This year, 188-year-old Jaeger-LeCoultre is celebrating 90 years of its most iconic model, the Reverso. We want to take you on a journey to discover the watch’s fascinating history, before introducing you to the bold and beautiful new watches themselves. Given the bright colour schemes, we’ll also give tips on how to style these unusual timepieces.
A History of Art Deco
In order to fully appreciate the Reverso, the world’s most famous Art Deco watch, one must first understand its artistic origins. At the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in the summer of 1925, The New York Times wrote:
When the French set out to make the show in Paris, to which this Summer they invited the world, they announced that everything must be new. The trammels of tradition were to be removed and art was free to experiment in the service of a civilisation which, in the article of mechanics, is so radically changed since most of the traditions of art were invented. The idea has been carried out with French thoroughness. Consequently, whatever else the visitor to the Exposition of Decorative Art gets, he does not fail to get a shock. It may be a thrill of pleasure or an emotion of horror – or very likely a mixture of the two.
One of the three official posters of the Expo by Robert Bonfils
Credits: Art Deco Society UK
Developed during the 1920s and peaking in the 1930s, Art Deco takes its inspiration from multiple artistic movements. This includes elements of Cubism, Bauhaus, and even the Russian Ballet and Native American art. While also taking inspiration from Art Nouveau, which celebrates curved, wide lines and natural forms, Art Deco (originally termed Style Moderne) favours symmetry.
Postcard of the Exposition Internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes (1925).
Credits: Wikipedia – International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts
The Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes aimed to decisively, not to mention politically, break from the past. After all, the exhibition took place within a post-war European context, in which there was much anti-traditionalist sentiment. Similar to many works at the time, the world’s first Art Deco exhibition valued modernity, freedom, and creativity – a new way of life.
The birth of the Reverso
In order to chronicle the conception of the Reverso, we must journey back to the less picturesque portrait of colonised India. The year was 1931, and wristwatches had well and truly caught on; in fact, wristwatches accounted for half of all Swiss watch exports by this point. While on a trip to India, Swiss-born watch distributor César de Trey was invited by some British colonial officers to watch a game of polo. They asked him (especially given de Trey’s specific interest in watch glass) whether it might be possible to create a watch that could be protected or “turned over” during the game, to prevent the frequent fractures happening to the soldiers’ watches.
Credits: La Polo
De Trey turned to his friend Jacques-David LeCoultre for advice on the movement, while French designer René-Alfred Chauvot assisted with the case. Mere weeks later, the Reverso mechanism was patented as “a watch capable of sliding in its support and being completely turned over”. It was the words “turned over” that stuck with de Trey, hence Reverso (Latin for “I turn”).
Image: Chauvot’s design for the Reverso case.
Art Deco and the Reverso
With its minimalist aesthetics and geometric simplicity, the Reverso embodies the Art Deco philosophy in many ways. Principally, Art Deco combines modernity and fashion, and works to create something anti-traditional yet sophisticated. The Reverso, with its simple style yet elegant, luxurious appearance undoubtedly embodies this.
Image: A Reverso from 1931.
Art Deco style on the Reverso case and dial
The Art Deco emphasis on symmetry is a strong part of the Reverso’s identity, for example with its three straight-line “gadroons” on the case and chemin de fer minute track on the dial. Likewise, Art Deco favours rectangular, as opposed to circular shapes. The case shape of the Reverso evidently follows this design code.
Image: A Reverso from 1931.
Interestingly, Art Deco creations include both hand-made, luxury items as well as Bauhaus-inspired, mass-produced wares. The design of the Reverso marries both. On the one hand, the Reverso was meticulously crafted in a watchmaking manufacture in the Swiss Vallée de Joux. On the other hand, the original Reverso models were in steel. Steel is easy to produce industrially, is affordable, and also more functional in terms of anti-corrosion and hardness properties compared to, for example, silver. Jaeger-LeCoultre marketed its Reverso by pointing out these qualities at the time.
Image: Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso from 1931.
Credits: Johann Sauty
Another Art-Deco characteristic can be found on the back of the Reverso. The caseback of the Reverso was left empty, in line with the artistic style’s favouring of sleek, smooth surfaces. However, the Reverso‘s empty caseback also became something more personal. Many wearers engraved – and still engrave – their Reverso with a personal message or meaningful image. King Edward VIII of England, for example, engraved his Reverso with the royal crest of the throne he had abdicated.
Image: Actor Nicholas Hoult’s personalised engraving on his Reverso.
