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Jaeger-LeCoultre Looks Back On 90 Years Of Its Groundbreaking Reverso Watch


In 1931, Swiss luxury watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the Reverso with a unique reversible case made to resist the shocks of polo matches. The idea behind the rectangular architecture of the Reverso that captures the modernity of the Art Deco period and proposes dimensions based on the golden ratio was first conceived in 1930 by César de Trey, a businessman distributing luxury Swiss watches worldwide, after a trip to India. One of his polo partners had smashed his timepiece and thereafter challenged de Trey to create a model that would survive a polo match unscathed. Working together with Jacques-David LeCoultre, whose company LeCoultre & Cie was well-known for its movements, and French engineer René-Alfred Chauvot who came up with the pivoting system, the ultra-resistant Reverso in a stainless steel case was thus born a year later to the delight of the British army officers stationed in India.

The premise was simple: turn the case over to protect the watch glass. With its characteristic and patented slide and swivel function and pure lines, the case, based on a mechanism of two spring-mounted spurs that slotted into grooves on either side of the watch cradle, was a major breakthrough and the first of its kind. Soon after its launch, the Manufacture’s watchmakers began to build movements to suit the contours of the reversible case with functions that best capitalized on the timepiece’s two faces. Catherine Rénier, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre, describes her preferred Reverso, “My favorite one is the Reverso Tribute Burgundy. This model faithfully respects the historic design codes of the Reverso combined with the burgundy color that we developed two years ago. For me, this is a perfect combination of design and style; through an iconic code, a specific color and the style that the Fagliano bracelet brings to the timepiece.”

To celebrate the design icon’s 90th anniversary, the exhibition Reverso: Timeless Stories Since 1931 held until December 24, 2021 at 15 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in the 8th arrondissement of Paris takes visitors on a four-part voyage through time to discover the history of one of horology’s greatest legends. We find rare archival documents from the Jaeger-LeCoultre collection and milestone Reverso watches from the first 1931 model to the 2021 Reverso Tribute Small Seconds featuring a vintage-inspired green lacquer dial with matching leather strap, faceted hour markers, dauphine-style hands and seconds counter at six o’clock. There’s also the exceptional Hybris Mechanica Caliber 185 Quadriptyque, the world’s first wristwatch with four functioning display faces and the most complex Reverso ever made. A specially-commissioned film takes viewers inside the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture to discover the creation of a Reverso through the words of the artisans and watchmakers themselves, accompanied by a pop-up boutique and a black-and-white Art Deco café showcasing desserts by Parisian pastry chef Nina Métayer, which evoke the scents and flavors of the Vallée de Joux, the birthplace of Jaeger-LeCoultre.

There’s also the European debut of an installation by American artist Michael Murphy exploring space and time through a dive into the inner workings of the Reverso Tribute Nonantième with moon phase and large date display on the front and semi-jumping digital hours, rotating minutes and night/day indication on the back. Rounding off the exhibition, the Atelier d’Antoine hands-on workshop – named after the Manufacture’s founder, Antoine LeCoultre – has been brought to Paris, offering horology enthusiasts and novices alike the opportunity to discover what goes into making a fine mechanical timepiece through interactive theoretical learning and practical training taught by a watchmaker and instructor. The exhibition is free of charge to the public, and booking is recommended at: www.exposition-reverso.com. I speak with Lionel Favre, Product Design Director of Jaeger-LeCoultre, about the magic of the legendary Reverso.

Q&A with Lionel Favre, Product Design Director of Jaeger-LeCoultre

What is so unique about the Reverso’s design, and how has it evolved from 1931 until today?

The Reverso is a timepiece which was created in 1931 for both men and women. The Reverso was first adorned with colors – colored dials that gave it a very iconic style. And its Art Deco pure lines gave it a strong identity. But the Reverso has a long and rich life made of many stories. In the ’90s came the time for complications. An important moment in 1994: not only one but two faces were used to indicate the time. The Duoface was born and with it the dual time with one time on the front and another time on the back. The whole ’90s were full of complications for Reverso like the tourbillon, the minute repeater, etc. which came to adorn the iconic model. Also, design is what makes the Reverso so iconic. What is important with the Reverso is how the Maison has been able to play with its design and push the boundaries by incorporating innovative complications.

How do you explain the success of the Reverso, that it has stood the test of time over the past 90 years, surviving through many crises?

Through nine decades, the Reverso has continually reinvented itself without ever compromising its identity: it has housed more than 50 different calibers, while its blank metal flip side has become a canvas for creative expression, decorated with enamel, engravings or gemstones. We hope the Reverso will continue to epitomize the spirit of modernity that inspired its creation now and in 90 years. The Reverso’s eye-catching rectangular shape, uncluttered lines and emblematic gadroons are all directly inspired by the Art Deco movement in vogue at the time of its creation. Its design with the rectangular case is timeless and immediately recognizable. The Reverso is an icon of style and elegance. The fact that its back can be personalized also allows some creativity within the collection, which is very appealing to watch enthusiasts. The Reverso caseback is a blank page for monograms, dates, coats of arms, personal messages, miniature enameling and so on, which add emotions to the piece. 

What does it take to create a watch that’s a true icon?

The Reverso is a watchmaking icon, a timepiece that has its own identity and heritage. A synthesis of form and function with a design based on a swiveling case. It makes it one of the most inventive wristwatches in history. Not only is the Reverso iconic, but it also demonstrates the craftsmanship and precision skills of the Manufacture. The back of the Reverso case provides the perfect canvas to be filled with some of most celebrated works of human creativity. While certain skills have been lost forever and others are no longer taught, Jaeger-LeCoultre is known precisely for its mastery of the highest fine watchmaking savoir-faire. To produce and embellish its pieces, the Grande Maison is one of the few fully integrated manufactures that unites no fewer than 180 skills under one roof.



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