Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso Explained

Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso reversing

In 1930, César de Trey watched a polo match in colonial India. After the match, a player showed the Swiss businessman and watch collector his damaged watch, its crystal shattered. He challenged Mssr. de Trey to devise some sort of protection against the slings and arrows of outrageous mallets. Thus began the Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso (all watch images courtesy #h.m.uhren) . . .

Returning to Europe, Mssr. de Trey had a quiet word with watchmaker Jacques-David LeCoultre. LeCoultre accepted the challenge and commissioned Jaeger S.A. to build a reversible case. Jaeger hired French designer René-Alfred Chauvot, who created the slide-and-flip device that forms the mechanical foundation of the Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso.

Reverso patentUnveiled in 1931, the Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso solved the polo player’s shattered crystal and broken dial dilemma (by substituting the less expensive threat of a dented caseback). Indeed, it was one of the first true sports watches.

Given the number of polo players in the world, common sense tells us the Reverso’s suitability to the sport wasn’t the key to its immediate and long-term success. It was the JLC’s design that made the watch a commercial success from the start, and an icon to this day.

The Reverso was penned during the Art Deco artistic period. Starting in Paris at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, the aesthetic cast aside the intricate scrolling motifs and ornamental profusion of Art Nouveau.

Galeries Lafayette

Art Deco marked a return to classicism and pure, geometric lines. Showcasing modern materials, it was both timeless and futuristic. And impossibly glamorous.

By the time Jacques-David LeCoultre began work on the Reverso, Art Deco had spread worldwide, into every area of a burgeoning consumer society: trains, planes, cars, buildings, radios, vacuum cleaners, tableware, graphic design, clothes, jewelry and more.

Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso steel something

The Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso was born right in the middle of Art Deco’s heyday. The watch proudly flaunts the personality of its era.

Three “gadroons” – ornamental carvings of a rounded molding – frame its face within the swiveling architecture.  They roll around the semi-circular case sides and run all the way along the recto (front) and verso (rear) sides of the watch. Parallel and of equal size, they emphasize the watch’s everlasting ideal: this sucker ain’t going nowhere.

Framed within lies the rectangular crystal, covering the rectangular dial with its railway minutes track. The Arabic numerals that typify the Reverso, the baton-type hands and the dart-shaped indices, all reflect the zeitgeist of the Art Deco period and style.

Jaeger-leCoultre Tribute small seconds

The execution is handsome and extravagant, even as it is elegantly economical and devoid of any superfluous design detail. The Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso’s crown is small and stays out of the way, no matter which side of the case it happens to occupy at any given moment.

Largely, or at least historically, it’s been a single-dial watch. Over the years, Jaeger-LeCoultre has added double-sided ‘faces’ to its Reverso, embellishing it with useful complications like a second time zone. Through seemingly endless variations, the Reverso has stayed true to its design in every way.

Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel

Most importantly, the traditional Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso’s “back” is a blank canvas. For some 90 years, modified Reversos have been publicly proclaiming the wearer’s character and taste.

This personalization has done much to maintain the model’s popularity, among men and women. It allows the watch to be both nostalgic and a contemporary statement of its owner’s existence.

At the same time, the Reverso has that rare essence of inimitability. It’s just a rectangle, you say? Well, hardly. The swiveling mechanism is held together by a rectangular main case body, yes.

JLC Reverso

But the lugs are seductively curved on their sides. They are semi-circular in cross-section. In modern Reversos, they’re cambered to fit the wearer’s wrist flush. The true caseback is flat, and is always engraved with some self-congratulatory JLC branding.

The fusion of these curved elements – so beautifully combined with straight lines and immaculate proportions – keeps owners faithful to the Reverso long after the swiveling face’s novelty wears off.

JLC Reverso tourbillon

Whether manually-wound or automatic, uncomplicated of ridiculously complicated, on a leather strap or on a bracelet, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is a brilliant piece of design inspired by a violent sport, executed with such finesse that it elevates the ownership experience to one of ultimate refinement.

Over the last nine decades, the Reverso has become a design icon that represents Art Deco as much as the Chrysler Building.

Some say it looks like a Christofle ice bucket, Lalique Duncan perfume bottle, René Boivin’s Toit bracelet and/or the grille of a Hispano-Suiza H6B. It’s none of those things and better than them all.

No debate: the Reverso exceeded its original brief. When the dust from the hooves settles, the Reverso’s design remains as seductive as ever. All thanks to the interplay of expertly finished lines and curves framing a pirouetting horological icon.

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