For Baselworld 2016, luxury fashion house Chanel returned some of their wristwatch-making focus to men with the debut of the “Monsieur de Chanel.” With a novel design and movement produced in-house (in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland), using some parts made by very good local Swiss component suppliers, this surprise move by the Parisian brand should cause even the most staunchly conservative watch fans to raise their eyebrows.
Chanel has an interesting history with men’s watches that began in roughly the year 2000 with the release of the famed J12 collection. Housed in a black or white ceramic case, the Chanel J12 was originally a model for both men and women, but the collection quickly adopted a mostly female wearer base, even though it solidified black ceramic as a modern material for many men’s watches that would come after it.
The most recent attempt by Chanel to cater to the men’s watch market was in 2010 when the brand released the J12 Marine (hands-on here) – a diving watch variant of the Chanel J12 which was an aesthetic success (in my opinion) but unfortunately a reported sales disappointment. Since the J12 Marine, Chanel hasn’t released any new men’s watch collections, with perhaps the exception of an occasional J12 collection line extension here and there. Instead, Chanel focused heavily on expanding the world of Chanel J12 watches for women, as well as its historic and very attractive Premiere range. Chanel also debuted its mostly very high-end Mademoiselle Prive women’s watch collection, as well as the more youth-oriented Boy.Friend watch range which, in my opinion, exists as an evolutionary arm of the Premiere.
For 2016, Chanel returns to men’s watches in a very serious way with a haute horology timepiece that attempts to combine the brand’s refined Parisian sense of style with a modern technical prowess horological aficionados demand. In my opinion, the debate over whether fashion houses can “legitimately” come out with a high-end timepiece is over. There are just too many brands which people can think of as fashion houses that have too many nice watches. If there is a timepiece you otherwise like but feel hesitant about fully liking because of the name on the dial, then you are being close-minded in an seriously ironic way. Any company be it a small independent or a major fashion icon should be able to come out with a good timepiece that is purely judged on its merits.
With that said, it is true that for the most part male consumers in the East are those who are drawn to high-end timepieces from high-end fashion brands. Western men are statistically a bit more conservative with their choice of watch brand – so let’s see if Chanel’s new Monsieur can attract any converts. I’ve personally been waiting six years for Chanel to come out with a serious new timepiece, and the time has finally come.
The Chanel Monsieur is quite pricey, costing in the vicinity of $35,000 for an 18k gold watch with a moderate level of complexity. With that said, there isn’t too much quite like it on the market, and the movement is rather impressive. Let’s just consider the Chanel Monsieur a watch for serious collectors who aren’t too concerned about spending a premium for a new product from a brand with a built-in “prestige cost.”
With that said, I think traditional watch lovers will be keen to learn that one of the major part suppliers for the Chanel Monsieur’s Calibre 1 movement is the extremely talented Romain Gauthier. In addition to his eponymous Romain Gauthier timepiece brand, Mr. Gauthier (who is an micro-engineer and self-taught watchmaker) has been and continues to be a supplier of very high-quality specialized mechanical watch movement components. You can see our hands-on coverage of his rather fantastic Logical One watch here. Watch lovers with a keen eye can see some of his signature talents in the parts of the Chanel Calibre 1 movement. Everything is almost totally custom, from the style of the gears to the “circles within circles” aesthetic design of how the gears, wheels, and bridges are engineered to work together. The collectors’ value in a watch like the Chanel Monsieur is not a mere sum of the parts, but in the unique design and difficulty in producing the parts that go into the movement’s construction.
Modernism is a major theme in the movement which uses a range of silver-colored to deep gray-colored components of various finishes. While the movement benefits from a host of hand-finishing, its design is meant to evoke our modern times rather than elicit the sense of looking at a purely traditional “old school” timepiece movement.
Manually-would, the Chanel Calibre 1 has a power reserve of 72 hours operating at 4Hz (28,800bph). Note the star-style spokes in the balance wheel as well as the tapering spokes in each of the gears – as these are good examples of the type of expensive custom parts made especially for the Chanel Monsieur’s mechanical movement. Those with a prejudice against the movement simply because it says Chanel would have absolutely no problems if it said Audemars Piguet, Bulgari, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, or for that matter, Romain Gauthier. I say this because I know many watch lovers tend to shy away from “fashion label watches” no matter how nice they are – and I feel that such sentiments are naive, preventing timepiece fans from enjoying many true combinations of art and technique.