Interview : Nicolas Beau Global Head of Watches and Fine Jewelry Business Development, Chanel
In welcoming us to Place Vendôme, Nicolas Beau unveiled the new J12 in the company of the Watchmaking Design Studio Director, Arnaud Chastaingt*, and commented on Chanel’s latest investments. *read his interview on worldtempus.com
“We share a common vision of luxury with the Wilsdorf Foundation.”
What’s different about the new J12 compared with the previous model ?
The evolution of an icon is always delicate. The 2019 vintage represents the first radical change in the J12 since its creation in 2000. You may be interested to know that the bottle of Chanel N°5 fragrance has undergone about ten – often imperceptible – changes since its launch, in order to remain the ultimate perfume bottle. Arnaud Chastaingt has been the Director of our Watchmaking Design Studio since 2013. When he creates a watch, he imagines a story about the person who will wear it, and then designs it. An image and words. Arnaud has profound respect for J12 and its creator, Jacques Helleu. He chose not to touch the original design, instead opting to modify 70% of its components – very subtly, sometimes invisibly, from movement to dial and from case to bracelet. His approach is very complex and very sophisticated*, in order to ensure that the J12 remains contemporary. Arnaud adopts an atypical creative approach, where style and design are more important than time measurement.
Why present your Director of the Watchmaking Design Studio at this particular juncture ?
The timing was right, with the new J12, and the announcement of various strategic projects. When Jacques Helleu left us in 2007, we had many major projects in the pipeline. Helleu made no compromises and never second-guessed himself in relation to market demand. When we met Arnaud, we were won over by his enthusiasm and vision. He first drew an aesthetic and then asked the watchmakers to adapt to it. This was particularly striking for the Monsieur watch, as well as with the the Calibre 2 Camélia Squelette whose entirely skeletonized and stylized mechanism forms a 3D camellia flower. With the J12, his request was to create a circle within the rotor so as to reveal the movement. Horological constraints are purely intellectual and must not be a curb on creativity : if something is not feasible, one simply doesn’t do it. Since 2013, Chanel has been honored five times at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève ; it is very gratifying to know that this very prestigious jury with expert knowledge in the field of Haute Horlogerie takes a benevolent view of Chanel.
You also flaunt the fact that you make your own ceramic for the J12 ?
This is a highly distinctive field of expertise in its own right. While many brands choose to outsource in this respect, we also produce our ceramics at Châtelain in La Chaux-de-Fonds and make substantial investments in this technology. We even produce the powders used to make ceramics, all of which is really fascinating. We have developed injection technologies to obtain shapes that are closer to reality, overcoming enormous difficulties because the quality of the injection technology, the powder and firing must be extraordinary so as to meet less than one-millimeter tolerances. There are more basic techniques, but they afford less possibilities.
You have also made new manufacturing investments…
After becoming involved in watchmaking, Chanel internalized the Châtelain manufacturing company, and subsequently the full range of watch exterior and gemsetting skills, thereafter proving itself capable of developing Haute Horlogerie movements in very small series. However, something was still missing : within our vision of tomorrow’s watchmaking, the watch has progressed from being a pure instrument to an instrument that is also a beautiful object. Extremely beautiful creations call for excellent ‘motors’ (in this case, watch movements). We had for many years been devoting much thought to the development of our calibers, and in 2011, Chanel decided to set up an Haute Horlogerie department within G&F Châtelain. Nonetheless, the adventure of industrial partnership is not to be taken lightly. Since Chanel is an independent Maison, it could only be allied with another large independent house, protected from acquisitions. We had the opportunity to discuss this issue with the directors of the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation (editor’s note : owner of the Rolex group), also concerned about perpetuating the production of movements for Tudor. In 2013, it created the Kenissi Company, whose missions consists in developing self-winding calibers for Tudor, as well as for Chanel and Breitling to date. We acquired a stake in this minority company, but one that is sufficient to influence the creations and work over the very long term. We share values of independence, autonomy and a common vision of luxury that allow us to look serenely to the future. The new production plant will open in 2021 in Le Locle.