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) as we know it today.
JLC created the Reverso in the 1930’s out of necessity. 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 got 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.
The Evolution of the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso
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 first Reverso was born. 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 the Reverso’s design was largely based 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 blank canvas and space to add 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 first Reverso debuted, LeCoultre developed its first dedicated movement that would suit the unique shape of the model: the caliber 410. And by 1937, the success of the Reverso officially brought LeCoultre and Jaeger S.A. together to form a new brand registered as Jaeger LeCoultre S.A.
After the Jaeger LeCoultre Revero’s initial success, it hit a road block following WWII. The Art Deco aesthetic faded in popularity and round watches became the new style. In turn, the manufacture of the Reverso was in limbo throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. By the 1970’s, the model fell out of production.
The late 1970’s and early 1980’s 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 Jaeger LeCoultre to revive the iconic Reverso 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, which was comprised of over 50 components and boasted water resistance for the first time.
The 1990’s and Beyond
By the 1990’s, the Reverso became the flagship model of the Jaeger LeCoultre brand. The Jaeger LeCoultreReverso celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1991. To commemorate, the brand released a series of statement variations with 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 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.