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High Calibre: The Chanel Watch Inspired by the Camellia

This year, Chanel has followed its first ever in-house movement with a calibre designed specifically for women, the Chanel Calibre 2. We speak to Nicolas Beau, CEO of the house’s watchmaking division, to find out more

Mademoiselle Chanel was never one to do what was expected of her. At a time when the fashion was for flounce and excess, she flouted this in favour of masculine lines, minimal decoration and a muted colour palette.

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Since her passing, her eponymous house has carried on the tradition of going against current trends and expectations. It certainly did that with aplomb when it launched its Monsieur de Chanel timepiece last year. The watch itself, with its jumping hour marker at six and enlarged retrograde minute track, would have been newsworthy enough, but when the press discovered it housed Chanel’s first ever in-house movement, the Calibre 1, everyone was talking about it. 

At this year’s Baselworld, Chanel unveiled the follow-up. Admittedly, the name, Calibre 2, doesn’t really sound like much to get excited about, but don’t be deceived, for this is another incredible feat of watchmaking – a skeleton movement in the shape of a camellia, one of the house’s most famous symbols.

While the name also suggests that Calibre 2 will be very similar to its parent watch, it is significantly different. “We took a completely different approach here,” states Nicolas Beau, CEO of the Chanel watch division. “Calibre 1 was all about style and complexity, while Calibre 2 was much more about beauty and the idea of making a skeleton.”

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While Calibre 1 was designed to highlight the components within the timepiece, the intention was completely the opposite the second time round. It was, as Beau states, “all about pure aesthetics”. The intricate, three-level floral pattern of Calibre 2 has been crafted to conceal the watch’s mechanics, with the wheels hidden within bridges that make up the camellia design. 

“I found mavericks who want to be part of a story, not a big machine”

Calibre 2 makes its debut in the Première watch – the case shape of which was originally modelled on the Place Vendôme – which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. It is quintessentially Chanel – feminine (the case has been set with diamonds) without being overtly girly, and unlike anything else. This isn’t the first time the camellia has featured  in the Première – it was previously used to hide a flying tourbillon, created for the house by renowned watch manufacturer Renaud & Papi.

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“We wanted to create something mechanical, but with the technical element hidden,” explains Beau. “After a few discussions, Renaud & Papi understood we were not trying to impress with teeth and wheels, but with beauty. Creativity is king here; we do whatever we think is right and the technicians need to adapt.”

It is this need to future-proof Chanel’s watchmaking arm that has led to setting up an in-house department, which is responsible for Calibres 1 and 2 and now in the midst of working on Calibre 3. “If it were 1980, I would probably not have invested in movements and continued to work with experts,” says Beau. “However, in this world where we are surrounded by big groups, you can’t really depend on anyone because they could be bought tomorrow. It has been a massive investment, but if you don’t control your production, you open yourself up to issues in the future.”

The man safeguarding Chanel’s future in the watch industry is none other than Romain Gauthier – the legendary watchmaker and protégé of Philippe Dufour – as well as eight other people who work exclusively for the house on movement conception and construction. “When I started, I thought it would be hard to convince great watchmakers to work at Chanel,” says Beau. “But I found mavericks who wanted to be part of a story, not a big machine.” It was these mavericks who embraced what Beau describes as a “crazy” challenge simply to prove that it could be done. 

It almost sounds ridiculous when Beau refers to the Calibre 2 as “basic” and a starting point from which Chanel can develop other time-only movements. “We could call it the 2.1 or something,” he says, in what is perhaps a nod to the classic quilted 2.55 handbag. Whatever does come next, whether that be the Calibre 3 or the hinted-at entirely new women’s watch that will apparently be Chanel’s “vision of the next 30 years of feminine watch design”, you can be sure it will be unexpected. As the house’s founder once said: “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” 

Chanel’s Première Camélia Skeleton watch, from a selection, www.chanel.com