I’ve always thought of the Reverso as “the doctor’s watch” because, growing up, my doctor always had one on his wrist. It was a classic, stainless steel Reverso. Nothing ornate. But I thought it was beautiful, and from then on I’ve always equated the Reverso with success and respectability. What I wasn’t aware of is that it was, according to Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Duoface Calendar, a sports watch. This was in the 1990s, shortly before the maison decided to introduce complicated Reversos – watches I’m pretty certain you wouldn’t find on the wrist of most physicians. This year marks the 85th anniversary of the Reverso, so Jaeger-LeCoultre continued to release more rectangular watches with high-end complications to celebrate. I knew I had to spend a week with one of the stars of the new collection, the Reverso Tribute Calendar. Here we take a look at the evolution of the Reverso, from stainless steel sports watch to ultimate expression of luxury.
Strictly speaking, the story of the Reverso pre-dates the story of Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Duoface Calendar, which is why the name of the manufacture as we know it today does not appear on the original 1931 model. Instead, it simply reads “Reverso.” Jacques-David LeCoultre and the great French watchmaker Edmond Jaeger had been collaborators since about 1906, but their companies remained separate and independent (Edmond Jaeger died in 1922, and leadership of his company was taken over by Gustave Delage) until 1927, when they were united under a single holding company. However, the merged companies were not renamed “Jaeger-LeCoultre” until 1937. in 1930, César de Trey, who had become extremely wealthy selling dental products in London before turning to watch marketing, presented LeCoultre with an intriguing opportunity.
Mr. de Trey had just returned from a trip to India, where he had observed how fragile the dials and crystals of wristwatches were when exposed during sports such as polo, when they might be smacked by a wooden mallet or knocked with a polo ball. British officers stationed in India had broken many watches this way. Surely the simple solution would be to leave them off the field altogether, but de Trey wondered if his friends in Switzerland could find an elegant solution that would allow players to enjoy the sport with their trusty timekeepers in tow.
Jacques-David LeCoultre undertook development of the movement, and for the case design de Trey enlisted the help of a French designer called René-Alfred Chauvot. His solution was simple: A wristwatch “which can slide on its base and flip over on itself,” in order to protect the front of the case. Chauvot submitted a patent application for his invention on March 4, 1931, at precisely 1:15 PM, at the National Industrial Property Institute (INPI) in Paris, and on July 25, 1931, de Trey bought all rights to Chauvot’s invention – and the sports watch (read: watch made for a specific sport) was born.
However, Jaeger did not produce rectangular cases at the time – and, even if it had, LeCoultre didn’t yet manufacture a movement which would fit. So, after purchasing the rights to Chauvot’s patent, César De Trey launched Specialités Horlogères with Jacques-David LeCoultre. Their new venture would manufacture the revolutionary design the old way, using parts made by specialists. The cases were made by A.E. Wenger and the movements by Tavannes. In 1933, LeCoultre would introduce in-house movements intended specifically for the Reverso. Caliber 410 (with small seconds at 6:00) caliber 411 (center seconds) debuted along with caliber 404 (a smaller movement intended for ladies’ Reversos).
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Duoface Calendar, was soon adopted by affluent collectors, not just polo players. Chauvot’s design perfectly encapsulated the era’s obsession with Art Deco design and combined practicality with personalization (because it was undecorated on the back, the Reverso could, and very often would, be engraved by clients).
However, as Art Deco slowly fell out of favor after World War II, the production of Reverso watches began to wane until it came to a full stop, to the great chagrin of its supporters, during the mid-1970s. Buried for almost a decade, the Reverso was resuscitated in 1982 when it received a quartz transplant. For the first time, the Maison’s Art Deco icon would be powered by something other than a mechanical movement, but at least it was back on the wrists of collectors.