Watch Of The Week: How The Reverso Flipped My Position On New Watches
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute To 1931 US Edition was my first high-end modern watch, and the first watch I had engraved. And it set the stage for the collector I am today.
Originally published on HODINKEE by September 20th 2021
In Watch of the Week, we invite HODINKEE staffers and friends to explain why they love a certain piece. And we’re kicking off the franchise with our company founder.
Ten years ago right around now, I bought my first meaningful modern watch: A Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, Tribute To 1931, US Edition (2011 version). It’s a very simple watch with a very long name, but it was a revelatory one for me. It wasn’t my literal first contemporary watch as an adult – that would’ve been a really neat Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece using a hand-wound Peseux caliber (that I was able to purchase at Tourneau via a plan they had back then that offered 24 months, interest-free), or an Oris Formula 1 that I think I paid no more than $650 for (also at Tourneau).
Both were fantastic watches that I bought in my pre-HODINKEE life, and that I wish I still had, but that unfortunately were sold during the period where I was no longer employed by any meaningful company and HODINKEE was really just a blog I wrote to entertain myself while my girlfriend was uptown at school between the hours of 9am and 4pm – after which point we could continue our drinking, smoking, and whatever else early 20-somethings do while living in a walk-up shoe-box in Nolita (29 Spring Street, Apartment 4, if you’re curious) while effectively unemployed.
Shortly after that really wonderful and rather romantic period of my life ended – the watches left, and so did the girlfriend. I moved across town and started to really grind on HODINKEE in a new kind of way. My fascination with watches became an obsession, and my interests turned squarely to vintage watches.
In came the Omega Ranchero that I bought at Antiquorum. (Tip: There’s a thing called buyer’s premium, and another thing called New York State sales tax that will make the price you think you’re paying actually be about 35% higher in the end – learned that one the very hard way on the Omega). I spent the next few years living two lives – one trying to be a relatively normal graduate student in journalism – writing real stories about real things, such as a pair of synagogues in Brighton Beach filing a lawsuit against then-Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz for a proposed plan to install a concert shell across the street in Asher Levy park – and immersing myself in watches in what was probably, looking back, an unhealthy way. If you want to hear more about those days, have a listen to HODINKEE Radio, Episode 1.
On the watch front, I was buying as many as I possibly could. Leveraging just about every dollar I had into beat-up old pieces – because I knew that the only way to really learn was to buy and own things. For a period of time, I was really, really into Jaeger-LeCoultre vintage watches. And after my 5512 (which I still have today), the next big vintage watch I purchased was a Polaris. You know the watch – big, black, alarm – just freaking cool. I paid $9,000 for it from Ken at WannaBuyAWatch, and man, do I wish I still had it.
I had a great JLC Mark XI, too, come to think of it. And a really nice black-dialed Memovox. It was around the same time that I became friendly with a man named Philippe Bonay, who was the president of Jaeger-LeCoultre for the US Market (he’s currently leading Panerai in the US and remains one of the most creative, thoughtful people I know working in the watch world). It was around 2010 and we were approaching the anniversary of the Reverso’s first model. He wanted to make a special watch for his market that was authentic to the very first 1931 Reverso.
First, JLC was planning to produce a special tribute watch to the 1931 example with simply “Reverso” on the dial. That was cool enough, but Philippe’s US edition would take it a step further and introduce rarely seen, but true to the original, syringe hands. Even more interestingly, the factory strap on the watch would not be a simple JLC-branded strap, but instead one hand-made by Casa Fagliano, a multi-generational builder of the finest polo boots on the planet. You can see an early, early video on them right here – which is meaningful for a different reason; it was the first time I collaborated with our most senior colleague, Mr. Will Holloway, who was then my classmate, who later became the man behind the original Talking Watches, and is now one of the great resources of all things HODINKEE for our entire team. But back to the watch.
The whole package was just so thoughtful, and while I played truly zero role in the creation of this watch, it was the first time that a senior brand representative seemed to actually care what I thought about a watch. Philippe asked me and JLC-Timezone forum moderator, Howard Parr, what we thought of the watch early on, and actually listened.
It might be hard to fathom now, but in 2010, we digital folk were real outsiders. “Blog” was a four-letter word to those in the luxury space – and the contempt wasn’t exactly a secret. It was around the same time that I was asked by brand publicists to lie and tell their bosses that I was actually writing for a major magazine when I took their meetings (I wasn’t), or when I was told by a seasoned magazine editor in the field that “digital is a fad,” or that “nobody will ever buy a watch because of what you do,” or that “the internet is for poor people” (all things said to my face between 2009-2011).
To be welcomed in and listened to, to be made to feel like you’re all of a sudden part of something that is so foreign to you, really feels good. And when Mr. Bonay asked Howard and me what we thought about that watch, it felt like it was the first time the industry was opening up to me.
It didn’t hurt that I happened to love the watch. And so when it came out, I told Philippe I would love to be one of the 100 lucky people able to buy his special US-edition 1931 Reverso. You can read my original story on this watch here – it’s still online (weirdly) a full decade later. Now I could not justify the $8,000 expense to myself – because back then, I was purely in camp vintage, and only fools would dare spend that much money on a modern watch. And so I reframed my thinking on that particular watch – I would buy it, and not let myself wear it until I completed my Master’s project at school. So that’s exactly what I did – I bought it, but until I received that passing grade, it would remain stored away.
And thus, my Reverso became the very first watch I purchased to mark a special moment in my life. Back then, I framed it mentally as a notifier of completing the Master’s project, but in fact, it was really something else – the first time that I felt like I actually had a future in the watch industry.
And so I bought the watch, and I loved it. And again, I forced myself to reframe the thinking on the watch from an asset (the way that so many young collectors think of their watches), into something far more meaningful – a totem for a moment in my life, something that did not exist on my balance sheet, but something that was a part of me. It would never be sold. And so, I decided to have it engraved with my initials – this is a Reverso after all.
Oh man, when that watch came back to me with my initials finely cut into that reversible caseback? Ugh. It was SO good. For someone with extreme sentimentality, a penchant for collecting, and a soul that is indisputably old, this hit me in a way that literally none of the great vintage watches I’d owned to date had – this watch was mine. And it always would be. Over the next decade, dozens of vintage watches came and most of them went. Over that same time period, several modern watches came too, and the vast, vast majority of them stayed. And they did because they were purchased for a reason – to celebrate something professional, or personal, a moment in my life that I wanted to remember. And all of them were engraved, either from the factory directly or after the fact by a a friend of mine. It’s just something I do now.
So when my dear friend, colleague, and bit of a spirit animal to many of us, Jack Forster hit 1,000 stories published on HODINKEE, it only made sense that I celebrate it with a watch. In fact, I’d purchased the watch two years before I presented it to him (I have this strange thing where sometimes I see a watch and someone close to me just pops into my mind – this was one of those cases), and between then and when I gave it to him, in addition to having it fully serviced, I had it engraved. You’ve seen the pictures.
Without those early experiences with my JLC Reverso TT 1931, I never would have thought to do that. Without that watch, I never would have really learned to appreciate why modern watches can be so meaningful in a way that vintage never can – and without it, I may never have had the ambition to keep pushing with HODINKEE into this totally weird and foreign industry the way that I did. So it may not be the sexiest watch I own, but this Reverso means a whole hell of a lot to me, and it’s one for which I am incredibly thankful to own – and as I get older, it’s these watches that make me fall back in love with my job over and over again.