While most watchmakers are tasked with marrying function and form, high fashion brands with their own haute time lines must also consider their customers’ longing for all things beautiful. In 1987, the heyday of conspicuous consumption, Chanel introduced its Première watch – an elegant chain strap bracelet coupled with a long, squared off face. The piece was bold, like eye-catching costume jewellery. Although the brand wasn’t the first luxury label to enter the watchmaking game (Dior, for example, introduced its watch line in 1975), Chanel quickly established itself as a player in the “haute horlogerie” market, and has since launched five different watch styles including the decadent Chanel Première Camélia Skeleton that debuted at Baselworld in March.
For the 30th anniversary of its foray into fine watchmaking, Chanel employed a floral motif that’s likely familiar to the brand’s devotees (a white camellia bloom now accents many Chanel shopping bags). “For the first movement, we worked a lot on complexity,” says Nicolas Beau, Chanel’s international watch director, of the initial in-house engine developed for the brand’s first men’s watch. “Here, our focus was really beauty and decoration.”
The new watch’s functions may be rudimentary, giving hours and minutes only, but the devil is in the details. The Première Camélia Skeleton’s face is transparent both front and back, revealing the intricate floral detail that comprises the watch’s Calibre 2 movement. “Usually when you do a skeleton, you have your movement and then you skeletonize it, so to speak,” says Beau. Instead of this procedure, the small team who initially developed the watch’s composition at Chanel’s workshop in Paris’s Place Vendome decided on the bridge’s design first – in this case, the swirling petals of a camellia – before the following stages of design, development and assembly at Swiss manufacturer Châtelain. “It’s a crazy way to do a movement,” Beau notes. “For watchmakers, bridges are there to hold the wheels.”
In the Première Camélia Skeleton, the bridge possesses much more than the movement; the skeleton itself boasts up to 246 brilliant-cut diamonds, depending on which of the three models you’re wearing. The limited-edition style – there are only 12 in the world – has a total diamond weight of 22.66 carats, and its 18-karat gold bracelet is set with 282 baguette-cut diamonds (its buckle has 30 brilliant-cut diamonds, too). To call it opulent would be an understatement. “When you wear something like this,” Beau notes, “you’re wearing a work of art.”
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