People may or may not have noticed the changes, and that was exactly what Arnaud Chastaingt was aiming for when he set out to adapt the style of the J12 to the current times, after 20 years of existence. This is indeed more of a facelift than a revolution, involving initially imperceptible changes that should nonetheless endow the brand’s best-selling watch product with a new touch fresh enough to take it serenely through the next two decades.
The model under scrutiny in this test bench picks up the aesthetic codes, definition and color of the black ceramic original. Fundamentally, the most radical change is the movement that will automatically imply aesthetic adjustments. While the diameter of the case remains unchanged at 38mm, endowing it with a universality that abolishes the notion of gender so dear to watchmakers, its thickness has been slightly increased, an effect softened by the now gently curving case middle. A sapphire crystal caseback has been chosen to highlight the Manufacture-made caliber. The entire case is made of ceramic, whereas the previous versions were fitted with a solid steel caseback. The crown is 30% smaller. To detect the other tweaks, it is advisable to play a “spot the difference” game in order to list them accurately. While ceramic is heavy by nature, Chanel has managed to reduce its weight compared with previous models and its moderate size contributes to the undeniable wearer comfort of the J12.
Previously powered by an ETA 2892, the J12 now proudly unveils its in-house caliber. The three central hands and the disk-type date display do not imply any aesthetic modifications and despite its generous 70-hour power reserve, its COSC certification and the design of the oscillating weight evoking the brand’s previous creations, it is clearly competing in the same category as its illustrious predecessor. It thus achieves the same results and the same frequency of 28,800 vibrations/hour, while its increased thickness enables the incorporation of a mainspring guaranteeing its autonomy, as well as a tungsten oscillating weight ensuring improved torque and hence greater efficiency. The reasonable price of this basic version and the guaranteed commercial success imply consistent and perfectly honorable industrial-scale production, but which will not especially thrill readers accustomed to reading this column. One might even be forgiven for wondering if it was worth fitting the sapphire crystal on the back. Whatever the case, its precision timekeeping and reliability are more important than any purely aesthetic considerations.
The COSC certification and the five-year warranty that now accompany the J12 are testimony in themselves that the objective has been reached and even easily surpassed in terms of precision timekeeping and reliability. The last key element for such a watch is its user friendliness. Amping up from 40 to 70 hours of power reserve, the J12 will now proudly “survive” an entire week-end off the wrist. Water-resistant to 200m, the J12 is definitely the perfect watch for daily wear over many years.
By treating its star model to a facelift, Chanel’s thinking heads have been smart enough not to interfere with the essence of what has made the J12 so successful for the past 20 years. The design has thus been adapted so as to preserve the identity of the icon and perpetuate its virtually unassailable status. One should also salute these decision-makers for not having succumbed to the siren song of upscaling, often driven by excessive confidence rather than by the voice of reason. So while the J12 will doubtless not send any chills down the spines of technicians, real collectors or yours truly, it will impress them for having found its target despite several technical and aesthetic constraints and while maintaining exemplary cost control (and therefore sales price) that could well serve as an example for the centuries-old stakeholders on the more traditional side of the watchmaking industry.