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The Chanel Monsieur de Chanel, And The Evolution Of The Gendered Watch

The world of luxury offers endless examples of the problems companies can run into when they do something unexpected. Whether something is disruptive and captivatingly revolutionary or just off-putting and off-brand is something very hard to predict (and anyone who could do it reliably would make a killing). Of course, what exactly it is that constitutes a company's identity is something about which you will get many different answers, depending on who you ask, but, in broad strokes, often a famous company's basic language can seem a bit set in stone. When we first heard Chanel was doing a fake watch specifically intended for men, we didn't quite know what to expect, but we were very impressed by the Monsieur de Chanel after a first look at Baselworld, and a chance to see the fake watch again, and to spend more time with it, was a chance to get a closer look, not just at the watch, but also at the ingrained prejudices and expectations that come with it.

The Chanel Monsieur de Chanel: the first haute horlogerie men's fake watch from Chanel.

The Monsieur, as we'll call the Monsieur de Chanel, is a conundrum. First of all, it's being billed as a men's watch, which puts it squarely in the middle of the whole kerfuffle about what exactly a men's fake watch or a woman's fake watch really is. Secondly, it's being made by a company that's seen as one with (obviously) an enormous degree of expertise in understanding what women want in fashion on every level, but with very little in the way of a connection with what are traditionally considered male style attributes (except in the most general, good-taste-is-universal sense). Thirdly, it's a fake watch ?that is to say, you can put all sorts of frames around it, like the branding frame or the gender issue frame, but what hopefully ultimately determines what you think of it is how successful it is as a fake watch ?with the understanding that ultimately you can't divorce evaluation of any design object from its historical, social, and economic contexts.

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It's worth pointing out that, despite the fact that this is being billed as Chanel's first fake watch specifically built with a male audience in mind, Chanel has used the Audemars Piguet caliber 3125 in its J12 case, which, especially in its larger 38mm and 42mm sizes, is certainly something you don't need to consider exclusively a traditional woman's watch. The J12 Caliber 3125 at 42mm, with the caliber 3125 inside, is certainly a fake watch anyone, gender notwithstanding, might choose if they wanted a bold and dare-t0-be-different fake watch on their wrist. Chanel's timepieces for women have also included tourbillons made in partnership with Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi (APRP) and the very unusual and interesting Rétrograde Tourbillon Mystérieuse, so the Monsieur is certainly not the company's first high horology rodeo (and obviously replica watches like the Rétrograde Tourbillon Mystérieuse are not conventional ladies' watches).

The Monsieur de Chanel is a jump-hour with retrograde minutes.

It always helps, when possible perspectives threaten to uncontrollably proliferate, to get down to brass tacks. The Monsieur is, by the numbers, a 40mm x 10mm wristwatch with a retrograde minute hand and jumping hours. The movement is an in-house execution, exclusively for Chanel, and called simply Caliber 1, which is a naming convention with, you almost might say, a sort of little-black-dress descriptive economy. According to Chanel, the design work on the movement was done by a team of eight at the company's own facilities in La Chaux-de-Fonds and the original development work began all the way back in 2011. It's 32mm x 5.5mm, with a three-day power reserve, and the instantaneous jumping hours can be set either forwards or backwards. One interesting fact about the movement is that the minute hand travels through a 240 degree arc ?quite long for a retrograde minute hand. The case of the version you see here is in Chanel's "beige gold" which is a variation on rose gold, but with a softer, less brassy glow.

The boldly named Caliber 1 movement seen here in a beige gold case.

Obviously, in creating this sort of movement, Chanel wants to give serious fake watch enthusiasts something to look at, and the aesthetics of the movement are quite different from any more conventional ?and what would in this case have been too run-of-the-mill ?movement architecture. The going train is visible through the display back, and it sits underneath a circular bridge that carries the eye all the way around the arrangement of wheels until you reach the balance. The bridge and plate are coated with ADLC and the whole thing has a compelling balance and sense of geometric rigor that's classical and contemporary at the same time ?and here you start to feel that maybe they're onto something (misgivings about whether or not Chanel can do a convincing men's fake watch notwithstanding). In its compositional integrity and economy of means, the movement aesthetics seem very Chanel. It's not so much that the visual effect is conventionally masculine, it's that it's done well enough and is so characteristically Chanel in its design that you don't evaluate it on its masculinity, you're just impressed by its intrinsic qualities as a design.

