Chanel’s J12 Turns 20

Chanel’s J12 Turns 20


Always in motion, the J12 is transformed and reinvented without ever losing its identity. The watch has travelled through time to turn 20 with all the boldness that built its legendary status.

Discover the icon that is as modern today as on the day it was born.


Launched in 2000, the J12 is turning 20 years old this year. First unveiled in black followed by white three years later, it sparked a horological breakthrough. Back then, the concept of fashion brands delving into watches was still new — it was Chanel who helped pave the way for other fashion brands to start their horology arms.

It was created by the late Jacques Helleu who was then-artistic director of the house. His idea was to create a watch that was “timeless, sporty and all black”.

The J12 straddles the line between feminity and masculinity. It was inspired and named after the sporty, refined silhouettes of the 12m-long single-masted J-Class racing yachts in the America’s Cup.

Inspired by the sporty, refined silhouettes of the racing yachts in the America’s Cup, the J12 was also named after the 12m-long single-masted J-Class yachts that were considered the prime racers of the 1920s and ‘30s. That sense of elegant adventure led to a watch that is at once audacious and sophisticated.

For Chanel, design always comes first. While other watchmaking brands choose to emphasise their technical expertise, Chanel has never been shy about the fact that creativity and aesthetics are paramount, and that top-class techniques are always developed to be at the service of design.

J12 Retrograde Mysterieuse (2010)
J12 Tourbillon Volant Squelette (2015)
J12 XS (2016)
J12 Mademoiselle (2017)

The J12 is today considered an icon not just because it has become instantly recognisable, but also because it helped spark many watchmaking trends — including the all-black watch, the use of highly resistant ceramic, and perhaps even the oversized boyfriend watch trend for women.


The all-black watch might be commonplace now, particularly among men’s watches, but the trend was unheard of when the J12 was being created. In 1926, Gabrielle Chanel brought black into women’s wardrobes — she created the now-famous little black dress, at a time when black was only worn by servants and people in mourning. So when Jacques Helleu was designing the J12 in 1999, it was natural for it to be “timeless, sporty, and all black”.

The other important colour for Maison Chanel was white, which was not only the antithesis of black, but supposedly reminded Mademoiselle Chanel of the white headdresses the nuns wore during her childhood in an Aubazine monastery. An all-white version of the J12 was introduced in 2003 — creating yet another distinctive look — and the two colours became part of the defining hallmarks for the collection.

With J12, Chanel elevated ceramic to the rank of precious metal and catapulted its use into the mainstream. It remains the perfect material to communicate that sense of sporty and stylish ease that characterises the collection.

To achieve the highest standards, Chanel hones its ceramic in-house with stringent quality control to achieve exceptional durability and aesthetics that will withstand the test of time.

Last year, it received a makeover courtesy of Arnaud Chastaingt, the director of Chanel’s watch creation studio who also created the Boy.Friend and the Code Coco watches. He had the task of revamping an icon, which was arguably even more difficult than inventing an entirely new watch.

During the revamp, everything but the buckle was changed — tweaked in some small way. The bezel was subtly modified, as were the numerals and the links on the bracelet. But, as you can see, the more things change, the more they stay the same. It retains its same sporty elegance — just a more refined version of its old self.

The biggest step forward is the debut of an in-house movement, the Calibre 12.1, a fruit of Chanel’s investment in Kenissi. It features a 70-hour power reserve and oscillating mass in a perfect circle, one of the graphic signatures of Chanel Haute Horlogerie.

To make sure that the movement is both beautiful and technically superb, Chanel acquired a share of movement manufacturer Kenissi, who developed the Calibre 12.1.

J12 TURNS 20

For 2020, Chanel’s J12 is re-emerging with a bang, with an entire year’s worth of special moments to mark its 20th anniversary — none of which should be missed.


Leading the charge is a playful new take on the J12 and a tribute to the many other icons of Maison Chanel, J12.20 features illustrations of 20 other symbols and references from the brand, including the 2.55 bag, a camellia flower and even the house’s famous tweed jacket. Punctuated with 12 diamonds, the anniversary piece is limited to 2020 pieces – no prizes for guessing why

Now the real test, which are your favourite icons?

