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Reverso, the story of an icon for 90 years
New Models

Reverso, the story of an icon for 90 years

Tuesday, 06 April 2021
By The FHH Journal editors
The FHH Journal editors

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3 min read

Created in 1931, the Reverso has remained eternally modern, daring always to be itself. During the last 30 years, it has fulfilled a potential that could not have been imagined at the time of its creation. In 2021, Jaeger-LeCoultre pays tribute to a timepiece of rare longevity.

The Reverso story began with a challenge: to create a wristwatch that could be worn on the polo field without being smashed. In 1930 César de Trey, a successful entrepreneur who was well acquainted with both Jacques-David LeCoultre and the Parisian firm of Jaeger SA through his activities in the watch business, was travelling in India, where British army officers had taken up polo. Asked if he could find a way to protect the glass and dial of their watches during matches, de Trey had the idea of a case that could be flipped over. He approached LeCoultre to produce it and, through connections with Jaeger, a French industrial designer, René-Alfred Chauvot, was engaged to design the case.

Heritage Reverso first Reverso 1931 © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Heritage Reverso first Reverso 1931 © Jaeger-LeCoultre

On 4 March 1931, the Paris patent office received an application to register “a watch capable of sliding in its support and being completely turned over”; in July, de Trey bought the rights to Chauvot’s design and in November he registered the Reverso name. Eager to get the revolutionary design to market as soon as possible, de Trey and Jacques-David LeCoultre set up a business partnership and began production immediately. The first pieces were on sale less that nine months after the patent application had been filed.

Success was immediate: as a quintessential expression of Art Deco style and the embodiment of modernity, the Reverso was adopted by tastemakers from all walks of life. Cases were offered in gold as well as the original Staybrite steel, and feminine models appeared, with options to be worn as pendants or handbag clips, as well as on the wrist. For those seeking even greater individuality, brightly coloured lacquer dials could be made to order, and the reverse side of the case personalised with engraving and lacquer.

Heritage Reverso Classic 1943 © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Heritage Reverso Classic 1943 © Jaeger-LeCoultre

As tastes changed after World War II, interest in the Reverso waned and by 1969, when the first quartz wristwatch heralded the greatest crisis the Swiss watch industry had ever faced, it had been largely forgotten. However, as the quartz invasion gathered pace, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Italian distributor, Giorgio Corvo bought the last remaining 200 Reverso cases, had them fitted with mechanical movements, and sold every piece within a month. In 1975 the Reverso was officially reborn.

Jaeger-LeCoultre decided to bring production of the case in-house and, in 1981, assigned one of its engineers, Daniel Wild, to redesign it to modern technical standards. However, given the Reverso’s status as a design classic, any aesthetic change had to be almost imperceptible. In 1985, the new case was unveiled – the first to be machined at Jaeger-LeCoultre using (then new) CNC technology. Waterproof, dust-proof, with a new flip-over mechanism and redesigned lug attachments and carrier, it comprised 55 parts, rather than the 23 of the original. Stylistically, it appeared completely unchanged.

Heritage Reverso Duoface 1994 recto © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Heritage Reverso Duoface 1994 recto © Jaeger-LeCoultre

In 1991, six decades after the Reverso was born, it began its transformation from ‘one style, one watch’ into an entire collection. In 1994, the Reverso Duoface was created – a unique expression of dual time, with local time on the front dial and home time on the reverse. It was followed, in 1997, by the Reverso Duetto, a feminine interpretation of the double dial principle.

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