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The Reverso is the flagship watch of storied watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre. The timepiece rose to prominence because of its ingenious rotating case born out of a need in 1931. Through nearly nine decades of history, the double-sided watch remains true to its origins and defines the soul of Jaeger-LeCoultre. 

Polo Origins

The Reverso is a legend that rose from practical need. In the early 1930s, British army officers stationed in India often enjoyed playing polo in their leisure time. The powerful mallets and polo balls meant players who left their watch on during a match found it destroyed afterwards.

While traveling to India,  a famous watch dealer attended a polo match among British army officers. The famous watch dealer’s name was César de Trey. After the match, one of these officers approached César. The officer had just broken the glass of his watch. He challenged De Trey to create a timepiece that was durable and robust enough to survive an aggressive polo match.

Upon his return to Switzerland, De Trey mentioned this to his good friend Jacques-David LeCoultre, the owner of LeCoultre Manufacture. LeCoultre placed René-Alfred Chauvot and the firm Jaeger S.A. in charge of developing the first true “sport” watch.

The French engineer first experimented with a protective grill on top of the dial. Which was a technique among WWI military watches. Alongside his team, Chauvot thought outside of the box and came up with the idea of a reversible case. The double-sided case would conceal the fragile dial and glass of the luxury timepiece. The result was an elegant watch with a dial that could flip smoothly, fully protecting it from mallet strokes. They formed a patent on March 4, 1931 and marked the official birth of the Reverso.

First Release

The first edition of the Reverso was a real success and LeCoultre developed a full collection shortly after. The serial production came quickly after its creation. And the Geneva-based company Wenger was to manufacture the cases. The original case was 38mm long, 24mm large and 6mm high. The same remains the same for today’s Reverso Classique. Famous polo players, skiers and racecar drivers boosted the launch of the Reverso. The public considered the timepiece as the first luxury sports watch.

Just two years after the Reverso’s debut, LeCoultre developed its first dedicated movement. They built the caliber 410, which would perfectly suit the unique shape of the model. In 1937, the success of the Reverso led LeCoultre and Jaeger S.A. to merge into one brand, Jaeger-LeCoultre. The brand and its popular watch represented an elegant and sophisticated response to a technical problem.

Art Deco Purity

One of the big reasons the Reverso caught on like wildfire was the sheer charisma in its design. Reaching mainstream appeal at the 1925 “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes.” Art Deco was the dominant style of the 1930s. The style appealed to futurists in a world increasingly impacted by the power of machines and technology. Art Deco evoked a grand ideal that resonated with a time period marked by change. It also offered a brand new aesthetic. Designers then commonly included Art Deco motifs on everything from ocean liners and streamliner locomotives to skyscrapers.

The pure geometric forms, minimalist indexes and simple hands of the Reverso resonated with the dawning Art Deco era. The timepiece captured the imagination of the public increasingly enamored with the surging Art Deco style. The striking lines, “golden rectangle” proportions and clear-cut gadroons made for a very popular design. The timeless face looked equally great on men and women and could be combined with every style.

jaeger lecoultre reverso

The original model came with a manually wound movement and featured only hours and minutes hands. It was only in 1934 that engineers introduced a version with a small seconds counter at six o’clock.

Using grooves, pins and a locking mechanism, the central case could effortlessly rotate 180 degrees. While the two-faced watch served the practical needs of polo players, it also made for an elegant design. The generous surface of the case back could be used for personalization, leading to special editions, combinations and makeovers.

Timeless Appeal

The long life of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso should come as no surprise. Although the timepiece enjoyed large overnight success, its path to survival along the decades has included its share of roadblocks. Through it all, however, the Reverso remains largely unchanged since it was first created in 1931.

The first bump in the road came following during WWII. In the post-war world, the Art Deco style fell out of favor and the popular style switched to round watches. This led the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso to enter a production limbo during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. By the Jaeger-LeCoultre 125th anniversary in 1958, the Reverso had fallen out of production completely.

Fortunately, Giorgio Corvo, an Italian watch dealer, visited the Manufacture in 1972. He noticed the amount of unused Reverso cases and bought all the remaining stock, which was 200 empty cases. He had some of his own movements installed and sold them all upon his return to Italy.

The immediate success of this venture led Jaeger-LeCoultre to pursue a resurrection of the model. The arrival of Japanese quartz watches led traditional brands to look for ways to create a spark. In 1983, Jaeger-LeCoulture reintroduced the classic Reverso for the 150th anniversary celebration. The re-release was slightly more complicated than the original but remained largely unchanged. It has remained the flagship timepiece of Jaeger-LeCoultre ever since.

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