When Chanel released the J12 watch in 2000, it rocked the buttoned-up world of luxury timepieces. Conceived by the house’s then artistic director, Jacques Helleu, the design was cast in matte monochromatic ceramic, a material that gave the women’s accessory a fresh, graphic athleticism. “There was such authority to the design that you either loved it or hated it, but you could not be indifferent,” recalls Arnaud Chastaingt, who became the director of the Chanel Watch Creation Studio in 2013, following a 10-year tenure as a designer at Cartier. “The best creations work that way. That’s a sign of success for me.” Available first in jet black, and later in white, the J12 combines the functionality of a sports watch with the elegance of a link bracelet style. It proved wildly popular and has since joined the N°5 fragrance and the 2.55 handbag as one of Chanel’s most iconic creations.
When Chanel introduced the watch, Chastaingt had just arrived in Paris, after studying applied arts at Strate School of Design in Sèvres, and the moment is forever etched in his memory. It’s understandable, then, that he hesitated to revisit the design ahead of its 20th anniversary. “I had two options: the first was to change everything, and the other was to change nothing and continue with other creations,” he says. In his typically radical way, he opted to do the former and remade 70 percent of the J12’s original components. The new watch looks more modern than ever, but, to an untrained eye, many of the changes might be hard to pinpoint. “My job wasn’t to revolutionize, Jacques had already done that,” Chastaingt says. “For me, it was more about evolution. In some ways, it is easier to start from scratch than to retouch a creation like this.”
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