Karl Lagerfeld

A Look At Karl Lagerfeld’s Impact On The Watch Industry

As creative director at Chanel and Fendi, the iconic designer brought haute horology to haute couture (and vice versa).

By Rhonda Riche

The world is still reeling from news of the death of the legendary Karl Lagerfeld at the age of 85. With his black and white wardrobe and trademark ponytail, Lagerfeld was probably the only fashion designer your dad could recognize.

Lagerfeld began his career at Balmain in the 1950s. He became the creative director of fur and ready-to-wear at Fendi in 1965. And he assumed the mantle at Chanel in 1983 (while still working with Fendi and designing his own, eponymous label).

Lagerfeld's Impact On The Watch Industry

To the casual observer, Lagerfeld is best remembered for his luxurious creations, but today we’d like to celebrate his lasting impact in the world of watchmaking via an analysis of four, absolutely fabulous timepieces that were created during Lagerfeld's years at the helm at Chanel and Fendi.  


These days it’s de rigeur to talk about a watchmaker’s codes and DNA, but in reality, Lagerfeld invented the concept when he took over the reins at Chanel. At the time the Maison had become quite dowdy, but instead of reinventing the house in his image (he had just come from designing floaty bohemian dresses at Chloé), Lagerfeld decided to channel Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and double down on her signatures such as chains, pearls, and perfumes.

Lagerfeld's first collections for Chanel were instant classics — taking youthful street style and mixing it up with more matronly bouclé jackets. At the same time, he also introduced the world to the idea of aspirational luxury.

While most women couldn’t afford Chanel Couture, they could splurge on a bottle of Chanel N°5, or a quilted, chain-handled bag, items that were instantly identifiable as Chanel.

Take, for example, the classic Première, the brand’s first watch, which launched in 1987. It shares the octagonal shape of the stopper on a bottle of Chanel N°5 perfume (which in turn was inspired by the layout of the Place Vendome, the iconic square in the heart of Paris). This jewel of a case was set on a chain bracelet. This timepiece is so classic and popular that the collection is still available today.

Chanel J12 (2000)

Another of Lagerfeld's contributions to the world of luxury as we know it was his ceaseless promotion of Chanel's Ateliers and Metiers d'Art. By promoting the hand detailing and craftsmanship of the clothes and accessories, he also elevated them. Which means he was way ahead of the game when it came to vertical integration.

Not content to have others manufacture their watches, in 1993 CHANEL acquired Manufacture G&F Châtelain in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The investment paid off in 2000 with the launch of the J12 collection. 

The J12 collection has been a runaway hit and is a true icon in watchmaking. Designed by Jacques Helleu, whose inspiration was the America's Cup J Class yachts (hence the name), the first J12 was an all-black design in ceramic. One of Largefeld's personal favorite timepieces was also black, a blacked-out Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, reflecting a similar design aesthetic. Interestingly, he also sported a solid gold Apple Watch.

Designed for women, the J12 is really a gender-neutral watch, anticipating the boyfriend trend by a decade. It was an immediate and much-copied sensation and only became more popular when an all-white version was introduced in 2003.

It was in this collection that Chanel entered the world of grande complications with the limited edition J12 Tourbillion — a hand-wound mechanical tourbillon movement with a first-ever ceramic main plate. 

Monsieur de Chanel (2016)

The Maison's first dedicated men's watch was also its first timepiece to be designed and built entirely in-house.  

Again, to showcase Chanel’s skills, all aspects of the watch — inside and out — are carefully considered. The manual wound Calibre 1 is a gorgeous swirl of circles finished in black. You can view these gears and springs through a sapphire case back. 

From the front, the Monsieur de Chanel challenges the wearer to look at time itself differently. Rather than using hands to indicate the hours, it uses a digital display at the bottom of the dial. And instead of moving clockwise, it features a retrograde minutes indicator that flies back to the one after 60 minutes have passed. To add one more first to the mix, Chanel also created a new font for the numerals. 

Fendi Run Away Elaphe (2019)

The longevity of Lagerfeld’s career is a marvel in the fashion biz. Yet his work never felt stale. Maybe because he embraced youthful impulses and also anticipated what each generation wanted. For example, logomania as we know it probably wouldn’t have existed without Lagerfeld. 

When he joined Fendi, he introduced the iconic “FF” logo (which initially stood for “fun fur”)  Fendi’s most recent timepiece, the Run Away Elaphe Edition, pays homage to both the brand’s expertise in leather production but also Lagerfeld’s F is FENDI logo as part of the dial design. Enhanced with an off-centered curved dial, the graphics features the reversed letter F, placed on the top of the sapphire crystal. 

Powered by a Swiss-made automatic movement, the Runaway Elaphe is available in a 42mm and 41mm cases respectively, it’s also built to last, with water resistance to 50m. 

Just For Fun - Karl Lagerfeld's Custom Solid Gold Apple Watch

"The iPod is genius. I have 300." - Karl Lagerfeld

Lagerfeld's affinity for Apple's pure design aesthetics is legendary. In 2015, shortly after the Apple Watch's introduction, Apple's designer Jony Ive gifted Lagerfeld a custom made, one-of-a-kind Apple Watch. It was rumored to be made of 18k solid yellow gold with a matching yellow gold bracelet. While the average price point of the Apple Watch upon its introduction was $500, Lagerfeld's solid gold edition is valued at an astounding $25,000. The best part? According to myth, Lagerfeld never even took to the time to set up the watch, he wore it purely as a fashion accessory. Classic Karl.

"I am very much down to Earth. Just not this earth." - RIP Karl Lagerfeld

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