J12 X-Ray

Neither black nor white, but captivatingly transparent, its case and bracelet are made out of clear sapphire glass and the bezel is set with dazzling baguette-cut diamonds. This is the first time a watchmaker has created a strap made entirely out of the material, which is notoriously difficult to machine. Even the movement, a brand new one designed by Chanel’s own Swiss manufacture, has transparent elements. The plate, timer, bridge and cog bridge are all made out of sapphire glass, and fade away against the backdrop of watchmaking rubies and delicate cogs. Limited to just 12 pieces worldwide.

J12 Paradoxe

With the sharp line of delineation between the two dominant colours, it almost seems as though the watch has been sliced into two — which is precisely what Chanel did when constructing the case. The two separate elements are mounted onto a steel frame, which also forms the support for the sapphire caseback. So is this watch black, or white? Therein lies the paradox. Either way, you no longer have to choose between the two.

J12 Mademoiselle Acte II

Here she is again, the eternal muse of Maison Chanel. Dangling playfully from the winding crown, Mademoiselle Gabrielle Chanel is dressed in her signature outfit – tweed suit, classic pumps and hat – forged from diamonds and gold. Limited to 20 pieces only in black or white ceramic, the bezel radiates with the force of 46 baguette diamonds amounting to almost 4 cts.


For Chanel, measuring time is all about the seconds. Not because watch precision is measured down to the seconds, but because many of life’s most important moments are often down to just seconds. Just listen to these 7 muses as they reminisce about their last 20 years.


“For me, 20 years is never too long for anything.”

Liu Wen dreamed of becoming a model since her early childhood spent in the Chinese city of Yongzhou. When she was still a teenager, she decided to change the course of her destiny and bravely moved to Beijing to try her luck. For a short time Liu Wen worked as a tour guide, and at the age of 17, entered the “New Silk Road Model Contest.” Her life has never been the same since. Although she did not win the competition, she began working as a full-time model just a few months later.

Liu Wen has since been featured on covers for the most prestigious fashion magazines and began appearing in runway shows in 2008, notably under the aegis of Karl Lagerfeld for CHANEL. “At the beginning, I didn’t really know anything about this industry. So I undoubtedly appeared a bit robotic in my mannerisms. I was criticized particularly for smiling too much. Yet I still do this even today!” One year later, and she has participated in over 74 fashion shows in Paris, New York, London and Milan.

In 2012, the prestigious New York Times dubbed her the first bona fide supermodel in the history of Asian fashion. The following year, she made it on the list of the Top 5 Highest-Paid Models and is the first model of Asian descent to have achieved this. In 2017, she also became the first Asian model to ever appear on the cover of American Vogue.

Chosen by CHANEL in 2015, she has been one of the brand’s Ambassadors since 2017 and was one of the faces in the 2018 “Les Beiges” campaign. The young girl from Yongzhou with four million Instagram followers has managed to turn her crazy dream into a dazzling reality.


“20 years is not enough to do all the things I want to do.”

Ali MacGraw is a legendary American actress, having starred in many films from the 1960s and 70s, one of Hollywood’s Golden Ages, “dominated by freedom and optimism in a way that made nothing seem impossible,” as she so eloquently describes it. It was an ideal time for a young woman to follow her dreams. With an American father of Scottish descent and a Hungarian mother, she graduated from the prestigious Wellesley College, and, at age 22 she began her career at Harper’s Bazaar. Diana Vreeland was the fashion editor of the magazine at the time, which eventually led Ali’s path crossing with Gabrielle Chanel. She then worked at Vogue assisting photographer, Melvin Sokolsky.

Very quickly, her natural beauty and grace earned her a place in front of the camera. She rapidly became a highly sought after model whose “less is more” look with barely-there makeup created a popular trend among women desiring a natural look.

In 1965, one ad changed the course of her entire destiny – she posed for CHANEL N°5, which she became the face of until 1971. Thanks to this campaign, she was spotted by an agent who contacted her to see if she was interested in making movies.

She made her first film appearance in 1968 in A Lovely Way to Die co-starring alongside Kirk Douglas and Elli Wallach. The following year, she landed her first major role in Goodbye, Columbus, adapted from a collection of novellas by Philip Roth, which was chosen for the official selection at the Venice Film Festival. She won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year for this performance. In 1970, her role in the moving melodrama by Arthur Hiller, Love Story, won her the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress as well as an Oscar nomination.

