Remaking An Icon: Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

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Jaeger-LeCoultre’s product design director, Lionel Favre, shares his thoughts.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin 1931 with chocolate-toned dial from 2014Grande Reverso Ultra Thin 1931 with chocolate-toned dial from 2014

Quite possibly one of the first extreme sports watches of its kind, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso was created to survive the rigours of playing polo. Heaven knows how many timepieces had been smashed by swinging mallets and miscued balls before Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced its famous rectangular watch with the iconic reversible case in 1931 – made upon request by a polo player – so that when flipped over, the back of the case could protect the dial from accidental damage.

From its rough-and-tumble beginning as a polo sports watch, however, the Reverso quickly muscled its way onto chic dinner parties and glamorous soirees; its refined and angular case evocative of Art Deco elegance, while its bare caseback, though originally intended to provide cover for the dial, caught the fancy of wealthy clients who sought artisans to decorate it with personalised engravings or enamel paintings.

 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One Duetto from 2016Reverso One Duetto from 2016

Although the production of the Reverso waned during the post-WWII years, the collection was unwittingly revived by an Italian watch dealer, Giorgio Corvo, in 1972, who bought over a stash of unused Reverso cases at the brand’s factory, and fitted them with movements and sold them in Italy. Convinced of the Reverso’s appeal, Corvo urged Jaeger-LeCoultre to do the same, and in 1982, the collection was given a new lease of life with a relaunch.

Since then, the Reverso has been steadfast staple in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s repertoire. In fact, the collection’s popularity soared to such heady heights in the early 2000s, that it seemed a tad double-edged, as Jaeger-LeCoultre staved off perceptions of being a mono-product brand. On the flipside, the Reverso has evolved into a multi-facetted collection, spanning classic and dressy three-hand timepieces, to highly artisanal and technically complex models for astute collectors.

For more than 80 years, the reversible case has proven to be an expansive canvas for some of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most coveted creations. Here, the brand’s product design director, Lionel Favre, discusses the Reverso’s enduring and indelible appeal.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s product design director, Lionel Favre
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s product design director, Lionel Favre

A TIME-HONOURED METHOD TO THE DESIGN
"The rectangular shape of a Reverso is the most iconic feature of the watch, which is derived from the golden ratio. This is followed by its gadroons: three at 12 o’clock and three at six o’clock, and the baton numerals. The Reverso’s symmetry, its proportions and its spirit recall the elegance of the 1930s. After all, the Reverso was introduced in 1931 and inspired by Art Déco design.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Night & Day from 2014Grande Reverso Night & Day from 2014

Of course, the other famous feature is the reversible case, which was originally intended for polo players to protect their watches. In the past, the dial cover was made of fragile plexiglass. The Reverso is elegant yet sporty at the same time, and this spirit of duality characterises the watch. What makes a watch iconic, beyond its design, is how it stands the test of time while still staying relevant."

ALWAYS CONNECT THE DOTS
"The first thing is to respect the drawing and the original spirit of the watch; to identify the key elements that cannot be removed. You can work with the proportions, the ratio, introduce new complications, new functions and so on, but the challenge lies in how we display these new features. They must be in line with the historical spirit of the watch. The Reverso is an elegant watch and this DNA will guide us in the choice of colours, displays, and so on."

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Heritage 1933 from 2016Reverso Heritage 1933 from 2016

NEVER SET BOUNDARIES
"The expectations of collectors are often the same as ours, so this is not limiting to us. When we respect the original spirit of the timepiece, nothing prevents us from evolving the design and projecting it into the future. For a designer, setting limits or prohibited areas is limiting. We avoid assuming that certain elements can never be redesigned or retouched. It is clear that the aforementioned key features are more delicate to work on, but they can also evolve as long as we do not distort the watch’s Art Deco spirit."

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Calendar from 2016Reverso Tribute Calendar from 2016

PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS
"Today’s trend for vintage watches suggests that we only need to copy a drawing from the 1930s to create a new watch. But the reality is much more complex. Watchmaking is all about attention to detail, and every detail is carefully reworked to allow these icons to advance through the years without getting old.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Medium Duoface Small Second from 2017Reverso Classic Medium Duoface Small Second from 2017

While it is a great responsibility to work on the brand's icon, I believe that in every era, our designers have been creative. In every decade, the Reverso has been redesigned and reinterpreted. In our archives, we have more than a hundred different Reverso dials, from the 1930s to the present day. The case has also been redesigned several times. Our responsibility is to make the Reverso just as impactful in our time. Hopefully, the designers in future generations will continue to write its history."

Alvin Wong

Editor-in-Chief

Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.  

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