A Fine Selection of Jaeger-LeCoultre Reversos from Watchfinder & Co
The Rake delves into the history of Jaeger-LeCoultre.
For more than a century, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been considered one of the pioneers in the watchmaking industry with notable innovations. Today, standing in Le Sentier with 25,000 square metres of space, the manufacture houses more than 1,200 staff. They were the first in the Vallée de Joux to incorporate all departments in the same building under the management of father and son, Antoine and Elie LeCoultre, and it was on these grounds where more than 1,200 in-house movements were developed. One of the recent additions to the manufacture is the Heritage Gallery set up in 2017 in the original place of Antoine LeCoultre’s first workshop in 1833. The archived walls are treasure boxes of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s history, with historical timepieces scattered throughout two floors. There is the vintage Memovox; the brand’s first and smallest 101 calibre; first Reverso Duo from 1994; a replica homage to Amelia Earhart whose historic flight from Mexico City to New York was engraved on a 1935 Reverso; all the Atmos clocks that ever lived, and Antoine LeCoultre’s invention (unpatented) of the lever-winding mechanism from 1847 in a pocket watch complete with an engraving of Elie LeCoultre’s name.
The most striking aspect of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s history that comes alive in this Heritage Gallery is the nine-decades-long journey of its most famous watch — the Reverso. The fabled story of the Reverso started at the beginning of the 1930s far away from the green pastures of Switzerland and straight in the middle of a polo field in British-ruled India. British Army officers posted in the country would enjoy spending their down time playing polo. The 1930s was an era of change in social norms and more men were seen wearing wristwatches. A problem arose when the aforementioned polo players would experience the struggle of having their watch crystals shattered while playing the game. This issue was brought to the attention of Swiss businessman and watch trader César de Trey while he was visiting India. Players wanted a timepiece they could wear which was strong enough to withstand the numerous beatings given out by the gentlemen’s mallets. Upon his return to Switzerland, he reached out to his good friend Jacques-David LeCoultre to task him with coming up with a solution. LeCoultre partnered with Edmond Jaeger and his company to create the case design that would solve the issue. René-Alfred Chauvot was the French engineer in charge of the development of this new watch case and on March 4th, 1931 the patent n.712.868 was submitted to the Paris patent office for a watch whose case could reverse and flip 180 degrees so as to protect the fragile front glass of the timepiece.
Apart from the protective aspect of the swivelling case, what Chauvot accomplished is nothing short of a tour-de-force. Take into consideration that the idea is fairly simple and the action happens in a few seconds when you click it open, flip it around, and click it home again. Yet, the balance of the tactile and audible feedback is utterly flawless and unseen in any other timepiece. It is addictive and infinitely satisfying. During the burgeoning period of wristwatch development that was the 1930s, the nascent watch-case industry had very little to go on when it came to style and technique. Most manufacturers scaled down pocket watches and added wire lugs onto them. When most other wristwatches were cased in what amounted to little more than elaborate sweethearts’ lockets, the Reverso case was a pinnacle of technical ingenuity. Ever since, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been sensitive to the design cues laid down by the man who originally commissioned the Reverso, César De Trey. The grooved bands at the head and tail of the case have remained extant in just about every edition of the Reverso. People love to recall the Art Deco aspect of these rectilinear details. With such powerful design cues and associations, the Reverso’s guardians have had to weigh their responsibility carefully, so as to preserve the spirit of the thing without transforming it into a pastiche.
This is one of the reasons why the Reverso has remained a reliable and rewarding watch, not only in its style, but especially in its value. The Reverso is all things to all men – and women. It’s the epitome of Art Deco style, and yet not obnoxiously so. It is at once a high-precision instrument and a diverting toy, capable of captivating its owner and all whom he or she meets. I am not at all surprised that almost 90 years on, the love affair collectors have with the Reverso is as strong as ever. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classique is one of the least expensive ways to wear a watch from this grande maison. Although you could consider it the entry-level Reverso, no corners were cut to create this watch. The Classique is as pure as you can get for a Reverso. It oozes the style of decades long gone, but obviously not forgotten. The dial engages in a subtle play with light, revealing textures and colors you didn’t think were in the dial. This really gives the watch depth and amplifies that Art Deco style so closely associated with the timepiece. The present example of the Reverso Classique in our shop is a manual-wind watch that features a 48.5mm x 30mm 18k rose gold case surrounding a silver dial. It comes on a gorgeous brown alligator strap with an 18k rose gold tang buckle. Functions include hours, minutes and small-seconds. The present model is from 2012 and it comes with a two-year warranty from Watchfinder. Over the last few decades, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s famous watch with a swivelling case, the Reverso, has appeared with a variety of dials and in different case sizes – without ever compromising the integrity of the original design – and, in 2016, the company returned to the stylistic codes of the original 1931 model to create a series of Tribute models. In tune with the signature design elements of the Reverso Tribute, the present example in our shop has the hours marked by applied indexes rather than numerals, neat dauphine hands adding a visual depth to the lacquered surface and the customary sunray pattern inside the watch’s cradle. Besides its aesthetic appeal, the watch is suitably endowed with the in-house manually-wound Calibre 822/2. The Tribute Small Seconds has a slim 8.5mm case that carries this specially designed rectangular shaped movement, which delivers a power reserve of 45 hours. It beats at 21,600 vph and provides indications for the hours, the minutes, and the sub-seconds. This particular model is from 2019 and is offered with its original set of box and papers and a two-year warranty from Watchfinder.