Jaeger Le Coultre Reverso, created because of a Polo match

July 14, 2021By Bonetto Cinturini

Watch connoisseurs probably already know the story we are about to tell, that of the famous Reverso watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre, but we will try, just the same, to add new details and surprising facts. The luxury watch to which this article is dedicated is one of the most appreciated by those who love these accessories, thanks to its uniqueness, the luxury it represents, and the story it narrates.

The symbol of a true revolution that began in the 1930s – the Art Deco period – this watch reinvented the classic use of the accessory, how and when to wear it.

The story behind the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

Not every story has a well-defined beginning like the one that is about to follow, which starts precisely on 4 March 1930. Even the place is extremely precise and important: a polo club in the British Indies. The main character in our story is undoubtedly César de Trey, a very famous Swiss entrepreneur who sold Swiss watches in different parts of the world. Polo was a very common sport on the continent at that time, above all among wealthier men, but it could become very animated and it was easy for wrists to be hit. That is exactly what happened to an officer of the British army who was playing a match at precisely the time when César de Trey was present: the crystal of the officer’s watch broke during a chukker. Knowing the sector in which Trey worked, the officer ironically challenged him to invent and produce an elegant, classic man’s watch that could be worn with a uniform or a suit, but which at the same time would also be perfect for more active situations, like polo matches. In substance, he asked César de Trey to produce a luxury watch that was versatile and resistant to knocks.

Continuing the conversation with the officer and the other players who were attending the after-match reception, it came out that even though watch models had been specifically designed for the soldiers in the trenches, they were solid, very resistant, so not right for elegant, formal occasions. What the officers were proposing was, instead, a slim, classic luxury watch that was reversible, so that it could be turned over when the risk of breaking the crystal was greater.

César de Trey marketed luxury watches, but certainly did not know how to produce a model from scratch, so when he returned home to Switzerland he contacted his friend Jacques-David LeCoultre, who had a watch shop. The two decided to give it a try, willingly accepting the challenge launched by the British officer. An important problem came up immediately, though: Jacques-David LeCoultre’s company did not produce watch cases. This is why they decided to contact Jaeger, a French company known for producing its own cases. Even the successors of Edmond Jaeger, the owners of the Jaeger company at that period, found the idea of a reversible watch to be interesting, so a collaboration was started between the three people and between two companies. One year later, this collaboration led to the presentation of the luxury watch that carries the name of its two creators: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.

We will continue telling the story of this watch from the start of the Second World War, while in the paragraph that follows we will concentrate on explaining how it, so loved by collectors, works. The sales of Reverso, a model approved by the affluent men of the time, had been increasing, but the arrival of the Second World War slowed the trend. The war caused everyone’s attention to move towards other prospects: quotas were set for watch sales, production was reprogrammed to support the war and military costs, and the population became poorer and less willing to purchase accessories like luxury watches. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso wagers greatly on aesthetics and scenography, thanks to the fact that it is reversible, but the post-war period was very different from the Thirties, when it had been successful thanks to its affinity with Art Deco, the prevalent style at the time. In addition, mechanical watches were becoming less popular because the majority of people preferred automatic watches or alarm watches, so the production of the Reverso halted completely.

The turnabout came only in 1972 thanks to an Italian man, Giorgio Corvo, an important importer of Jaeger-LeCoultre watches to Italy, who managed to obtain the last cases needed to produce the Reverso that were available in the warehouse. At this point, however, there were no calibers for the cases, because no longer being produced, but Corvo did not give up and adapted a round movement that was produced in Milan. When the Italian man presented his reconstruction of the Reverso to Jaeger-LeCoultre they were amazed, supplying Corvo with an oval movement to replace the round one.

So how did the story end for the 200 Reverso watches that remained in circulation? They were all sold, over a month, in Milan. The complicated company vicissitudes of Jaeger-LeCoultre, together with the relations – at that point interrupted – with the producers of the various Reverso components were causing problems now that the Italian market, and others, were demanding this luxury watch, because there were no cases available to produce it. It was very difficult to find another case producer for the Reverso; one was discovered in Geneva and copied the cases of the old Reverso, but three years were needed before managing to complete a revisited model that worked like the original. The result was a second edition of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, now even with a gold case.

