The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso was born as a solution to a very specific problem. As un-glamorous as calling a watch a ‘solution’ may sound, this timeless piece has since become one of the most enduring and desirable models in the world of watches. The term ‘classic’ is seen by some as a cliché and many dislike the term, thinking that it is overused and perhaps a little commercial. However, there really is no other word that really covers what the Reverso has become.
The ‘problem’ to be addressed really was very much a first world problem. Those in need of a solution were polo players in the 1930s. The players in question were British army officers that were posted in India who required wrist watches that could withstand the occasional knock during play. The Reverso met this brief taking a reversible form – the main (normal) crystal covered dial can be protected by the action of the case. This can be flipped over to reveal a solid metal caseback. The Reverso range has grown over the ensuing decades and this reversible form has resulted in a watch model with the most diverse canon of designs. Unlike the original Reverso, many others actually feature two dials, in contrasting, or sometimes even complimentary, designs.
A Reverso Duoface model 272.8.54 featured in our auction on 9th June 2021. This very attractive stainless steel example has two dials, one to the front and to the case reverse. The front dial is white with detail in black, whereas the reverse dial is the opposite. The white could be considered for daytime use, with the black for evening. Both dials have the small seconds dial positioned at 6 and feature the railroad inner seconds track to the middle of the dial.
The Reverso Duetto 266.2.113 is a lady’s version, an excellent example of which features in the Select Watches auction on 1st July 2021. The first dial is rectangular, white in colour with stylised black Arabic numerals. The rectangular inner seconds track perfectly frames the larger, sword-style hands, also in black. Flipping the case over reveals the second dial, again rectangular but with a central square section formed by a diamond set frame. It is simultaneously a little more opulent and yet simple, it lacks any numerals but continues the luxury of the gold of the case into the bevelled sword hands. Both case edges have diamonds above and below the crystal, this second side however has a full diamond bezel.
The rectangular case and simple dial are quintessentially art deco in their style of course, as befits the Reverso’s original time of creation. Although round case watches became the more popular form from the 1940s onwards, the rectangular made a strong comeback in the 1980s. Naturally the Reverso rode this wave and after a hiatus lasting a few decades, the Reverso was relaunched in 1983.
Despite its strong standing in the design stakes, and the inclusion of some quartz versions, it would be very unfair to only discuss this watch from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Jaeger-LeCoultre are highly regarded for their movements, there is a famous quote that says they are, “the watchmaker’s watchmaker.” This statement says it all – explicit is the high regard in which their mechanical movements are held, by the experts. After the initial 1983 relaunch, the brand began to focus on special editions and more complicated movements. One of these was the Reverso Tourbillon released in 1993, and later iterations that housed other impressive features including a perpetual calendar.
There is another phrase that is common in the watch world, it is ‘evolution not revolution.’ The Reverso, like many other watches, from many other brands, owes its success to this simple ethos. Rather than bringing out watches that offer massive sequential departures from their predecessors, the key to perpetuity (and being perpetually on collectors’ minds) is familiarity, updated. The Reverso is to Jaeger-LeCoultre what the Tank is to Cartier – a poster boy, kept fresh by design changes, visually synonymous with the brand as a whole. A classic go-to watch on the wishlist of many collectors, the Reverso will remain there through its many inevitable iterations still to come.
Lyon & Turnbull’s watch auction and valuations department is a dynamic one with significant expertise, creating diverse watch auctions in the UK with fine, rare, modern and vintage timepieces. In line with the growth of the pre-owned watch market in recent years, we hold six specialist auctions each year, across our Edinburgh and London salerooms.