The Art of Craft: How Chanel Refined One of Its Most Beloved Watches to Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Its Release

The J12 X-Ray, which was released in March, marks a new step for the luxury fashion house.

The J12 X-Ray watch. Photo courtesy Chanel.
The J12 X-Ray watch. Photo courtesy Chanel.

The Art of Craft is a new series in which Artnet News shares the story behind the making of a special design object.

While Chanel may be revered the world over for its fashions, it has also long maintained a serious watchmaking initiative as well.

In 2000, the French luxury house introduced a new concept to the conservative world of timepieces with its J12 watch, a model swathed in monochromatic ceramic that was conceived by its then-artistic director, Jacques Helleu. With a distinctly graphic, sporty sensibility, combined with a link-bracelet-style strap, it was perfect for women on the go.

Making a departure from the more traditional styles of the ‘90s, the J12—produced first in black, and then more memorably in white—brought a sense of modern luxury to the market and spurred on a series of similar styles that collectively became known in watch circles as “the ceramic boom.”

The watch became one of the house’s best-selling items in 2000, and was photographed on the wrists of celebrities and power players including Naomi Campbell and Keira Knightley.

Twenty years later, it retains its loyal following, and Chanel has slowly introduced new editions with increasingly innovative movements and design features. Last summer, for example, Chanel celebrated the release of a stainless steel version on a boat in Shelter Island (the J12 series takes its name from a class of racing yachts). Among the attendees at the event were young fashion icons like Billie Eilish and Maude Apatow.

Its most recent edition, the J12 X-Ray, released in March, is nothing less than a work of art.

Crafted almost entirely from sapphire crystal (including the watch strap, with each link carved meticulously from individual precious stones), the model was conceived to provide a clear-eyed view into the movements of Chanel’s new Caliber 3.1, a hand-wound movement base plate beneath the sapphire dial, which allows its inner workings to be seen from both the front and the back. The plate, timer bridge, and cog bridge are additionally made from sapphire, and fade away to reveal a delicately embroidered latticework of cogs. 

The bezel of the J-12 X-Ray watch. Photo courtesy Chanel.

The bezel of the J-12 X-Ray watch. Photo courtesy Chanel.

Each component of the movement plate is painstakingly rendered with exacting patience and skill, and is crafted over the course of an entire week. Additionally, the 38mm case includes a white-gold bezel encrusted with 46 lustrous baguette-cut diamonds, bringing the carat count to a grand total of 5.46.

The design process, spearheaded by Arnaud Chastaingt, the director of the Chanel Watch Creation Studio, took months to plan and about four years to execute. While the sapphire casing and jewels dramatically transformed the watch’s appearance, Chastaingt was conservative in his alterations to the movements, incorporating slight but important changes, like narrowing the bezel and hewing the noble hands in white gold. Its lettering also now features Chanel’s sleek typeface, pulling the design together more cohesively. Overall, the watch takes a total of four months to assemble.

Considering how much care and time goes into the creation of each timepiece, it’s not surprising to learn that the model will be limited to just 12 pieces worldwide, clocking in at a cool $626,000 apiece. It’s a worthy item, in other words, for a 20th-anniversary celebration.

See more images of the J-12 model below.

The transparent nature of the J12 X-Ray model allows wearers to see its movements from the front and back. Photo courtesy Chanel.

The transparent nature of the J12 X-Ray model allows wearers to see its movements from the front and back. Photo courtesy Chanel.

The timepiece, including the strap, is crafted almost entirely from white sapphire. Photo courtesy Chanel.

The timepiece, including the strap, is crafted almost entirely from white sapphire. Photo courtesy Chanel.

A closeup of the J12 X-Ray watch. Photo courtesy Chanel.

A closeup of the J12 X-Ray watch. Photo courtesy Chanel.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share