The new edition of this luxury watch, however, was marked by its problematic case back, which was not as fluid as that of the first models. Only in 1985, when the case started being produced directly by Jaeger-LeCoultre, was a new edition of the Reverso watch created. The watch had the same mechanism, shape and style as the original, but was slimmer and had a projecting crown for easier use. The new case was slightly different from the original one because the lug ends were fixed by screws, so they could be removed easily when necessary. The case of the new 1985 model Reverso can also be reversed at any position, not just at the ends of the straight guides like the original. In 1991 the Reverso watch represented a complete collection for Jaeger-LeCoultre.

This luxury watch, and in particular its past models, is extremely appreciated by collectors today, and is purchased globally by men and women who are attracted by the uniqueness of the reversible case. Since 1930, more than 700 dials and 50 movements have been created, while always maintaining the distinctive traits of this one-of-a-kind watch that attracts famous people, actors, singers and luxury watch enthusiasts every year.

How the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso works

A description of this timekeeping jewel starts here, to help understand how it works and the distinctive trait that has made it stand out and led it to being so appreciated by amateurs and collectors alike since 1930.

We have already identified the reversible case as being the main characteristic of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watch, something that has made it unique and inimitable. The watch as a whole is made up of: a basic structure, in which the reversible case slides, with pins that allow the case to rotate and spheres that lock it to the basic structure when the required position is reached.

The first design of the watch and the reversible case was presented on 4 March 1931 at the Patents Office in Paris to obtain exclusive use, with the description indicating a steel case that could slide along guides in the basic structure and which could rotate until fully overturned. There were other subsequent improvements, but the main distinctive structure of the Reverso remained the same in each design, as it does even today.

After receiving the patent, the rights were purchased in July 1931 by César de Trey, from whom the idea of this unique luxury watch started, and who appointed a Geneva company to produce the case, particular and unusual for the period. In the same year, de Trey established a company with his friend Jacques David LeCoultre to sell these new watches.

The name Reverso was chosen by César de Trey, but the watch was always signed with the surnames of the designer and the producer: Jaeger and Le Coultre. It must be said, though, that the two names appeared on the watch together only after 1937: before then, at times only Jaeger appeared, and in other cases only Le Coultre.

Reverso, identifiable not only by its reversible case, but above all by its geometric and squared forms, has always signified elegance and uniqueness, an accessory that is simple, not lavish, but certainly precious and classy. Over the years, though, Jaeger-LeCoultre produced new Reverso models, at times very precious and complex, based on the original simple design. Among the most loved models are certainly those with two dials, one at the front and the other at the back, that are different so as to be worn on different occasions, or Reverso models enriched with precious gems and diamonds.

In spite of different legal vicissitudes involving the companies that produced the Reverso and their collaborators, this luxury watch is an example of watchmaking that is observed and at times imitated by many other producers, who have never been able to reach the perfection of the original Reverso, though.

Limited editions and tributes

We have already mentioned that in addition to the most classic models, Jaeger-LeCoultre also produced much more complex and precious models. This is the case of those made for anniversaries and important historical moments, like the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon, which represents one of the greatest and most complex moments in the design of this luxury watch. With a platinum case, two time zones and manual winding, this Reverso model has a very complex escapement, which transforms the classic tourbillon into a sphere that rotates around more than one axis. In addition to this complexity, given the internal structure and the special operation of the Reverso limited edition, this model also has a double face, with two different dials – one for the front and one for the back. The problem with this watch? It is very hard to find: the pieces that were made (75 only) are in the hands of jealous collectors and amateurs.

But there are also many limited editions of the Reverso watch, like the one dedicated to famous painters such as Vincent van Gogh or Georges Seurat. A Reverso showing the famous painting of a vase of sunflowers on the case is dedicated to the former, while a model that celebrates the Pointillism movement is dedicated to the latter.

They are certainly works of miniature watchmaking, which means hours and hours of work for expert enamellers and watchmakers, but they are also high cost and difficult to find. They are unique, timeless pieces that are perfect for being collected and displayed, but only on important occasions.