Double Duty

The Reverso, subtly updated in an anniversary year, remains the face of Jaeger-LeCoultre 85 years after its debut.

By Jonathan Bues

The story of the Reverso is one of the most romantic tales in watchmaking lore, set in India during the early 20th century, featuring the sport of polo and an inventive manufacture on the make.

Poising the Gyrolab balance wheel on the JLC Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon.
Poising the Gyrolab balance wheel on the JLC Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon.

The genteel milieu of the Reverso’s origins goes some way toward explaining how a sports watch for an aristocratic pastime—its swiveling case invented to shield the crystal from a hurling ball or errant polo mallet—became one of the most recognizable dress watches in the world. The Reverso is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s undeniable icon, known instantly from across a room and available in countless iterations, ranging from the simple three-hander to the high complication. It is also the ultimate personalizable timepiece, with a swiveling caseback that practically begs to be engraved, enameled, or otherwise decorated. Personalizing the Reverso has become so popular with collectors that the Grand Maison has brought the necessary métiers in house.

“One can’t overestimate the importance of the Reverso to our brand,” says Jaeger-LeCoultre director of marketing and creation Stéphane Belmont. We registered our name, Jaeger-LeCoultre, in 1937, in order to set up a distribution company to sell the Reverso, which we had launched just six years earlier. Conversely, I don’t think the Reverso could have become the success it is today were it not for Jaeger-LeCoultre.”

Back of the JLC Reverso Classic Duo.
Back of the JLC Reverso Classic Duo.

In 2016, the Reverso turned 85 and was treated to a host of updates, including the introduction of the Atelier Reverso concept, an interactive experience that allows collectors to personalize their Reverso purchases via an in-store online experience and a mobile app connected to the manufacture in Le Sentier. The Atelier Reverso concept first appealed to women collectors through a collaboration with Christian Louboutin, which saw straps designed by the French shoemaker, known for his characteristic bright red soles, mixed and matched with different women’s Reversos.

“It made sense to launch the Atelier Reverso with a focus on women’s watches because of our partnership with Christian Louboutin,” says Belmont. “This year, we look forward to introducing more gentlemen’s pieces to Atelier Reverso.”

A JLC designer working on the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon.
A JLC designer working on the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon.

The new Reverso collection includes subtle updates—an almost imperceptible curve to the caseback for better ergonomics and a slight shortening of the lugs. These modifications, which improve comfort and wearability, are rooted in early Reversos, whose cases were in fact curved.

Reverso Tribute Calendar

The watchmaker’s 2016 SIHH collection was an unprecedented, wide-ranging homage to its most famous model. On the cover of this issue of Watch Journal, we see the Reverso Tribute Calendar, a double-sided Reverso that shows the day of the week, the month, the date, and the phase of the moon on a richly textured dial that communicates a warmth and craftsmanship that is rare in modern watches.

Front of the JLC Reverso Tribute Calendar.
Front of the JLC Reverso Tribute Calendar.

Swiveling the pink gold case of this complicated Reverso reveals not the plain, engravable back we expect, but a fairly recent development within the world of Reverso—a second time zone powered by the same movement, the all new Caliber 853, on yet another dial equipped with a day/night indicator. The anthracite dial with a Clous de Paris pattern on the obverse provides a very different, and somewhat more modern, second look.

This duoface configuration has become a hallmark of complicated Reversos. The feature has existed within the range only since the mid-1990s, when Jaeger-LeCoultre was one of the first watchmakers to emerge from the quartz crisis under then-CEO Günter Blümlein, an almost legendary figure in the mechanical watch renaissance. Blümlein not only shepherded Jaeger-LeCoultre into the modern era, he also helmed IWC and, along with Walter Lange, was responsible for the A. Lange & Söhne relaunch. Today, dual-faced models are among the most popular modern Reversos.

The Reverso Tribute Calendar comes in a pink gold case that is water resistant to 30 meters. Its dimensions—49.7 mm by 29.9 mm wide, with a thickness of 10.9 mm—make this new timepiece the largest of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reversos released at SIHH 2016.

Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon 1 arrived in 2004, at a time when experimental high complications were just beginning to gain traction among the highest echelon of watch collectors. It was a major thing when the first tourbillons made their way to the wristwatch in the 1980s and ’90s. But by the mid-aughts, the tourbillon itself was in danger of becoming passé. Thanks to Jaeger-LeCoultre, the complication was able to evolve in an unexpectedly complex direction.

The JLC Reverso Tribute  Gyrotourbillon.
The JLC Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon.

A twist on the conventional tourbillon, the Gyrotourbillon rotates the watch escapement within an almost hypnotic gyroscopic pattern. By indexing the regulating organ in multiple directions, not along a single plane, the Gyrotourbillon turned the tourbillon into a mechanism with real chronometric benefits on the wrist.

This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented a Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon that amounts to the cleanest and purest expression of the brand’s 2004 invention. At the center of this watchmaking innovation is the new, manually wound Caliber 179. The whole of the escapement is viewable from the front and the back thanks to a system that dispenses with bridges on both sides. Instead, a single ball bearing girds the tourbillon, effectively rendering the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon the first completely “flying” multi-axis tourbillon.

Two carriages drive the rotation of the Gyrotourbillon escapement. The first of these makes one complete rotation per minute—nothing too unusual there. The second, internal carriage moves much faster, rotating completely every 12.6 seconds.

Beneath the hemispherical balance spring turns a Gyrolab balance wheel, which readers will remember from last year’s Geophysic True Second. The Gyrolab balance is not a “wheel” in the proper sense. Instead, two halves, each shaped like the Jaeger-LeCoultre anchor insignia, form a modern interpretation of a balance. This new design development is said to reduce air friction and has proven to be a decisive breakthrough in terms of chronometric precision.

The Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon is also a duoface model, meaning that both sides of its swiveling case impart information. On the primary side, one can read the time in a frosted subdial, with the seconds indicated via a rotating chapter integrated into the tourbillon escapement. In the upper lefthand quadrant of the rectangular dial is a day/night indicator in engraved metal that, along with the sunray motif in the lower half of the dial, is suggestive of the art deco period that gave birth to the original Reverso. In the upper righthand corner of the dial, balancing the day/night indicator, you’ll notice an exposed mainspring. The other side of this duo is a masterpiece of traditional craftsmanship. Its finely skeletonized dial is hand engraved on all of its bridges, many of which have been sculpted and paired down to their essential framework. The Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon ranks among the most complex and limited—and indeed pricey—timepieces in the company’s current offerings. Produced in platinum in a limited edition of 75 pieces, its price is set at 270,000 euros.

Reverso Classics

The Reverso Classic is the watch that most collectors have in mind when they think of the Reverso. This year it is available in small, medium, and large sizes. With its art deco-inspired design and a case whose proportions are derived from the golden ratio, this is the flagship Reverso, a classic that has been informed by years of Jaeger-LeCoultre production. The new Reverso Large measures 27.4 mm wide by 45.6 mm long. The medium is 24.4 mm wide by 40 mm long, and the small measures 21 mm wide by 34 mm long. These are plain, steel-backed Reversos—the kind that collectors enjoy having engraved or otherwise decorated.

The Reverso Classic range was further enhanced with Classic Large Duo and the Small & Medium Duetto lines, for men and women, respectively. Unlike the standard Reverso Classics, which come only in steel. The Duo and Duetto models, whose names indicate double dials and second time zones, can be had in both pink gold and stainless steel.

“Any time you’re updating an icon, it’s best to act with restraint,” Belmont said. The anniversary Reverso models feature improvements that enhance the ownership experience for collectors while managing to appear, at least as far as the cases are concerned, virtually indistinguishable from previous models. Whether collectors elect to be more daring in the choices made available to them by the Atelier Reverso program—by adding a meteorite dial, say—is entirely up to them.