There is a holy place that no one has quite yet reached. A place where metal is totally wear resistant. Where a material like steel would display the same metallic goodness we all love without ever looking scratched, worn, scuffed, or bent. This place is an alcove in the horological fountain of youth – the promised land where watches live forever. Joking aside, this is a serious issue. Buy yourself a close to $8,000 steel Rolex Submariner and you’ll get some of the best metallurgical work in the market. Spend a few days with that new Submariner and it might start to show signs of wear with haste. Darn, no more new car smell…
For me luxury is about things lasting and quality. Screw rare hides, I want things that look nice and will fare as well as Indiana Jones did in the refrigerator after the atomic explosion in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie. Why is that so hard? One of the best materials out there in terms of wear resistance is “high-tech” ceramic. The spacey material used for industrial and high-end watch purposes has little to no relation with our coffee mugs. I think that the two only share being baked. In the 1980s Rado started using a ceramic material for watch cases and bracelet. The material was innovative for being really hard to scratch, and not loosing that glossy luster. Though you were basically limited to shiny black.
When the original Chanel J12 watch debuted in 2000, it really popularized ceramic in a big way. What was their secret? Simple really. Rado was always avant garde in their designs. While the watches had good guts, their designs prevented them from being too mainstream in the Western world. The J12 for was lack of a better term… a modified Rolex Submariner homage, with a classy dial in black or white ceramic. Finally a fit fashion watch with world appeal. This wasn’t a crappy plastic watch that came in “fun colors.” It was a well-made watch with a mechanical movement in a material that felt great. Still… if you wanted the durability that ceramic offered, you are more or less stuck with glossy black or white.
Then watchmakers started to experiment with forms of matte or brushed ceramic. The idea was to try and emulate the finishes that could be achieved with metal. This is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t offer a metal looking watch that will last forever. There are many people to whom the allure of a $10,000 watch becomes more immediate if they know that watch will look cherry for decades.
The latest step in that direction is being offered again by Chanel for 2011 with their J12 “chromatic” watches. Mixing titanium and diamond power into the ceramic compound mixture, they are able to get an only slightly glossy version of the J12 that has the color of titanium. Finally ceramic looks more like metal, with the same durability properties. “Ceramic Titanium” as they call it is a bit like the next step in the evolution of wear resistant compounds that will help high-end watches cosmetically last much, much longer. If you need any more proof that ceramic is really the key material of the next decade, just look at all the high-end brands that now rely on the material for at least parts of some of their watches.
The 2011 Chanel J12 Chromatic will more or less mirror the other collections in sizes and variations. The larger model is the 41mm wide men’s model that contains an ETA automatic movement. There are also a 38mm wide version with the same movement. This model will also have optional an baguette or round-cut diamond covered bezel (with matching diamond hour indicators). Below that is a 33mm wide model that contains a Swiss quartz movement.
Together the collection is not something that revolutionizes the Chanel J12 line, but is a further evolution in the concept and a step closer to ageless metal. I truly feel that in the near future when buying a high-end timepiece, part of that investment is the peace of knowledge that you new watch will remain visually outstanding for a long time.