A Sporting Classic
Our first recommendation for your consideration is the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso
Column by the Watch Atelier
With its elegant lines and beautiful simplicity the Reverso falls firmly into our dress-watch category. However, historically it was produced as the world’s first sports watch. This is a truly remarkable creation and not just simply as a watch. It is one of the most iconic and long lived pieces of design in history.
It is extraordinary, when one considers that the Reverso’s design has remained virtually unchanged for 85 years, and still continues to looks totally current. There are very few, if any, other products – let alone a watch – that can boast this….. think about it.
Here is how it all came about; on 4th March 1931, at 1:15pm, at the National Industrial Property Institute Paris, René-Alfred Chauvot officially patented an invention for a “wristwatch which can slide on its base and flip over on itself.”
The concept had begun some six months earlier in India. The revolutionary idea of a wristwatch that could be turned back-to-front was born on the polo fields, where player’s wristwatches were often damaged by the hard polo balls. Traveling through the continent, Swiss businessman and watch collector César de Trey attended a British Army match. After a fairly vigorous chukka one of the officers, who had just had the glass of his watch broken, jovially challenged de Trey to produce a watch with the ability to resist the rough and tumble of a polo match.
Quite why the players didn’t simply leave their watches in the changing room is somewhat unclear…
On his return to Switzerland César de Trey discussed the concept with Jacques-David LeCoultre, the owner of LeCoultre, who would provide the movements for the new watch and oversee production. LeCoultre appointed the firm Jaeger S.A. for the creation of the reversible case, who in turn commissioned French designer René-Alfred Chauvot.
The result was an elegant watch with a centre section that could be swivelled, therefore protecting the glass from any impact. This also exposed a case back that was used for personalised engraving and enamelling. Unfortunately, post-World War II, watch design moved to round watches. The Reverso as a symbol of the pre War Art Deco era became virtually disregarded.
We now fast forward a couple of decades – horological legend has it, that during a visit to the manufacturer in 1972, an Italian watch dealer, Giorgio Corvo, noticed some unused Reverso cases. He bought all of the remaining stock, about 200 cases. He had the watches assembled, insisting that they were fitted with mechanical movements. The re-launch was very successful, with all watches being sold solely in Italy.
Eventually, in 1982 the Reverso was fully revived by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Disappointingly however the new watches housed mainly quartz movements. In 1985, Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the first-ever water-resistant Reverso. To achieve this the case required a complete makeover.
The first Reversos comprised of around 30 parts, they could only be swivelled at the far end of the cradle and were not water-resistant, the second generation was not only water-resistant but it could also swivel at any point along the cradle. Each Reverso case now consisted of over 50 components, making it one of the most complicated cases in watchmaking.
The Reverso 60ème launched an era of limited edition Reversos. In a large-size 18 ct rose gold case, the solid silver guilloché dial conceals a Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 824 with power-reserve and date hand. Other 500-piece limited editions were soon to follow; a tourbillon in 1993, a minute repeater in 1994, a chronograph in 1996, a dual time zone in 1998 and a perpetual calendar in 2000. Also during 1994, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced the Duoface with the back of the watch featuring a second dial, giving the watch a dual time facility. Both dials where driven by a single movement.
For its 70th anniversary, the Reverso acquired an 8-day twin barrelled movement. Greater accuracy was achieved by incorporating a high-frequency balance. 500 examples were again produced. This year Jaeger-LeCoultre have issued an 85th anniversary range. Available in three case sizes all in stainless steel, the case back bears a large 85 logo.
So what is it that has kept this extraordinary timepiece so alive?
“This watch is pure” said Jérôme Lambert, the former CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Using a music analogy, he said that minor variations had been introduced over the years, but, “the melody is always with a restricted a number of notes.”
One of the biggest appeals of the watch is the extent to which Jaeger-LeCoultre has embraced personalisation. “The ability to personalise the Reverso gives the owner a way to be part of history and connect the watch to an important moment in time,” Mr. Lambert commented. Amongst its famous wearers, King Edward VIII, had the royal crest engraved on his Reverso.
Yet another somewhat unique reason for the Reverso’s enduring success is its unisex appeal. In Europe, where the company sees its biggest sales, the watch sells about equally to men and women. “It speaks to both,” Mr. Lambert remarked. “Men get to enjoy the technical aspect of having two sides on which to display complications. Yet the watch still looks elegant and sophisticated, something women really appreciate.”
Interestingly, there have been other versions of the Reverso produced by different companies, all apparently with the permission of César De Trey and Jacques-David LeCoultre.
The most significant of which was Patek Philippe. In 1932, eight cases were sold to Patek. The movements installed in these eight cases were also supplied by LeCoultre who at the time were a Patek supplier. The watches were signed Patek Philippe. Seven of these watches are known to still exist – two of which, a men’s version and the single women’s version produced, reside in the Patek Philippe museum in Geneva. The last time one of these Patek Reverso’s came to market it realised in excess of £112,000.
Fortunately the Jaeger-LeCoultre is rather more achievable. Entry level (pre-owned) Reversos can be acquired from around the £1,700 mark – however, these will almost certainly house quartz movements…..now, here is something that can only be whispered….with a watch that only has an hour and minute hand no one will ever know the shocking secret that your watch is powered by a battery…!
Nonetheless, we are serious watch enthusiasts so only a mechanical watch will suffice – so, to get a “proper” Reverso on your wrist it will cost from around £2,800 and then continue merrily up to over £30,000.
In summary: this is a watch that appeals to both the serious watch enthusiast – with magnificently manufactured movements and the most impeccable history – as well as to the aesthete, who appreciates the classical, low-key yet stylish design.