“If one were to compress the J12 watch’s two decades of innovation into an epigram, the sort of motto that old noble families engrave under their coat of arms, ‘Technique at the service of design’ is the maxim to which the J12 has been true.” That’s how watch expert and Robb Report contributor Nick Foulkes sums up Chanel’s truly iconic timepiece in the introduction to the new book, Chanel Eternal Instant, dedicated to its instantly recognizable watch. Today, the J12 is as relevant and stylish as the day it was first introduced.
Though that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The brand has a knack for reinventing its signature styles over and over, while managing to create a level of hype and desire with seemingly no endpoint. From its quilted bag and little black jacket to ladylike black-tipped shoes and pearl jewelry accented with double Cs, the French house has managed to capitalize on styles that would normally be best suited for your grandmother, turning them into the must-have wardrobe pieces for every generation.
The J12 is no exception. Each year, Chanel manages to roll out a new version that is cooler than the last. Case in point: Last year’s entirely sapphire crystal model (Robb Report‘s 2020 Best of the Best pick for Women’s Watch of the Year) and the two-tone ceramic versions. The models not only one-upped 2019’s standard black and white editions with brand new movements, but they also outdid centuries-old established watchmakers by delivering new designs that looked unlike anything else on the market.
The new tome pays tribute to the watch’s evolution in roughly 132 pages of mostly black and white images. They feature celebrities like longtime friend-of-the-brand, Vanessa Paradis, as well as Ally McGraw and musician J.D. Samson wearing the famous accessory. The watch also appears on its own, in creative shoots featuring it peeking through the snow, buried in a sea of baguette diamonds, or appearing to hang suspended from a crane. It’s a visual journey whether you are a J12 junkie or simply a photography buff.
For watch enthusiasts, Foulkes offers both historical and cultural context. You might, for instance, know that the late Jacques Helleu, the former artistic designer of Chanel fragrances, beauty, watches and jewelry, was the man behind the design. But did you know that his grandfather had painted the social elite of Marcel Proust’s Paris at the turn of the century and developed a personal relationship with Gabriel Chanel at France’s tony Deauville resort? Or that he began his career at Chanel at the ripe age of 18 and remained there for half a century until his death in 2007? He was, according to Foulkes, hired by Chanel co-owner Pierre Wertheimer to take care of “the problems of taste.” Mission accomplished.
If nothing else, you can consider it a pricey catalog to pore over while considering your next J12 purchase.
Chanel Eternal Instant retails for $87 and is published by Thames & Hudson.