The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is a design that has held its own for the best part of a century, and is a design that is more than simply about aesthetics—it’s practical too. While watching a game of polo in India in the 1930s, a French industrialist called César de Trey—who had made a fortune in denture sales—spotted that many players had to take their watches off to avoid the crystals becoming cracked and shattered. The problem didn’t go unchallenged, because later de Trey approached his good friend and watchmaker Jacques-David LeCoultre who turned his idea into reality by the start of following Polo season.
The solution was simple, elegant and distinctly LeCoultre: a rectangular case was produced that could be reversed, displaying only the solid metal caseback and allowing the watch some resistance from the knocks ever-present in polo. The method used to flip the case over was ideal because it could be operated while still wearing the watch. It also lacked complexity, which would likely havecdeteriorated quickly in the harsh Indian environment.
But the Reverso became more than just a tool for sports players. Its distinct and classy design appealed to the wider public, the polished, curved caseback a blank canvas for engravings. The popularity of the Reverso spread as far as royalty, with the watch finding a home on the wrist of the short-lived king of England, Edward VIII. It even landed a trans-American flight on the wrist of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the vast continent. That particular example came complete with an enamelled map of the trip on its reverse.
In 1994 the brand took the Reverso idea a stage further with the introduction of the Reverso Duo. The bare caseback was sacrificed for another dial, and a watch with two sides and two personalities was born. In the traditional Jaeger-LeCoultre way, both sets of hands were wound by one crown, yet were both independently adjustable, a complication that made the Duo even more impressive. Other complications found their way into the hallowed rectangular case, including Jaeger-LeCoultre’s masterpiece the gyro-tourbillon, a twin cage, double-axis tourbillon that required 373 parts to build.
To celebrate the Reverso’s 80th birthday, Jaeger-LeCoultre revitalised the original design with the Reverso ‘Ultra-Thin Tribute to 1931’, whose dial features just the word ‘Reverso’nas it did in its original incarnation. It is a reminder that the classic piece has remained faithful to its ancestry, and continues to be as charming and enticing as it was when it first went on sale. The Reverso may have the capability to hide its face, but many years of success have shown that it doesn’t have to.
- The original idea for the reversing case came from a denture tycoon following an aggressive polo match where he saw watch crystals smashed.
- ‘Reverso,’ is the literal translation of ‘reverse’ into Portuguese, or ‘back’ into French, hinting at the articulate nature of the Reverso’s case.
- The case of a Reverso may seem simple, but it comprises of at least fifty parts depending on the model. Removing the movement for a service is no easy task!
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]