The now iconic Chanel J12 watch for (mostly) women took another step forward this year in 2014 with the introduction of the new Chanel J12 G10 collection. “G10” is a term used to describe what are now often referred to as “NATO” straps. Some would argue that “G10” is perhaps a more accurate term, as NATO straps have no official relationship with NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). The Chanel J12 G10 incorporates a feminine form of the popular sport strap into the larger J12 collection, and it is rather fascinating to see how a major company like Chanel was able to adopt a legitimate fashion trend into a high-luxury, high-fashion watch.
Let’s take a look at Chanel’s G10 NATO-style straps for a moment. While the majority of NATO-style straps you can buy for a few bucks are nylon or fabric, these certainly aren’t. Going on another tangent for a moment, it is interesting to see how other large high-end watch makers such as Omega and Chopard have also jumped on the NATO strap band wagon by producing their own high-quality NATO-style straps – which can retail from between $100 to over $200 each. That is a far cry from the typical $10 – $50 price most people experience when purchasing NATO-straps online or at watch retailers.
While leather NATO straps are available as well, Chanel goes straight to alligator leather for their Chanel J12 G10 timepieces. The “hardware” (metal parts) are in 18k white gold or steel, depending on the version. Moreover, the hardware is set with diamonds. When I first saw this at Baselworld 2014, I smirked, thinking, “well, now we have jewelry NATO straps.” For this year at least, all Chanel J12 G10 watches have diamonds, which is an interesting departure from the typical “pedestrian” notion around the accessible nature of NATO-straps. Popular among hipsters who like to modernize vintage watches as well as sport watch guys who want to add some color and possible comfort to their sport watches, NATO straps rarely say “luxury.” That is until Chanel decided to adopt the concept of a NATO strap for their own high-end fashion purposes.
Will Chanel do to the NATO strap what they did with ceramic? Rado is more or less credited with being the watch company that made the best seminal use of ceramic as a watch case material in the 1980s. It was not, however, until the early 2000s that ceramic exploded as a watch case material when Chanel’s J12 collection started to become popular. Chanel’s clever and highly fashionable treatment of both black and white ceramic catapulted it into the consumer limelight in a way that Rado was never able to do. Will Chanel have the same magic touch on NATO-style straps when it comes to being eagerly adopted by the world’s finicky population of fashionistas?
Maybe, but with prices starting at about $20,000 it isn’t terribly likely that the debut crop of Chanel J12 G10 watches will hit a stride with consumers. At $3,000 – $5,000 the standard J12 was and is much more accessible than these more luxurious models that focus on diamonds and gold.
The J12 collection has been segmented into a range of styles, sizes, and movement types over the years. Models top out at about 42mm wide and go down to under 30mm wide, I believe. For 2014, there is a single mechanical version of the Chanel J12 G10, and it is 42mm wide in a completely 18k white gold case with a full pavé dial and diamond decorated case. Limited to just five pieces total, it makes sense that Chanel says it is “price on request.” Most J12 watch owners don’t even know about these exclusive high-luxury creations.
The rest of the 2014 Chanel J12 G10 watches are 33mm wide in ceramic, and contain Swiss quartz movements. Interestingly enough, even though all the initial G10 watches are 33mm wide and quartz, Chanel makes them available in white ceramic, black ceramic, or their titanium ceramic hybrid material they call “Chromatic” which is a deep gray color. Options further include the option of either brilliant-cut round diamonds or more angular baguette-cut diamonds (which are going to be more expensive).
Even the hour markers are diamonds or mostly diamonds, depending on the dial style. What you have overall is a look that isn’t formal or sporty, but somewhere in between that someone might refer to as “casual luxury,” with a distinct emphasis on “luxury.”
33mm wide is perhaps a good size, even though most J12 watches are a bit larger. The reason I believe Chanel opted for a 33mm wide size is because with a NATO strap, timepieces tend to wear a bit larger. To illustrate this fact I took some pictures of a Chanel J12 G10 on a semi-willing Chanel representative. You can see how the nature of how NATO straps — with their single piece construction — forces them to extend farther than a bracelet might. So to keep the Chanel J12 G10 watch the most wearable on the highest number of female wrists, the 33mm wide size seems to work best.
For now, the “entry-level” Chanel J12 G10 watches will be those with the brilliant-cut diamonds. The metal elements on the case are steel, and given the shape of the diamonds they are less expensive than the more carat intensive baguette-cut stones. Ironically, brilliant-cut stones are smaller but do tend to be more… brilliant, when it comes to shininess. The versions of the Chanel J12 G10 with baguette-cut stones will be paired with 18k white gold metal elements which includes the strap hardware and bezel on the case (as well as possibly 18k white gold for the caseback which isn’t ceramic on J12 watches).
Chanel still flirts with high-end horology, as they continue to produce watches like the Premiere Tourbillon Volant (hands-on here), as well as other tourbillon models. While men’s models do exist, Chanel’s focus has and will continue to be women’s watches. I’ve actually always been a fan of their men’s watches, and hope that they do release some new ones soon. At its heart, Chanel will always be a very powerful women’s brand. Last year in 2013, I said that in my opinion, the best women’s watch collection of the year was the Chanel Premiere (hands-on here). Pieces like the Chanel J12 G10 play on those strengths rather than try to reinvent the notion of what desirable women’s luxury is.
While much of the watch industry will focus on complicated high-luxury women’s watches for 2015 and beyond, brands like Chanel will always occupy a very safe and prominent position as the brand combines good looks, timeless style, a bit of sporty fun, and a desirable brand name that few other brands can compete with. The Chanel J12 G10 watch collection is priced ranging from $19,500 – $70,000. chanel.com