Jaeger-LeCoultre creates some of the most elaborately designed and technically proficient watches on the market. However, despite some of the more ornate and complex models in their catalog, their signature model, the Reverso, is a classic for any collector. Today, the luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre is known for the iconic Reverso. Learn more about the brand & the Reverso’s creation and evolution throughout the years.
The Brand History of JLC or Jaeger-LeCoultre
Of all the luxury watch brands, Jaeger-LeCoultre may seem like one of the more unattainable to the average buyer. Even in the pre-owned market, their models can be five figures. In addition, the sheer volume of models they develop annually is quite impressive. There are understandably a number of reasons a powerhouse brand like Jaeger-LeCoultre is intimidating at first glance. However, like many watchmakers, the brand comes from humble beginnings. Here, we’ll dive deeper into this storied company and help to make them a bit more accessible.
It Started with Antoine LeCoultre
Before Jaeger-LeCoultre became the brand we know today, it was simply a man named Antoine LeCoultre and his workshop. LeCoultre was an inventor and self-taught watchmaker. He founded his first workshop near the famous Jura Mountains in 1833. In the early years, LeCoultre contributed several pivotal inventions to the field of watchmaking. In 1844, he created a device that would forever change the industry. It wasn’t a watch or even an element of a timepiece. Instead, it was a tool called the Millionometer.
The Millionometer was the first instrument capable of measuring a micron. It helped to refine the manufacture of watch parts and establish the metric system as the standard for watch measurement. Just three years later, he devised the crown winding system. This eliminated the need for keys to wind or set a watch. In 1851, LeCoultre and his inventions finally received the recognition they deserved. That year, London curated an event called the Universal Exhibition to celebrate the commencement of the modern age. Here, LeCoultre received a gold medal for his contributions to the field of watchmaking. In addition, Queen Victoria purchased one of his watches.
As LeCoultre grew older, he brought his son, Elie, into the business. At the time, the Swiss watchmaking industry remained centralized around small workshops. However, Elie saw a vision for the future. He encouraged his father to grow the business into a larger scale factory. Soon, they became the first to establish in the illustrious Joux Valley. Jaeger-LeCoultre continues to reside here today. Expanding the company’s facilities allowed them to expand their work, and they began developing complicated movements. One of the most notable combined a repeater and a chronograph in a single piece. This work would later set the foundation for the brand’s coveted Grand Complications.
Edmond Jaeger Completes the Brand
Around the same time, a man named Edmond Jaeger set up a workshop in Paris and became the official horologist to the French Navy. Soon, he was developing ultra-thin movements and catching the attention of others in the industry. LeCoultre was intrigued and decided to approach Jaeger about a collaboration. Just after the turn of the century, the duo created the most remarkable ultra-thin caliber of the era. Eventually, Jaeger-LeCoultre would go on to use this Caliber 145 movement in its watches for the next half a century. Jaeger and LeCoultre continued to work together on projects over the next several decades. In 1925, the pair introduced the world’s smallest movement: the Caliber 101. With nearly 100 components, the movement shockingly only weighed about one gram. However, it wasn’t until 1937 that they officially formed a partnership and the Jaeger brand history began.
The History of the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is one of the most interesting and inventive watch designs ever made. The development of the Reverso is also what spurred the partnership between the watch manufacturer LeCoultre and the firm Jaeger S.A. to form Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC).
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso history begins in the 1930s. During that time, a group of British Army officers stationed in India enjoyed playing polo in their downtime. The sport is somewhat brutal and aggressive, from powerful mallets to hard polo balls. Any player who left their watch on during a match found it destroyed. So, they approached a local watch dealer named Cesar De Trey about designing a watch that could hold up to the sport. In turn, De Trey enlisted the help of Jacques-David LeCoultre and the firm Jaeger S.A. to fulfill the request.
They first explored a more conventional approach, like a protective grill. These had been used on military-issued watches during WWI as a layer of defense in harsh conditions. Instead, they decided to take a new approach and developed a design for a reversible case. On March 4, 1931, LeCoultre filed a patent for a watch containing about 30 parts. It was able to slide of out its frame and turn around completely using grooves, pins, and a locking mechanism. This allowed the central part of the case to rotate 180 degrees. Shortly after, they registered the name “Reverso,” and the Reverso watch history began. The original model was 38mm by 24mm by 6mm. These are the same proportions of the Reverso Classique that remains in the collection today.
Although they based Reverso’s design on functionality, it also captured the Art Deco aesthetic of the era. Soon, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso gained popularity outside the world of polo and sports. Instead of considering the solid metal caseback a protective shield, wearers saw this surface as a blank canvas and space to add a unique personality to their watches through customization, personal dedications, and self-expression. Using engraving, lacquer, and hammered gold-leaf, owners began adding initials, family crests, miniature paintings, and other tributes to their Reversos.
