Did you know how the Reverso was born?
On 1930s British Army’s Officer in India spent their spare time playing Polo. But the sport of kings is a little tough on any piece of timekeeping equipment that might be strapped to your wrist.
César De Trey, an executive of the soon-to-be-established company “Specialites Horlogeres”, which would subsequently evolve into Jaeger-LeCoultre a few years later, was in India on business in 1930. While attending a polo match, he was approached by a player who held up his broken watch and asked De Trey to make a watch that could withstand the rigors of the polo grounds.
De Trey discussed the issue with his friend Jacques-David LeCoultre and the French firm Jaeger S.A. Jaeger asked the French designer René-Alfred Chauvot to develop this particual watch. Chauvot patented a case mechanism that allowed the watch to be flipped, even when worn on the wrist. And choose a unique shape (rectangular case) with a perfect proportion, based on the so-called “golden ratio” of roughly 1.618, exactly as Patek Philippe did for the Golden Ellipse.
In 1931 an Art Deco icon was born. Over the years the Reverso has seen countless versions. However, the case has changed little over the years: it’s been enlarged and redesigned for better water resistance and mechanical performance (the current case has 50+ components vs. the original’s fewer than 30). Several movements have been used, with updates and complications added, but the basic Reverso has remained almost alarmingly unchanged since its introduction 82 years ago.
Because it was the 1930s and the Art Deco design movement was in full swing, the Reverso was an instant hit. This is particularly due to the fact that, while the reversing “flip” feature was — and still is — a conversation starter, the unintended genius of the watch was the blank back side of the reversing module.
After this great success, Reverso’s production remained low during World War II and in the subsequent decades, and the watch briefly fell out of production in the 1970s. Legend has it that the Italian JLC distributor Giorgio Corvo, who was also a connoisseur and collector, discovered a small cache of cases during a visit to the JLC manufacture in Switzerland in 1972. He persuaded the company to sell him all 200 cases, had them fitted with mechanical movements and took them back to Italy, where all 200 watches sold within a few weeks.
A curiosity? In 1931, eight Reverso cases were sold to Patek Philippe (due to the fact that Jacques-David LeCoultre was then an administrator of PP). The movements Patek installed in those eight cases were round, and although they were supplied by LeCoultre (a Patek supplier in those days), the watches were signed Patek Philippe. Two of these, a man’s version and the single ladies version, reside today in the Patek Philippe museum in Geneva.
Finally, in 2006, the Reverso Squadra was introduced: a square dial, and a thicker case, allowing for additional complications. Notably, also in 2006, a patent application from JLC was rejected by the patent office on the grounds that a similar patent had already been awarded — the 1931 patent of René-Alfred Chauvot. The story goes that, according to JLC, designers were working on a square Reverso right alongside the rectangular version in the 1930s, but decided not to release the watch because of the “uncompromisingly modern proportions”. Apparently, 75 years later, the time was finally right.