In 1931, Jaeger-LeCoultre launched a timepiece that was destined to become a classic of 20th-century design: the Reverso.
Created to withstand the rigours of polo matches, its sleek, Art Deco lines and unique reversible case make it one of the most immediately recognisable watches of all time. Through nine decades the Reverso has continually reinvented itself without ever compromising its identity: it has housed more than 50 different calibres, while its blank metal flip side has become a canvas for creative expression, decorated with enamel or engravings. Today, 90 years after the Reverso was born, it continues to epitomise the spirit of modernity that inspired its creation.
What is the story of this iconic time piece?
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 Chavot, was engaged to design the case.
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 Chavot’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.
Behind the style and the design
Born at the height of the Art Deco period, the Reverso perfectly epitomised the spirit of its time – a dazzling and exuberant modernity that changed everything from music and art to architecture, fashion and sport, and introduced a radically new aesthetic language.
In a world where silvered dials prevailed, the original Reverso models featured a black dial with contrasting indexes. The black dial was described as having incredible legibility and was referred to as “the dial of the future”. Almost immediately, aesthetic variations began to appear with notable-coloured dials. Introduced at a time when coloured dials were rare in watchmaking, made to order dials in bright red, chocolate brown, burgundy or blue lacquer made the Reverso appear even more modern and distinctive. From the beginning, different case metals and re-sized models for women were offered to be worn on a cordonnet bracelet or transformed into pendants or handbag clips.
From its genesis, through 90 years of evolution and countless variations, the Reverso has continually reinvented itself without ever compromising its identity. Versatile and ageless, a chameleon that changes yet remains unchanged, it has become one of the world’s most recognisable wristwatches.
But it is more than simply a watch. The Reverso has rightly become recognised as an icon of 20th-century design, in the true meaning of the term.