Mention “Chanel watch” and there’s a good chance that the trendsetting J12 would come to mind, but here’s a fun fact: The brand’s first timepiece design is in fact the Premiere. Chanel’s whiz of an artistic director, the late Jacques Helleu, had created it in 1987 to take the brand into the world of watchmaking and – like many things from the house of Coco Chanel – rattle it.
Ines de la Fressange (centre) showing off the Chanel Premiere in a photo lensed by Karl Lagerfeld in 1987 – the year the watch was, well, premiered
Unlike most ladies’ timepieces then, the Premiere was not a scaled-down adaptation of a men’s watch, but one wholly conceptualised with the bold, carefree and style-conscious woman in mind. It explains its choice for a campaign model then: the Parisian chic fashion icon Ines de la Fressange. And far from masculine, its distinctive chain bracelet could be worn fitted or loose (read: like an actual bracelet) to suit one’s taste and lifestyle.
An image of the Premiere from its 1987 press release, shot by Guy Bourdin and featured on the hand of a dog-walking de la Fressange
To truly understand the beauty of the Premiere, one has to look to Place Vendome in Paris, which has a special place in the house of Chanel. Coco Chanel’s suite at The Ritz, where she stayed for decades, overlooked the octagonal-shaped square and its geometric lines became the inspiration for the elegant stopper of the Chanel No. 5 bottle.
Place Vendome has inspired some of Chanel’s most emblematic designs, including the elegant stopper of its Chanel No.5 fragrance and the case of the Premiere.
True to the maison’s idiosyncratic side, the motif has become one of its most iconic codes, which would explain why Helleu was drawn to it when designing Chanel’s radical first watch. The original Premiere featured an angular, eight-sided dial and bevelled glass crystal – features that have remained as it’s grown into a staple, full-fledged collection over the years (see its logo-spiked makeover as part of the brand’s latest limited-edition Wanted capsule here). And in what can be said to be symbolic of this geometric watch coming full circle, the brand opened a boutique dedicated to its luxury watches and jewellery at Place Vendome in 1990.
The 2022 edition of the Premiere, officially dubbed the Premiere Orignal Edition, features an 18K yellow gold-coated steel case and an interwoven leather-and-chain bracelet.
To make the Premiere a one-of-a-kind – and unmistakably Chanel – timepiece, Helleu adopted yet another of the maison’s signatures for its bracelet: the interwoven leather-and-chain strap of its quilted handbag. Besides lending flexibility, this made the Premiere as much an accessory as it was a reliable watch; its look complete with a black lacquered dial, gold case and hands, and little else. Additionally, Helleu opted for no numerals, indices, second hand or date display for a sleek two-toned effect that reflected the brand’s liberated, fashion-forward approach to watchmaking.
Korean model and regular Chanel face Soo Joo Park is the poster girl of the Premiere Original Edition timepiece.
Now on its 35th anniversary – and many variations after – the original edition of the Premiere returns with subtle upgrades that improve its durability without changing its look. After all, what’s there to change with a design so individualistic and modern? (You can watch the brand’s rousing short film celebrating it here.) Fronting the campaign for this 2022 edition of the Premiere is another beacon of effortless cool: the South Korean model and Chanel ambassador Soo Joo Park.
Says Arnaud Chastaingt, director of Chanel’s Watchmaking Creation Studio: “In 2022, I want the Premiere to find its place again and to put it at the heart of our collection… This creation is our DNA and a Chanel code through and through. Far more than a watch, the Premiere is a lesson in style.”
This article is adapted from a story in the Oct 2022 Reality Edition of FEMALE