Hands-On: Chanel J12 The Inseparables “Only Watch”

The first J12 off the line.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the J12 this year, Chanel gave its signature timepiece a microscopic yet significant makeover, both inside and out, while preserving the distinct identity that has contributed to the watch’s two-decade success.

For Only Watch 2019, the brand created J12 The Inseparables – the very first examples of the new-generation J12 to roll off the line, distinguished by a unique case and bracelet finish. And the pair also happen to be one of the most affordable lots in the auction.

The brand has approached these unique iterations in the same manner it approached the revamp – with subtlety and restraint. The pair of watches are both rendered in smooth, matte ceramic, with a tone-on-tone dial. And both are equipped with a special black-coated execution of the new Caliber 12.1 produced by Kenissi, the movement maker that is part owned by Chanel.

Matte finish

The most apparent difference between the Only Watch pair and the standard version is the matte finish of the ceramic case and bracelet; the standard models have a glossy, polished finish. While the J12 is primarily a women’s watch, especially in this smallish size, the finish of the Only Watch editions come across as more masculine – and also more refined and discreet.

And as it always has been, the case measures 38mm. It is made entirely in-house by the brand, thanks to its ownership of G&F Chatelain, a reputed case and buckle manufacture, whose clients include Richard Mille, MB&F and Bell & Ross.

Though the style is identical to the first generation J12, the new case has been reworked and improved from a technical perspective.

The case is now one-piece and entirely ceramic (with a sapphire window on the rear), as opposed to the sold, steel back of the first generation. According to its designer, Arnold Chastaingt, the back was a particularly vital upgrade because most people store the watch flat on its back, resulting in the bracelet clasp scratching the back on the first generation. Now that will no longer happen as the new ceramic and sapphire back is scratch resistant.

It has a screw-down crown that was reduced in width, along with a smaller ceramic cabochon, and boasts an improved depth rating of 200m versus 100m in the first-generation J12.

Other microscopic refinements include a slimmer bezel that in turn widened the dial. The bezel in this one-off has a matte black ceramic insert with tone-on-tone numerals. An even more subtle update was the increase in notches from 30 to 40, along with a new bezel spring, which has a softer clicking sound when rotated.

Both dials have applied hour numerals in a tone-on-tone colour to match the case. Though all-black executions are relatively common today, achromaticity is particularly symbolic and deeply embedded in the tradition of the brand.

The Arabic numerals are applied and made of ceramic in the same colour as the dial, except for “12”. That is a metal appliqué plated in rhodium, alluding to the watch’s name.

Like the case, the ceramic bracelet has also been gently restyled to make it more dynamic, with longer links for a more pronounced drape.

Robust movement

Visible through the sapphire case back is the self-winding cal. 12.1 derived from Tudor’s MT5600 family of movements.

In the standard models the movement has a silvery, rhodium finish, but here the main plate, bridges and rotor are executed in black, offering a striking contrast against the all-white case and a seamless unity with the black case.

The movement is high spec – especially in the price segment of the standard J12 – featuring a free-sprung balance wheel, and a 70-hour power reserve. It operates at a frequency of 4Hz and is COSC-certified. Instead of a conventional semi-circular rotor design, its oscillating weight is in the form of a hollowed-out circle.

Concluding thoughts

Both watches are the first matte J12 watches since the redesign of the line. The changes made between the J12 Inseparables and the standard model are purely aesthetic, with only the slightest tweaks made to the watches, yet they are impactful. Importantly, the Only Watch pair are arguably the first of the new J12 that is unequivocally suited for men.

Key facts and price

The J12 Inseparable Only Watch Edition
Ref. H6349 (White)
Ref. H6350 (Black)

Diameter: 38mm
Height: 10.7mm
Material: Matte white and black ceramic
Water resistance: 200m

Movement: Calibre 12.1
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds
Frequency: 28,800bph (4Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 70 hours

Strap: Matte black or white ceramic with steel triple-folding buckle

Estimated at 22,500 to 27,000 Swiss francs, the J12 Inseparable Only Watch Edition will be sold as a pair at Only Watch 2019 on November 9, 2019, at Christie’s in Geneva. For more, visit Onlywatch.com.

Update November 11, 2019: the Chanel J12 The Inseparables sold for 130,000 Swiss francs, with no fees since it was a charity auction.

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