Credits: Alex Teuscher
Finally, Reverso models initially came in either silver-white, dark grey, or red. Quickly realising the watch’s potential, brightly lacquered dials such as navy blue (1933) and chocolate brown (1935) began to appear. These colours demonstrated that the Reverso was not just for sportsmen, but rather for the newly fashionable “sporting gentleman”. Additionally, such striking and vibrant colours were a common feature in Art Deco. Of course, these dials were also particularly significant given that in the 30s, such colourful dials were a rarity. This made the Reverso stand out not only for its unique architecture, but also its unusual and impressive colours.
Image: Original Reverso dials.
The 2021 Reverso models
Evoking the lush Vallée de Joux: Reverso Tribute Small Seconds
Since its conception in 2016, JLC’s Reverso Tribute models have aimed to stay true to the brand’s very first models. Therefore, true to form, the Reverso Tribute Small Seconds keeps things authentic by featuring a solid steel caseback.
The main talking point of this model is its sunray lacquered green dial. The deep green tone, as well as the matching calf strap, encapsulate the peaceful feel of the Vallée de Joux, with its singing birds and pine trees. This aspect of appreciating nature often inspires the brand. The nature-inspired colour scheme also contrasts with the Reverso’s metropolitan design.
Powering the watch is the manual winding Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 822/2, which has a 42-hour power reserve. It keeps things simple by offering hours, minutes and seconds, the latter of which lie in a small subdial at 6 o’clock. With a water-resistance to 30 m, this serene new timepiece is a watch for both purists and romantics. The price of the Reverso Tribute Small Seconds is 8,350 euros.
How to wear it
2021 is the year of green dial watches. This still-new trend means it can be difficult to know what to pair a green watch with. Generally, green dial watches are not too difficult to work with. However, the Reverso is slightly more difficult to style than typical round case watches, for example, given its quirky, time-specific aesthetic.
As a result, it makes sense to steer clear of classic green dial pairings e.g. a countryside green Barbour jacket or a brown bomber jacket. What does work with this highly defined timepiece, however, are muted colours such as grey. Grey also allows the Reverso to take centre stage, while simultaneously avoiding any clashes of colour. For a more suave look, the green Reverso Tribute Small Seconds also works well with a white or striped shirt plus a smart jacket.
For the “Sporting Gentleman”: Reverso Tribute Duoface Fagliano
Perhaps the watch to receive even more attention this year is burgundy Reverso Tribute Duoface Fagliano. In circulation since 1994, JLC’s Duoface models offers two contrasting dials, with the reverse offering a second time zone. The wearer can adjust this second time zone using a small slider set into the top case-band.
Specifically designed as a tribute to the longevity of the historic Reverso model – hence the conspicuous dial colour – the new Duoface is housed in a 47 x 28.3mm case. Its 18-carat pink gold glow complements the burgundy-red dial and strap like a dream. Additionally, the dial features typical Reverso matching pink-gold dauphine hands and applied straight indices. A subdial at 6 o’clock displays the small seconds.
Meanwhile, the other side of the Reverso displays the second time zone. The dial is in silvered grey and has a shining opaline centre. Despite this more subtle colour palette, the dial will still seduce any haute horlogerie follower thanks to its intricate and velvety Clous de Paris guillochage. Additionally, the lower half of this dial features a 24-hour day/night indicator, also with an opaline finish.
The watch’s various functions are possible thanks to the in-house manual winding mechanical movement Calibre 854A/2. Beating at a frequency of 21,600 vibrations per hour (3 Hz), it offers a power reserve of 42 hours.
An unusual aesthetic
The Reverso Tribute Duoface Fagliano‘s combination of a red dial and pink gold is rarely seen on men’s watches. A number of women’s watches come to mind, e.g. OMEGA’s De Ville Trésor Moonshine or Chopard’s Happy Sport 33 mm with a red mother-of-pearl dial. However, the sharp and sophisticated design of the Reverso gives the colour scheme a whole new, more masculine feel.
It’s fair to say that the burgundy-red tones of this watch aren’t exactly sporty. Rather, JLC unites the sporty, angular Reverso model with a bold, beautiful colour that harks back to its first models. As a result, the watch perfectly encapsulates the term “sporting gentleman”. It also demonstrates how the sporty Reverso has moved into the realms of becoming a dress watch due to its elegant design, standing out in a modern world of smart watches and often-bulky chronographs.
The Reverso Tribute Duoface Fagliano comes on a burgundy cordovan leather and canvas strap by Casa Fagliano, the world-famous Argentinian maker of polo boots. It is a limited edition of only 190 pieces, and is exclusively available in boutiques. Its price is 23,300 euros.
