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Chanel - J12 Marine: After All, Why not?

Chanel J12 Marine: After All, Why not?

Chanel isn’t the kind of brand you’d expect to find under the sea, which is precisely why it took the plunge

It’s the first genuinely unisex watch and the first groundbreakingly chic piece to be 100% ceramic. What is there left to say about the J12? It hasn’t aged a bit since it was first launched in 2000, and it’s still pretty much out there on its own in the watchmaking landscape. Strictly confined to black and white, it’s an upstart, divisive piece that pays no heed to fashion or trends. There’ve been many versions of the J12, of which the dive watch version is the least-well-known. The J12 Marine was released in 2010 at the late lamented Baselworld watch show. Sadly, despite its undeniable qualities, it’s no longer listed in the catalogue. 

Back to nautical roots

Designed by Jacques Helleu in 2000, the J12 originally drew its inspiration from a boat in the America’s Cup yacht race. In this respect, the J12 Marine marked something of a return to the origins of the model, seeking to answer the question of what a traditional J12 might look like if it were destined for the worlds of sport and performance. 

Achieving that did however require some fundamentals to be tweaked. Not least of these was its diameter: the J12 Marine boasts an ample, 42-millimetre case (as well as a 38mm alternative). Its finish is also distinctive: while Chanel has always made much of the gloss finish on its ceramic pieces, the J12 Marine has a matte satin aspect. This makes it both challenging and seductive: a kind of stealth version of the J12 that conceals its sophistication beneath a finely-crafted adventurer style. Besides, the matte case finish only serves to highlight the polished brilliance of the bezel. Another feature that sets it apart from other J12s is that the J12 Marine’s bezel is of course navy blue. While this might be a natural choice for a dive watch, it’s also a significant departure for a timepiece whose reputation has been built around being confined to black and white. 

Case-Strap integration at its finest

In another major change, the strap is rubber. This might previously have been unthinkable on a J12, traditionally ceramic throughout, but it goes perfectly with the Marine version. The strap’s angular design highlights the case’s sporty appearance. Chanel designed a strap that extends a long way up, merging with the case surround virtually to the point of becoming a cuff strap.

It’s a smart idea offering further proof of the J12’s versatility. Back then, it was fun to imagine what the concept might produce if pushed to its logical conclusion: a Full Black J12, perhaps, mounted on a leather cuff strap? Beauty would have become the Beast, with a hard-rock, he-man aura; the J12 Marine already bore the seeds of the idea.

J12 Marine: After All, Why not?

J12 Marine © Chanel

In keeping with the DNA

As befitted a watch in the J12 collection, the case was ceramic. By happy coincidence, the material is impact and scratch-resistant as well as non-magnetic, all of which are important for dive watches. 

And of course the piece naturally has all the required attributes of a genuine dive watch: large, luminous hour-markers and hands; a 300-metre depth rating; and a unidirectional bezel with a marker at 12 o’clock. The movement uses an ETA 2892 base. The only shortfall is a flat, steel caseback that bears little trace of all the feeling visible on the dial side.

New Horizons 

At the end of the day, the J12 Marine opened up promising avenues, demonstrating the multiple uses to which the original J12 of 2000 could be put. When new, the piece retailed for €3,300. With this charming watch available in black and white versions, Chanel proved that with relatively few changes, all still in line with its DNA, a conclusive result could be achieved in both technical and style terms.

It would be tempting to do the same thing again for other fields; now that a dive watch has been done, what about a J12 pilot watch? A motorsport J12? Or perhaps a connected J12? Doubtless the Manufacture on the Rue Cambon still has plenty of other sketch plans up its sleeve. Hopefully some of them will one day be revealed — and prove to be just as apposite as the J12 Marine was. 

This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the divers watch since 2000 in The Millennium Watch Book - Divers watch, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Divers watch is available in both French and English here:


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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.

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