The film was a resounding success worldwide and the relationship that she formed on-screen with Ryan O’Neal became legendary. Ali MacGraw then starred in another cult film, The Getaway, a crime thriller by Sam Peckinpah. And while filming, she met Steve McQueen whom she married in 1973. While taking a brief step back from acting, she collaborated again with Peckinpah for The Convoy in 1978 and worked under the direction of Sydney Lumet in Just Tell Me What You Want in 1980.

More recently, she appeared on television in the series Dynasty, and made her Broadway debut in 2006 at age 67, in the drama Festen. And in 2016, she performed in the play Love Letters alongside Ryan O’Neal. Additionally, she published an autobiography entitled Moving Pictures, which was a sensational success worldwide. This free-spirited woman is a committed animal welfare activist and has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for several years, far away from the hype of Hollywood.


“Twenty years is a long time to have regrets without trying.”

Kim belongs to the Korean New Wave. She stepped into the limelight in 2012 with her award-winning interpretation in the voluptuous movie A Muse. Her career continues with appearances in many dramatic series. In 2019, she became one of CHANEL ambassadors in Korea.


“When I was 20, there was no difference between dreams and reality. I was living my dreams.”

Born in Rheinberg, Germany and the oldest of four children, nothing would have predicted Claudia Schiffer’s foray into the world of fashion. As a teenager, she aspired to become a lawyer like her father. However, everything changed one night in 1987 when she was spotted by a modeling agent at a nightclub in Düsseldorf.

She flew to Paris and quickly became one of the most in-demand supermodels in the world. Over the span of her career, she has appeared on the covers of over 700 of the most prestigious fashion magazines. And she has walked in fashion shows for the industry’s top designers. Claudia Schiffer embodies the decade of the 1990s like nobody else, a decade when models became social phenomena. And in 1993, she became the highest paid model in the world.

As the face of Cristalle perfume in 1990, CHANEL Watches in 1995, and a fashion Ambassador from 1990 to 1997, she has had a lifelong love affair with CHANEL, and was regularly photographed by Karl Lagerfeld, particularly for the The Little Black Jacket project.

Her extraordinary photogenic quality has also led her to appear in a variety of films. She made her film debut in Prêt à Porter by Robert Altman playing herself. In 1997, she appeared at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in The Blackout directed by Abel Ferrara, co-starring with Matthew Modine and Béatrice Dalle, and later appeared in Black and White with Robert Downey Jr., in Love Actually with Liam Neeson, and made a cameo appearance in Ben Stiller’s hilarious comedy Zoolander. Claudia Schiffer remains an icon in the world of fashion still today. She is timeless.


“If I could relive one second from the past 20 years, maybe the moment that I got to be the bride in the CHANEL show a couple of years ago.”

This great admirer of The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind and Peau d’Âne was bit by the acting bug at the age of 15. At first it happened by chance, when her long-time friend Harley Quinn Smith was co-starring with her father Johnny Depp in the film Tusk that he was shooting at that time. The on-screen reunion of the two friends was conceived as a simple cameo, yet it would have a profound effect on her future. While filming, Lily-Rose discovered a love for acting, which was confirmed the following year with a larger role offered to her by Kevin Smith (director of Tusk) in Yoga Hosers.

She then sought to grow her budding career on the other side of the Atlantic, first with La danseuse directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto, selected at the Cannes Film Festival for the Un Certain Regard category. In it, she plays dancer Isadora Duncan, and her performance won her a nomination for the César Award for Most Promising Actress. She then appeared in Planetarium directed by Rebecca Zlotowski in which she co-starred with Natalie Portman.

Two years later, Lily-Rose’s greatest hopes were fulfilled with her moving performance in Les Fauves directed by Vincent Mariette and L’homme fidèle, the story of a love triangle directed by Louis Garrel.

In The King directed by David Michôd, a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays Henri IV and Henri V, she plays the role of Catherine de Valois.

In just a few years’ time, Lily-Rose established herself as a rising star in both French- and English-speaking cinema. Her love affair with CHANEL began in 2015 with a beautiful moment: she made her first official appearance with her mother Vanessa Paradis in New York at the restaging of the Métiers d’Art Paris-Salzbourg show. In the same year, she was chosen as the face of the CHANEL Sunglasses campaign and was also featured in the advertisement for CHANEL No. 5 L’Eau. After closing the 2017 Spring-Summer Haute-Couture show in the bridal gown and walking arm-in-arm with Karl Lagerfeld, she became the Ambassador for the lipstick lines Rouge Coco Gloss, Rouge Coco Lip Gloss and Rouge Coco Flash. “Our bond goes so much deeper than just a professional relationship,” the actress/model said, who remembers the CHANEL tote bags that she borrowed from her mother to play dress up with. “CHANEL has to be first word I learned to read. There are people in this team who have watched me grow up. I have absolute confidence in them and their counsel. They have always looked out for me in the most gracious, generous and warm way. I’m very lucky to have been acquainted with this brand starting at such a young age.”


