Page 53 - Sharp September 2021
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 From the polo field to the cosmos, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso has been making a statement for 90 years
WATCHMAKERS ARE PROBLEM-SOLVERS at heart. Whether the problem is keeping track of multiple time zones 30,000 feet above the Atlantic or monitoring dive times deep beneath it, a solution can often be found in the gears, bearings, bridges, and case components of a mechanical watch. As a watch invented to solve a specific problem, the Jaeger-LeCoul- tre Reverso isn’t so unusual, but the problem it was invented to solve, and the solution the watch’s designers arrived at, have made it one of the most innovative and unusual watches in history.
In 1930, a Swiss businessman approached Jacques-David LeCoultre with a request for a watch that could be worn on the polo field. What if, he won- dered, the watch could be flipped in its case, leaving the delicate glass protected during play? In early 1931, the Paris patent office received an application to register “a watch capable of sliding in its support and being completely turned over.” Within nine months, the Reverso was born.
While it may have been designed for polo players, the Reverso was clearly not just any piece of sports equipment. With its clean, minimal dial and a rectan- gular case bordered by horizontal lines, it was a quint- essential expression of Art Deco style. Initially offered in gold or steel, the Reverso’s unique swivelling design also presented an unexpected opportunity for personal- ization, with a case back that could be decorated with painted or enamelled artwork. In 1935, when Amelia Earhart completed a record-setting flight from Mexico City to New York, she received a Reverso decorated with an enamelled map of the route. The Maharajah of Karputhala in India, meanwhile, commissioned 50 Reversos with a miniature portrait of his wife painted on the case back.
“There is always this little magic when you turn the case of the watch,” says Catherine Rénier, Jaeger-LeCoul- tre’s CEO. “Even if you’ve done it a million times, the magic of turning it and having either a very personal message at the back or another complication — it keeps surprising you.”
As modern as the Reverso was in the 1930s, by the mid-1970s it had fallen out of favour. In the 1980s, how- ever, in a move that would prove prescient, Jaeger-Le- Coultre doubled down on its most famous creation,
bringing case production in-house and relaunching the Reverso with an updated case design. Rather than attempting to modernize the Reverso, however, the brand opted to make extensive improvements to the case’s mechanics while keeping the original look more or less intact.
“There were quite a few moments in the life of Reverso where deep work was done to keep moving forward, both technically and stylistically,” says Lionel Favre, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s product design director. “If you look at two different cases, one before this and one after, you don’t immediately see the difference. But there is a small step towards modernity. And if you rework all of the details like this, the watch does not feel old.”
Indeed, every Reverso launch since has tinkered with key details — except the iconic reversible dial. The mid-’90s saw the introduction of high-complica- tion models like the Reverso Tourbillon and a Reverso Minute Repeater (two of the most technically difficult complications in watchmaking), and in 1994, the brand went further still with the Reverso Duoface, a model which featured a second watch face on the reverse side. The Duoface would set the course for a whole new era of experimentation, effectively allowing Jaeger-LeCoultre’s designers to create multiple watches in one.
This year, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Reverso’s original launch, Jaeger-LeCoultre created the Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadrip- tyque, a stunning 10-piece limited-edition priced at close to $2 million each. As the world’s first watch with four functional display faces, it features a total of 11 complications, from a perpetual calendar and minute repeater to indications of the synodic, draconic, and anomalistic lunar cycles (astronomical readings never before seen together in a wristwatch).
“The look is pure, symmetrical and very well bal- anced, but the complexity to make it happen is well-hid- den,” says Rénier of the Reverso’s continued success. “This is what anchors Reverso’s identity.”
The Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadrip- tyque required 12 patents and took six years to create, and although it is by far the most complicated Rever- so ever made, it still bears an unmistakable likeness to the 1931 original. That’s the power of a problem well-solved.

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