Chanel The interview with Arnaud Chastaingt, part 1
The director of watchmaking design studio takes us through the J12's 20-year history.
The J12 is turning 20 this year. Could we say it's the best year of its life?
In 2020, the J12 is celebrating 20 years of creation. I have a very special relationship with this watch. It has fascinated and inspired me from the first day. It has never lost its edginess, and it's made a mark as one of Chanel 's most iconic creations. This timepiece has always completely lived up to the free and lighthearted attitude that made it a legend. It stormed into the watchmaking world as a fashion diva. It has now become my muse. I made sure it celebrated its 20th birthday in style. I designed four new looks for it with a single obsession to “Rock the icon!”.
The J12 PARADOXE has reinvented the two-tone concept in watchmaking. It's an interplay between black and white, executed with a sleight of hand. What was the impetus for entering that realm?
The duality of black and white is a Chanel hallmark. “Black has it all, so does white. Their beauty is absolute. It’s the perfect harmony,” Gabrielle Chanel would say. In 2000, the J12 came on the scene wearing a black ceramic dress. Three years later, it unveiled itself dressed in white ceramic. For 20 years, the J12 would basically be either black or white. In 2020, I am fusing both colors together in the same creation. This almost surreal hybrid approach resulted in the J12 PARADOXE. From a watchmaker's perspective, the J12 PARADOXE is a new twist on the graphic two-tone concept in watchmaking. In this one, the marriage of gold and steel is replaced with a combination of black and white ceramic. Symmetry becomes asymmetry. Most importantly, though, the two-tone concept is also a signature, a graphic hallmark that is cherished at Chanel. For the first time, it switched from “black or white” to “black on white.” This watch's architecture has a unique vertical asymmetry.
Its aesthetic is the result of a highly technical feat accomplished by cutting and fusing two ceramic cases of different dimensions. Assembled together, they form one casing. I love how this watch looks under the sleeve of a sweater. You get an initial glimpse of the silhouette’s black curves, but the paradox is revealed as soon as you move your arm, creating a surprising and pleasantly distorted effect. The J12 PARADOXE is not a conventional creation. This watch possesses a sort of abstract quality that I quite like, perhaps it's surrealism! It’s not a watch that goes with every wrist and I can tell you right now, it will need a certain amount of audacity to really pull it off. I also made a decision to express this duality in the world of Haute Horlogerie. On this occasion, white ceramic moved aside for a stroke of baguette diamonds, much like a necklace set against the asymmetrical cut of a black ceramic dress. It creates an exquisite paradox.
J12 Paradoxe © Chanel
As for the J12 X-RAY, it plays a game of transparency. It takes the black and white pairing concept to new heights. In addition to its remarkable technical feats, this watch lays claim to non-color. It is also a worldwide first for watchmaking because all the links on the bracelet are sapphire. How did you come up with the idea?
I dreamed of taking off the J12’s black and white dress and, for lack of a better term, stripping it to its bare essence. The J12 has a perfect figure and I don’t think it has anything to hide. I made a radical choice. The J12 X-RAY unabashedly shows off its curves and midriff, its movement and its bracelet with total transparency. A precious timepiece that wouldn’t take it all off without a baguette diamond necklace around its bezel. Now undressed, it accentuates the lines of the 3.1 Caliber, a new in-house movement that was designed and developed for the J12 X-RAY. It’s bespoke, a study in Haute Couture, made according to the rules of Haute Horlogerie. Developed and assembled by the Chanel Manufacture, the mounting bridge and gear bridge are in sapphire to allow the light to come in. This transparency reveals the watchmaking latticework, with flawless finishing. The J12 X-RAY does away with black and transcends white. It seizes light from color, not duality. It's all the colors and non-color at the same time. It's also a creation that defines the uniqueness of Haute Horlogerie at Chanel. I just kept the bare minimum out of a desire for sophisticated, irreproachable simplicity.
J12 X-RAY © Chanel
Does the J12 X-RAY symbolize your vision of Haute Horlogerie at Chanel ?
