the particular qualities of the white ceramic—its ability to harmoniously combine with the most precious of metals, such as gold, and of course with the sparkle of diamonds. Ah, diamonds set in white ceramic—what an amazing union between the fire of the earth that, over aeons of time, transformed black carbon into the hardest and most transparent material, and the fire of man that transforms oxides, powders, and granules into a material as perfect and perennial as ceramic.
This blend of remarkable materials and the resulting plays of light confer upon the jewellery versions of the white ceramic J12 a level of brilliance like no other. By bringing together ceramic, diamonds, and precious metals, Chanel has broken with traditional styling and has opened new creative perspectives.
The addition of gold, diamonds, and precious gemstones to the J12 only adds to its architectural balance. Whether discretely set with diamonds around the bezel or radiating with the brilliance of baguette diamonds, the J12 demonstrates the extent of its versatility. Always different, but always itself, it succeeds in creating multiple effects while maintaining its own recognisable form. Undoubtedly, this is one of the characteristic signs of an “icon.”
Since 2008, Chanel presents another one of its icons, the Première watch, available in the same white ceramic, a material that, in only a few short years, has become immensely popular because of its intrinsic qualities. Combined with white gold or steel, the white ceramic of the Première timepiece demonstrates that it lends itself perfectly well to the subtlest of alliances. Because this noble, luxurious, smooth and shiny avant-garde material is perfect for setting off the precious, fine and feminine silhouette of this watch, which elegantly recalls the small watches of the 1930s.
In 2011, almost 25 years after its creation (1987), the Première is now available in perhaps one of its most audacious versions: with a white lacquered dial and a stainless-steel case set with 52 diamonds on a very fluid triple-wrap bracelet that is 53 cm long and consists of links in steel and white high-tech ceramic.

CHANEL, The Great White J12 JEWELLERY Limited and numbered edition of 100 watches. 18-carat pink gold and high-tech* white ceramic. 46 baguette-cut diamonds ( 4.4 carats). 8 diamond indicators. Self-winding mechanical movement. Power reserve: 42 hours. Functions: hours, minutes, seconds and date. Screw-in crown, brillant-cut diamond ( 0.15 carat), water-resistance to 100 metres. Triple fold-over clasp in 18-carat pink gold. Diameter: 38 mm. *High-technology material, highly resistant to scratches.

Source: Europa Star December - January 2012 Magazine Issue