The Reverso’s First Dedicated Movement and A Few Roadblocks
Just two years after the initial model debuted, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso history continued. In 1933, LeCoultre developed its first dedicated movement that would suit the unique shape of the model: the caliber 410. However, after the Jaeger-LeCoultre Revero’s initial success, it hit a roadblock following WWII. The Art Deco aesthetic faded in popularity and round watches became the new style. In turn, the Reverso watch history became uncertain throughout the 1950s and 1960s. By the early 1970s, the model fell out of production.
The late 1970s and early 1980s brought on the dawn of the Quartz Crisis, which impacted the entire watch industry. Traditional manufacturers looked to new ways to stay relevant and afloat. This prompted the brand to continue the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso history in 1983. Although the Reverso has remained largely unchanged over the years, Jaeger-LeCoultre made some updates to the model upon its re-release. They introduced the most complex Reverso case ever made. It was comprised of over 50 components and boasted water resistance for the first time.
The 1990’s and Beyond
By the 1990s, the Reverso became the flagship model of the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1991. To commemorate the occasion, the brand released a series of statement variations. They featured elaborate movements, compound complications, and enlarged case sizes. This trend of more complex models that display high-caliber watchmaking techniques has continued into the twenty-first century. For example, in 2006, Jaeger-LeCoultre made watchmaking history yet again with the debut of the Reverso Grande Complication a Triptyque. It was the world’s first watch to contain not two but three dials driven by a single movement. Now, the Reverso has become known for showcasing modern, revolutionary technology. To this day, it continues to be one of the most sought after and instantly recognizable models for Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Jaeger-LeCoultre in the Modern Era
In the new millennium, Jaeger-LeCoultre has continued to introduce new innovations and collections and build upon existing models. For instance, in 2009, the brand received two major awards in the 21st century’s first chronometry competition. One honored the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 and the other, the Master Tourbillon. In the past several years, Jaeger-LeCoultre has introduced an astonishing number of new models to its catalog. One example is the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee in 2013. It features a chronograph with an instant digital counter. Another standout is the Polaris collection that launched in 2018. Then, in 2019, Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel as the latest edition of their multi-axis tourbillons.
Below, we discuss some of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso models that attract the most interest from collectors and what affects Reverso prices in the pre-owned market.
Reverso Classique 250.8.10
First released: 1931
Price Range: $2300 – $3200 Pre-Owned
The quintessential Reverso has never stopped being in vogue—the slim profile and neat lines disguise the Classique’s resilience. Despite its uncomplicated appearance, this is a model that has been constantly refined over the last 85 years, so you can have complete confidence in its mechanism and quality. This model is also notable for being the only watch in the Jaeger-LeCoultre men’s’ collection to offer an option with a quartz movement.
Compared to other models, this Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso’s price is fairly low, and is not often seen on the market, perhaps an indication that owners like to hang on to their Classiques for as long as possible.
Reverso Squadra Chronograph Q7018120 / 230.8.45
First released: 2006
Price Range: $4900 – $5700 Pre-Owned
The Squadra is a little wider than most other Reverso models, allowing for more complications to be added. While the Reverso Squadra was Jaeger-LeCoultre’s first model to have a square dial, the patent for it was actually rejected. It turned out that René-Alfred Chauvot, the designer of the first Reverso case, had filed his own patent for a square case all the way back in 1931, but it was never actually produced. It just goes to show that every idea has its time.
Reverso Sun and Moon (steel) Q2753470 / 270.3.63
First released: 1999
Price Range: $7500 – $9200 Pre-Owned
The Reverso Sun and Moon is a thing of beauty. The scratch-resistant sapphire dial features the phases of the moon and an indicator of whether it’s night or day. On the reverse side, you can see the intricate, hand-finished movement. The Sun and Moon is available with a case made of either yellow gold or pink gold, and stainless steel, while wearers have the choice of either a leather strap or a metal bracelet. The different materials account in part for the range of Reverso prices in the pre-owned market.
Reverso Duo Face Day Night GMT (gold) 270.1.54
First released: 1994
Price Range: $7500 – $9500 Pre-Owned
Rather than the traditional plain back which allows the owner to add an engraving, the Duo Face has instead a second dial for a different time zone, which can be easily adjusted. As with every Reverso, this model has an understated elegance that ensures it looks as good at a formal occasion as it does on the polo field. You can also opt for a stainless steel version for a more inexpensively-priced Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.
For over three-quarters of a century, and despite the addition of a vast range of complications, the Reverso has always maintained one constant: that perfect symmetry of form and function which gives it a timeless appeal.