The Mademoiselle Privé collection of jewellery watches opens a window on the private universe of Gabrielle «Coco» Chanel, revealing the symbols that the great couturière held dear. The collection illustrates Chanel’s watchmaking philosophy: aesthetics before mechanics, a far cry from the pervasive obsession with technical wizardry.
Gabrielle Chanel was drawn to a poetic universe; since 2012 the collection entitled Mademoiselle Privé – two words that were inscribed on the door of her creation studio – has offered a new interpretation, bringing together the métiers d’art of watchmaking and fine jewellery. The camellia (her favourite flower), lion (her astrological sign), comet and feather motifs, as well as the Coromandel lacquered screens with which she decorated her apartments, placed in the hands of master enamellers, engravers, chasers, inlayers and embroiderers, have written a new page in Chanel’s watchmaking history.
The watchmaking division has one major advantage in its métiers d’art-driven charm offensive: the unparalleled worldwide reputation of Maison Lesage embroidery.
“Our gradual acquisition of embroidery, plumasserie, bootmaking and millinery workshops is evidence of our attachment to businesses which share Chanel’s insistence on quality, exclusivity and innovation. We are fortunate to be able to draw on many artistic crafts. From this vast palette we can select the techniques most suited to watchmaking,” says Nicolas Beau, Chanel International Watch Director.
The Mademoiselle Privé collection is enriched with new expertise, its dials employing techniques such as ‘grand feu’ enamelling, carved or inlaid mother-of-pearl, Japanese lacquer, engraving, snow setting and, of course, embroidery.
Launched last year in a limited edition of 18 pieces, the first model embroidered by Maison Lesage using the ‘needle painting’ technique was honoured in the Métiers d’Art category of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. According to the jury, the prize paid tribute to the alliance between Haute Couture and watchmaking.
The embroiderers dedicated around twenty hours to produce each dial. Even more precious, the new models are designed with gold thread, gold spangles, pearls and diamonds. “They could almost be considered one-of-a-kind pieces,” notes Nicolas Beau. “As each dial is hand-embroidered, there are always small variations from one model to the next.”
- 18K yellow gold and diamond case. Dial embroidered with camellias in gold and silk thread, natural pearls and gold spangles. High-precision quartz movement. Black satin bracelet with diamond-set ardillon buckle. Diameter: 37.5 mm.
The new models went on sale last October. The watchmaking division has one major advantage in its métiers d’art-driven charm offensive: the unparalleled worldwide reputation of Maison Lesage embroidery.
“Its reputation is so well-established that, particularly for our clients in Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, these models are their own calling card. For them, nothing could be more natural than to have an embroidered dial on a jewellery watch.” The deliberately understated case, assembled by Châtelain, the Chanel manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds, melts into the background to leave the spotlight for the exquisitely worked dial.
“We have always made it our goal to place technical accomplishment at the service of aesthetics.” This philosophy seems to have gained some following in the watchmaking world: after a number of years where the accent has been placed on movements, gears and extreme complications, watchmakers now appear to be engaged in a métiers d’art ‘arms race’; whether this is a good thing is open to debate (see ES edition 5/14).
“This collection is a long-term endeavour,” continues Nicolas Beau. “We are legitimately drawing from Chanel’s heritage; we have no intention of being dragged into any kind of arms race.” New models, all inspired by the symbols that populated Mademoiselle Chanel’s universe, will be revealed in the coming years. But the métiers d’art will remain focused primarily on enamelling and embroidery.
The main challenge for Chanel’s watchmaking division is to build on the success of its legendary J12, born in 2000, while developing its other pillars.
The main challenge for Chanel’s watchmaking division is to build on the success of its legendary J12, born in 2000, while developing its other pillars, the Première and Mademoiselle Privé collections and continuing to bring out new watch models.
“The J12 was a revolutionary product on two levels,” explains Nicolas Beau. “The watch took ceramic to the level of a precious material in its own right, paving the way for its subsequent success in luxury watchmaking. Then, in 2003, the white version heralded the advent of a major watchmaking trend. When you have an icon of this stature as part of your heritage, you must be particularly careful not to neglect the other collections.”
- 18K white gold and diamond case. Black dial with rotating diamond-set motif. Self-winding Chanel12-WS mechanical movement. 42-hour power reserve. Black satin bracelet with diamond-set ardillon buckle. Diameter: 37.5 mm.
A TOURBILLON TO SURPRISE THE PURISTS
Faithful to its mantra – aesthetics before mechanics – Chanel based its choice of movement primarily on visual criteria. Although the Coromandel models are all automatic, the embroidered pieces featuring the camellia use quartz.
“Its advantage, as well as being more accurate and reliable than an automatic, is that the hands do not need to be centred on the dial. The movement is not a crucial issue for our female clients, however; they are looking for beautiful objects. Sometimes they are persuaded by men to get the automatic model.”
This rejection of Haute Horlogerie dogma has not prevented Chanel from launching grand complications in the past. One such is the Première Tourbillon Volant, developed in association with Renaud & Papi (APRP SA). “This model is the finest illustration of mechanics in the service of aesthetics. For us, a mechanical complication is first and foremost a work of art; its specific function comes second.”
The decision to conceal the tourbillon behind a rotating flower – a camellia, naturellement – nevertheless still managed to annoy the purists. Why design a grand complication if you’re going to hide it? “When this model won the ladies’ watch prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2012, it was the best possible vindication of our watchmaking philosophy.”
Chanel watches are distributed through a network of 200 own-brand boutiques and 400 multi-brand retailers around the world.
“Our retailers are put through a rigorous selection process. Their clientèle comprises mainly connoisseurs. Nevertheless, over time, more and more people are coming to our boutiques specifically to look for a watch. There is even a sector of our male collectors who are taking an interest in our Mademoiselle Privé models, particularly the Coromandel Email Grand Feu, which is sold exclusively in our Chanel Fine Jewellery boutiques.”
Today, for the watch division, the recovery taking place in Japan is helping to make up for the correction of China’s watch market, after years of exponential growth. “Our growth there was managed prudently; we didn’t rush to open scores of new boutiques,” notes Nicolas Beau.
“To date we have ten boutiques in the country. In any case, the slowdown is manifesting itself primarily in shopping tourism, outside China. The recent demonstrations in Hong Kong have also had an effect on sales.”
- Above: Set of two Mademoiselle Privé Coromandel watches, sold as a pair. 18K white gold and snow-set diamond case. ‘Grand feu’ enamel miniatures on 18K gold dial using the Geneva technique and carved mother-of-pearl. Self-winding mechanical movements. 42-hour power reserve. Alligator mississippiensis strap with diamond-set folding buckle. Diameter: 37.5 mm. One-of-a-kind pieces made in Switzerland.
In what are known as the emerging markets, Nicolas Beau has also noticed a change in clients’ attitudes: “They are becoming increasingly well-educated about watchmaking; they no longer buy compulsively, with an eye to their social standing, as they did in the past. We are therefore looking at new ways of communicating with this more specialist and knowledgeable clientèle.”
For Chanel, 2014 was a particularly good year for new departures, particularly with the launch of its new twists on iconic models: these include the Première double and triple row, the J12-365 and J12-G.10 and the Mademoiselle Privé Coromandel, Maki-e lacquer and embroidered Camellia dial.
We trust that the 2015 harvest will reap the fruits of its continuing exploration of new fields of creativity.
Source: Europa Star December - January 2015 Magazine Issue