“20 years in just one second: colorful.”

Naomi Campbell made her first on-screen appearance at the age of seven when she was featured in the music video for Is this love? by Bob Marley. As the daughter of a ballet dancer, she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and studied the art of ballet at the Italia Conti Academy and the Stage School in London. Yet her life changed course completely at age 15 when the director of a modeling agency spotted in her in the street.

Just a few weeks later, she appeared for the first time on the cover of a magazine, none other than British Elle. Her career as a top model then skyrocketed, boasting more than 800 magazine covers to date.

She has since been photographed by the most famous photographers in the world (Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Ellen von Unwerth, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindbergh, etc.), and has appeared in countless fashion shows, notably those by Karl Lagerfeld for CHANEL. Naomi Campbell remains one of the most highly regarded and influential figures in the fashion world.

Achieving supermodel status in the 1990s, she became the first black model to appear on the covers of Vogue Paris and TIME Magazine’s European edition.

In addition to her modeling career, she has appeared in television roles for cult series such as The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Absolutely Fabulous, Empire and American Horror Story. She has also been featured in unforgettable music videos such as Freedom! by George Michael, Erotica by Madonna and Girl Panic by Duran Duran. Naomi Campbell is most importantly a woman who is driven by a sense of activism and uses her international fame to benefit several humanitarian causes she has undertaken with Nelson Mandela. In 1998, four years after they first met, Mandela referred to her as his “honorary granddaughter.”


“20 years is too short to love each other.”

Vanessa Paradis was only 14 when she made her sensational debut in the world of music with her single Joe le Taxi which topped the charts in 1987. This was the start of a rich musical career consisting of seven albums (M et J, Variations sur le même t’aime, Vanessa Paradis, Bliss, Divine idylle, Love Songs, Les sources), countless Victoires de la Musique awards, and a series of equally impressive and inspiring collaborations. Etienne Roda-Gil, Serge Gainsbourg, Lenny Kravitz, Alain Bashung, Matthieu Chedid, Benjamin Biolay and Samuel Benchetrit have all left their mark on this artist’s career. In addition to music, Vanessa Paradis also maintains strong ties with the world of cinema. For her first film role in 1989, she portrayed a vulnerable teen in love with one of her teachers in Noce Blanche, directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau. Her captivating performance received many accolades, including the Romy Schneider Award, as well as the César Award for Most Promising Actress. Co-starring with Gérard Depardieu, she played a young woman in search of her father in Élisa, then starred in Un amour de sorcière, with Jeanne Moreau, to whom she paid a beautiful tribute by performing Le tourbillon de la vie during the opening ceremony of the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. She then had two unforgettable roles in films directed by Patrice Leconte: Une chance sur deux, in which she brilliantly co-stars with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon in their return to the big screen, and La fille sur le pont co-starring with Daniel Auteuil, which won her a nomination for the César Award for Best Actress in 2000. She also achieved great popular success with L’Arnacoeur, and in recent years, has starred in many “auteur cinema” films, including projects by John Turturro (Apprenti gigolo), Guillaume Gallienne (Maryline), Sharunas Bartas (Frost), Samuel Benchetrit (Chien), and of course, Yann Gonzalez with the vibrant Un couteau dans le cœur, which, in May of 2018, was recognized by her first selection to compete at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1991, she became the face of Coco perfume in an advertisement shot by Jean-Paul Goude, in which she swung from a trapeze in a spectacular 15-meter tall bird cage. Throughout the years, Vanessa Paradis has created a strong bond and demonstrated sincere dedication to CHANEL and Karl Lagerfeld, who photographed her for the project The Little Black Jacket. Vanessa Paradis has also been the face of the Cambon, New Mademoiselle, Coco Cocoon and Girl handbags, as well as the Rouge Coco and Rouge Coco Shine lipstick ranges. She is a muse unlike any other.

Every second counts — so what are your life’s most important seconds?