Chanel shows no signs of slowing down on the occasion of the iconic J12’s 20th anniversary.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

It’s hard to imagine the impact that Chanel’s J12 had when it was unveiled in 2000. Looking like nothing that had ever been released before (it was the first all-ceramic watch by a fashion house), it came in a gleaming black so pure, you could lose yourself in it. I remember stopping dead in my tracks when I first set eyes on it as it lay serenely in the store’s vitrine. In all honesty, I found myself having to take a moment to reflect on whether I “approved” of the design. But once I did, oh boy, did the verdict stand.

Distilling all of Chanel’s house codes in a wrist-sized portion—from its innovative use of material that recalls Mademoiselle’s adoption of jersey and tweed into womenswear vernacular, to its faithful dedication to sleekness and monochromes—the J12 has remained on style-centric must-have lists without losing any of its essence. Aside from the exceptional few (the sporty J12 Superleggera of 2005 and 2010’s J12 Marine come to mind), Chanel’s J12 has remained faithful to its originator, to the point that the collection bears instant identification at a split-second glance, no matter the year of its make.

This year, on the occasion of the watch’s 20th anniversary, Chanel shows that it is still intent on breaking new ground with an encompassing collection of designs for any watch wearer. For the fun-loving individual, there’s the Mademoiselle J12 Acte II with a dangling charm and the J12.20, featuring doodles of the House’s iconic symbols. For the Kardashians of the world is the pièce unique: The J12 Pink Sapphire, with 630 baguette-cut diamonds (33 carats) and 215 sapphires (12.55 carats) to its name. But the true stars of the show are arguably the ones that have taken a more understated approach. Ever the colour chameleon (remember the Chromatic of 2011?), the J12 X-Ray turns Chanel’s obsession with hues on its head with a sapphire crystal case, dial and bracelet for utmost transparency. Then, there’s the J12 Paradoxe, made irresistible to design lovers for its minimalist statement on the full impact of a well-placed line.

Charting the history of the J12 makes for a fascinating read. But the true genius of Chanel lies in its ability to tap the fountains of desirability with every new edition released, according to the House’s raison d’etre: Design above all else.
My Reading Room

From top: Ceramic, white gold and diamond J12 Paradoxe Diamonds; ceramic and steel J12 Paradoxe, $11,500, Chanel. Chinese model Ju Xiao Wen fronts the J12 watch summer 2020 campaign