Première class: Chanel's iconic watch turns 30

On its 30th anniversary, Chanel gives its bestselling Première watch a new in-house movement graced with a camellia, Coco Chanel's favourite flower.

Chanel Premiere Camellia Skeleton models

The first Première watch by Chanel was launched in 1987 and featured an octagonal case and a double-chain strap interlaced with leather, like that featured on Chanel’s iconic 2.55 handbag.

The transition from haute couture to haute horlogerie is not always seamless, but there are always beautiful exceptions to the rule. Chanel’s first chapter in watchmaking was written 30 years ago with the launch of the aptly named Première collection. Designed exclusively for women, the Première poached existing design codes from the Maison and was an instant hit.

Just like the rectangular stopper on the bottle of Chanel’s Nº5 perfume, presented in 1921, the clean-cut geometry of the case of the Première watch was inspired directly by Coco’s beloved, octagonal-shaped Place Vendôme. The bracelet was also taken from an iconic Chanel design of the 1920s and was modelled on the long double-chain straps of the 2.55 handbag, designed to be worn on the shoulder instead of clutched in the hand.

The first Première ambassadors

Inès de la Fressange was the first face of the Première watch, followed in 1989 by Carole Bouquet, two French women who captured the chic soul of Chanel to perfection. Over the past 30 years, the Première collection has housed symbolic motifs from Chanel’s inventory, including comets, quilting, ribbons, pearls and Coco’s favourite flower, the camellia.

In 1989, French model and actress Carole Bouquet, pictured wearing a gold version of the Première watch, became the face of Chanel.

A stitch in honour of time

As meticulous about its haute couture collections as it is with its watchmaking, Chanel controls every step of the process, starting with sketches drawn in the Studio of Creation on Place Vendôme and ending with the finishing touches on the final product, made in Switzerland at Chanel’s own watchmaking manufacture located in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Or to put it another way, technical issues are always at the service of aesthetics.

Première Camélia Skeleton watch
The bridges of the skeletonised movement of Chanel’s Première Camélia are shaped like the petals of a camellia and set with diamonds (£162,000).

Three skeletonised dials with camellias and an in-house movement

Chanel now has two in-house movements under its belt, the first made for the Monsieur de Chanel collection with jumping hours and retrograde minutes in 2016 and the second movement, known as Calibre 2, designed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Première collection.

Once again, the camellia is the star of the show, and the bridges of the skeletonised movement are shaped like the petals of this flower. But what is even more astonishing is the fact that two of the Première Camélia Skeleton models feature diamond-set white gold bridges, a rare accomplishment in watchmaking and a fitting present for a 30th birthday.

The model that does not feature diamonds on the bridges - known austerely as the Première Camélia Skeleton Black - is my absolute favourite. The white gold bridges of the movement are coated with DLC for a sleek black look but worry not, there are diamonds aplenty, and the hands, case and crown are generously set without overdoing it. 

Première Camélia Skeleton Black watch
Known austerely as the Première Camélia Skeleton Black, the black bridges of the movement create a wonderful contrast to the diamond-set hands and case (£111,000).

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