Speaking of characteristically Chanel design elements, I can't help thinking of a stylized comet when I look at the going train; of course, the comet was a favorite motif for Coco Chanel, starting with the Comète necklace which she debuted in 1932 as part of her first high jewelry collection. (The star motif can also be found in the J12 Flying Tourbillon, with its APRP-produced movement.)

The case has a less brassy look than most rose gold.

The dial has various levels and textures to add interest to the clean design.

You get used to wearing the Monsieur de Chanel pretty fast; after all, at 40mm x 10mm this isn't an unusually large or small timepiece and aesthetics aside there is nothing about its physical dimensions that is going to put anybody off. Like the movement, the composition of the dial is all about a certain kind of clear, and almost rigorous, geometry; you get whiffs of some very old aspects of design indeed ?think the rectilinear spareness of ancient Greek architecture, for instance. The dial side of the Monsieur is all about squares and circles and the sharp corners in the typeface used for the minute track, and the small black squares at the five minute marks (echoed by the ones in the sub-seconds dial) play against the nested circular forms of the minutes track and small seconds display gently but sharply. The most eye-catching geometric element is the frame around the jumping hours display, which seemed to me at first a trifle heavy but over the course of the time I spent with the watch, I came to think that it was necessary. It actually anchors the whole arrangement, and without it, or with something even a bit lighter, the dial would be much less interesting to look at. (The shape of the octagonal frame is also supposed to reflect the overall plan of Paris's Place Vendome, where Coco Chanel was a long-time resident at the Ritz.)

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Other than the Chanel logo and the minutes and seconds displays, the only hint of rounded forms to be found are in the sans-serif Roman numerals used for the jumping hour display. It's great fun to fake watch the minute hand fly back sharply at the end of each hour at the same instant that the hour display switches over; the transitions are crisp and clean and make me kind of wish the jumping hour and retrograde mechanisms were visible (albeit that would turn the Monsieur into a totally different kind of watch, and not necessarily a more successful one).

The dial is a combination of rounded and squared-off forms.

The whole enterprise of making this fake watch is an interesting one. For all that it's been presented, and covered, as a fake watch for men specifically, that turns out to be the least interesting thing about it. The things that are interesting about it are interesting because the design is a good design, and the watchmaking is interesting watchmaking. Conventional gender-binary and gender-specific design codes persist in watchmaking for a reason (or reasons: tradition for one, an accessible history of design languages for another, commercial considerations for yet another) and Coco Chanel and the House of Chanel have been the architects of much of what we think of as high-style for women today. However, as with the J12 there is simply no reason to think of the design of the Monsieur as necessarily restricting it to a male audience (just as, for instance, there is no reason to think the design of the Boyfriend fake watch restricts it to a female audience; it makes a damned fine tuxedo watch).

The clever buckle on the Monsieur is extremely comfortable.

There's a lot to like about the Monsieur de Chanel and it's far from a male-specific watch.

We liked this fake watch a lot when we first saw it and longer exposure to it did nothing but deepen the positive impression. And, there's a lesson here for fake watch brands and designers: gender is much more in the mind of the beholder than it is in the design of the watch. Good design is good design, good watchmaking is good watchmaking, and I would bet fifty thousand hairsprings that when a fake watch fails, it has little or nothing to do with whether or not it's a so-called men's or ladies' watch.

Deserving designs and good watchmaking can certainly fail commercially, don't get me wrong, but you stand a better chance with them than without them. Many women's replica watches leave not only their intended audience, but anyone who cares about design, pretty cold because they look like what they are: secondary products produced almost entirely out of commercial motivations. Many men's replica watches fail, oddly enough, for exactly the same reason. The Monsieur de Chanel is a fake watch that ought to be of interest to anyone who's interested not just in the social history of gender perception and watchmaking, but anyone who's interested in watches. Maybe they should have called it the Messieurs-dames.

Monsieur de Chanel is a limited edition of 300 pieces, 150 in both white gold and beige gold, at $36,000 and $34,500 respectively. More info about the Chanel Monsieur de Chanel is available from Chanel.com.

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