Traditional watchmaking originally took on this “Haute Horlogerie” label to categorize the family of watches with complications. To begin with, I don’t really like the term “complications.” Why make it complicated when you can make it simple? Personally, I prefer dreaming about “watch clarity” instead of “watch complication.” To be honest, I do not understand watches that require you to have an engineering degree to tell the time! If Gabrielle Chanel were alive today, she would probably reject such creations. She believed that simplicity and comfort were a guiding philosophy. In 2013, the year I joined the House, Chanel completely brought me to terms with that philosophy. Chanel has a very idiosyncratic definition of Haute Horlogerie. When I hear the term “Haute Horlogerie” now, I think more about “Haute Couture” or “High Jewelry.” Our watchmakers are skilled craftspeople and I use their know-how like I would if I were working with a jeweler, a glyptician, an embroiderer, an enameler or a glove maker. Chanel Haute Horlogerie is an inspiration-rich playing field where the operative words are excellence, edginess and the exceptional. As I see it, it's not time that sets the pace at Chanel , it's allure. Haute Horlogerie for me is the ultimate expression of this vision. At Chanel, the magic is the same whether it's Haute Horlogerie or Haute Couture.
On a different note, the J12 is also celebrating its 20th birthday with a collection called J12∙20. Can you let us in on its secrets?
In honor of the J12’s 20th birthday, I created a custom dress for it called J12∙20. I did this by gathering together the House's great symbols. Almost obsessively, I drew a fresco that was a random aggregate of Chanel symbols. It was a graphic illustration comprised of camellias, pearls, thimbles, diamonds, comets, lions and lots of other things. The motifs seem to have an erratic balance, but in a structured composition. At first glance, the J12∙20 shows a diagonal line of silvery motifs intertwined with the original design of the dial and the bezel.
If you look closer though, the eye can make out a mosaic of 20 stylized symbols, a microcosm of Chanel codes to crack! The scene is dotted with 12 diamonds. This collection also has two Haute Horlogerie creations that go for a total look to celebrate the occasion with 20 randomly placed diamonds, complete with the symbols faithfully crafted in the true tradition of cloisonné enamel.
The J12 and Mademoiselle Chanel are together for the second time this year. Their first encounter in 2017 resulted in two 38 mm limited series in black or white ceramic, and a dial featuring a drawing of Mademoiselle Chanel with articulated arms that displayed the hour and minutes. What is the new face for MADEMOISELLE J12?
Indeed, the J12 and Mademoiselle Chanel are old friends. After first meeting in 2017, the pair is making a comeback. In 2020, a stylized effigy of Mademoiselle in the form of a tassel is now performing a balancing act. Mademoiselle is fastened to the J12's crown wearing an embroidered suit of diamonds and white gold braiding. For this occasion, the J12 has lit up its bezel with a trail of baguette-cut diamonds. This delicate game is MADEMOISELLE J12's second act.
It appears that Mademoiselle has inspired you for other creations?
Yes, this year Mademoiselle salutes the watch collection, making an appearance and representing Chanel time on a variety of creations. The lady in her suit celebrates the J12 twice with great fanfare and jubilation. She also sets the pace on a clock pendant, dancing along a sautoir and taking a break on a button. Her persona, her spirit, they inspire me. With these creations, my goal is to portray my vision of Chanel time, its free-spirited mood and occasional audacity. I love these creations; they fuse contemporary design with traditional crafts. This is remarkable and decidedly Chanel time.
On that note, could you tell us about the clock pendant and sautoir named quite humorously COCO O’CLOCK?
Mademoiselle also appears on a clock pendant. A stylized version of her has taken over the dial and she is the one telling the time. The jewelers crafted her down to the last detail in white gold, and the gemsetters embroidered her suit and hat with diamonds. In the truest cloisonné tradition, Anita Porchet, a renowned enamel artist, outlined her timeless silhouette in white and black enamel. Maison l’Epée designed a special caliber for this creation nestled inside an obsidian cabinet of rare intensity that powers Mademoiselle's dance with precision.
The sautoir is even more daring...
I also portray this encounter on a piece of jewelry. I chose a sautoir to express this Haute Horlogerie creation. In this piece as well, I designed and interpreted Mademoiselle Chanel as the keeper of Chanel time. But time is not revealed at first glance. If you want to read the time, you must get her permission. Mademoiselle loves secrets and this one is well-guarded. You could say she keeps it under her hat!
Through her life, Gabrielle Chanel embodied strength, character and a fierce desire for independence. Maison CHANEL, avant-garde and constantly innovative, has come down through the decades to become an unmistakable symbol of distinction, elegance and refinement.Find out more >
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