J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse
When technical prowess bows to aesthetics
The Watch Quote™ - March 17th, 2010
Chanel J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse - 18 carat white gold - black ceramic - Limited edition of ten numbered pieces
Once upon a time there was a round watch. Perfectly round, with no side winding crown to spoil the perfection of this roundness.
In 2000, to create a black watch, perfectly black, Chanel turned to ceramic, the only high- tech material capable of achieving this. It was logical for Chanel to put the question of this round watch, perfectly round with no crown, to one of the most creative teams in fine complications - the Giulio Papi team at APRP (Audemars Piguet Renaud Papi).
An authentic finely-mechanical “complication” was a must if the J12’s tenth anniversary was to be celebrated in fitting style: a way of marking a new stage in Chanel’s career at the heart of fine watchmaking.
The first J12 tourbillon was launched in 2005. This was first in the history of watchmaking - combining a tourbillon with a ceramic watch which also had a ceramic mainplate.
Having acquired a taste for this fine watchmaking, the J12 gave itself a “manufacture” movement in 2008 (calibre 3125, developed in partnership with Audemars Piguet with an innovative ceramic oscillating weight).
2010 - how to devise a fine watchmaking J12 totally in line with the designs of the House of Chanel? How to turn this desire for a perfectly round complicated watch into reality? How to marry Chanel tradition and Swiss micro-mechanical tradition? Guilio Papi, author of some of the most attractive neo-complications in recent years, took up the Chanel challenge.
Immediate response - move the crown!
Chanel J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse - 18 carat yellow gold - black ceramic - Limited edition of ten numbered pieces
Why not put it on the dial, something never tried before? This immediately raised the problem of the hands - how to make them move round the dial with this crown in the way? This in turn created a further problem - a raised crown on the watch. Why not a vertical retractable crown which would be even more daring?
Just because it’s never been tried doesn’t mean it can’t be done, especially when the Chanel and Giulio Papi teams are working together. It was therefore necessary to invent, in a tourbillon movement, a minute hand capable not just of moving around the dial but also around the crown right on the dial itself.
The only way - the return journey! Move the minute hand forward until it butts up against the crown, then reverse it until it is positioned on the other side of the crown.
In this case, if the hand moves forward then goes into reverse to pick up its travel, what happens to the accuracy of the watch? How can it give the time during this retrograde interval?
As the hand can no longer indicate the minutes, figures - digital display - step in in a magnifying aperture located between 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock, an ingenious idea which in no way disturbs the rate of the hour hand.
The name of this watch is beginning to take on meaning: Rétrograde for the minute hand which reverses its travel for ten minutes during which, at each revolution of the dial, the hand returns to its position under the crown - i.e. between 10 and 20 past each hour, with the minute counted in figures in the magnifying aperture at the bottom of the dial - and Mystérieuse for the mysterious workings of this dual analog and digital display. It is a highly technical and very aesthetically-pleasing watch complication.
Simple to devise but perhaps not so simple to produce! All the more so as this sequentially retrograded hand, duplicated by a digital display of minutes, is an absolute first in watchmaking history. Just like the vertical crown built into the dial, which is deactivated by pressing it flush with the crystal or activated by finger pressure to “release” and manipulate it.
To summarise, what happens every hour?
- For the first ten minutes, hours and minutes are read very traditionally in the middle of the watch.
- At the tenth minute of the hour (i.e. at 2 o’clock on the dial), the minute hand reverses its rotation and turns anti-clockwise. It is therefore moving backwards and will take ten minutes to return to its traditional position at the twentieth minute (4 o’clock on the dial). For this counter revolution of 300 (50 min. x 6/min.), it “regresses” at the rate of five minutes of dial every minute.
- During these ten minutes of retrogradation, every minute passed can be read on a disc engraved 11 to 19 in a magnifying aperture. This digital disc only moves slowly during this interval of moving backwards. It remains in neutral (no figures) during the fifty minutes of the normal rotation of the minute hand.
- After the ten minutes of moving backwards, reading the time returns to normal. • This moving backwards of the hand - a “sliding” reversal in its rate - has no adverse effect on the accuracy of the watch, unlike the traditional system of retrograde hands, which requires coiling a spring and therefore an excessive consumption of power.
- At 11 o’clock, a power reserve per hand indicates the operating time for the movement until it is next wound manually (the movement is designed to operate for ten days, once two parallel barrels are fully wound).
And what other mechanical subtleties are still hidden
in J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse?
- The vertical crown has to be pressed to make it usable - it is normally lowered in stand-by position (functions disconnected). It then rises out of its housing.
- To set the time correctly, a vertical ceramic push-piece concealed in the bezel decoration is pressed: located at 2 o’clock, this push-piece is used to move the hands forward to set the hour and the minutes (including those between 10 and 20, with an accelerated retrogradation speed). The push-piece at 4 o’clock is pressed to disconnect this time setting function.
- To transfer to winding mode, the system is activated by pressing the vertical push-piece at 4 o’clock: the crown is turned to wind the movement. Fifty turns are needed to wind both barrels fully. This can be checked on the power reserve.
- To deactivate the vertical crown, it is pressed back into its housing where it remains blocked until next required.
- Do not miss the monolithic bridges and the ceramic mainplate, with its superb design on the back of the watch.
Guilio Papi’s team has won its wager. This J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse is not just a piece which respects the Chanel style and values, it is also a truly complicated watch, both mechanically - it is the first time that this type of retrograde hand has been attempted - and aesthetically. It involves a triple complication in the strictest sense of the word - tourbillon, retrograde minute and clutchable crown. This combination is a world first, worthy of entry in watchmaking annals.
The size of the case (47 mm) quite clearly intends this innovative tourbillon for a masculine audience, but without ignoring the “couture” subtleties of Chanel design: attention to the slightest detail, concern for the line, the taste for being “spot on”, the rejection of easiness. With a new learning curve for the watchmaking team working on this J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse - tactility, an entirely new exploration field for watchmaking, which has never before used the tactile approach or sensory perception (other than visual) in its watches.
Chanel wanted a complete re-think of the complication for its tenth anniversary with its own vision of mechanical watchmaking and watch aesthetics. Not quite breaking with tradition, the J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse opens up a new perspective on perpetually contemporary watches.
Chanel J12 Rétrograde Mystérieuse - 18 carat white gold - white ceramic - Limited edition of one numbered piece