How to wear it
The deep burgundy dial of the Reverso Tribute Duoface Fagliano is more difficult to pair than the green Reverso Tribute Small Seconds. However, this isn’t to say the wearer can’t utilise its stunning colour to achieve a captivating look. Ultimately, this is a watch that works well for more formal occasions above everyday events.
First and foremost, the watch, whether displaying the red or white dial, works incredibly well with a suit. This is because a suit has smart yet simple aesthetic, allowing the colour to stand out without looking inharmonious alongside the outfit. Alternatively, any lighter shade of grey clothing is again able to compliment the vibrant watch very well.
A women’s watch worth wearing: The Reverso Duetto Medium
I am very much the first to criticise iconic gentlemen’s watches that discard their design codes by pouring diamonds over them in order to qualify them as ladies pieces. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s elegantly executed Reverso Duetto Medium watches, however, do not do this. On the contrary, they have a completely different feel to the other watches we’ve seen so far.
The two exquisite models, which come in steel with a blue colour scheme (Q2578480) or pink gold with a taupe colour scheme (Q2572570), bring a whole new level of refinement and beauty to JLC’s ladies’ portfolio. Housed in a 40 x 24 mm case, both sides of the Duetto‘s dials feature two rows of dainty diamonds, amounting to 60 diamonds (0.84 carats). As the name suggests, the Duetto models integrate two dials. The front dial is classically elegant, while the reverse is more curvaceous and shapely.
Both feature a light-coloured front dial with a central rectangle, showcasing distinctive sunray guilloché decoration and a chemin de fer minute track. These characteristics allow the watch to exude a real 1930s vibe.
By contrast, the darker reverse dials showcase a sunray-brushed central circle, surrounded by guillochage radiating outwards in a sunray pattern. To me, the reverse side of the dial seems to celebrate the sensuous, voluptuous side of feminine beauty. Powering the Reverso Duetto Medium, which simply displays hours and minutes on both sides, is the in-house automatic calibre 968A. It has a 38-hour power reserve and beats at a frequency of 4 Hz.
Why the Reverso Duetto Medium matters
Returning to our history lesson; the Reverso watch was also highly meaningful to women in the years following its conception. While (jewellery) watches were popular among women well before men – with watches once even considered emasculating, according to Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf – sports (and sports watches) were once out of the question for women. Up until 1900, women were unable to participate in the Olympic Games. However, the likes of French tennis player Suzanne Lenglen changed this forever around 1919. Lenglen was also a fashion icon, who not only turned up to matches with red lipstick and fur coats, but also instigated the shift from long skirts and sleeves towards the sporty mini tennis skirts we use to this day.
The progressive shift in fashion also applied in the watch world; after all, the Reverso‘s introduction in 1931 was particularly important given that this was a unisex sports watch. Despite initially being conceived for soldiers and marketed towards the “sporting gentleman”, JLC state that it was equally envisioned for both genders’ wrists, making it pretty progressive for the time. Women were also given options for wearing the Reverso watches in alternative ways. This included the likes of on the wrist, as a necklace, or even on a leather cord to attach to a handbag. The steel version of the Reverso Duetto Medium costs 13,700 euros, while its pink-gold sibling costs 25,600.
How to wear it
Most women will find the pink-gold and taupe Reverso Duetto Medium easy to wear. After all, the Scandic colour palette (e.g. white, beige) remains very much en mode. Likewise, rose-gold jewellery and watches are still very much in favour across the watch and jewellery industry, making accessorising simple. The watch works well with a classic camel coat plus tortoise-shell details, such as coat buttons or preppy glasses. JLC’s unexpected use of the taupe shade was genius; it couldn’t match better to many women’s toned-down 2021 wardrobes.
By contrast, the versatile silver and blue Reverso Duetto Medium works with a clean, sharp outfit such as a white shirt and black or blue jeans. In summer, it would certainly suit a relaxed white dress. Alternatively, the elegance of this Reverso, with its subtle inclusion of diamonds and low-key colour scheme, allows the watch to work beautifully with evening attire, e.g. a long silk dress in navy blue.
Jaeger-LeCoultre 2021 Reverso Models: The Verdict
An in-depth analysis of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 2021 Reverso models sheds light upon the fact that Jaeger-LeCoultre is a horology house that moves with the times – not only in terms of trends, but also in terms of zeitgeist. It is also clear that the Reverso’s Art Deco inspiration is highly relevant. After all, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes was conceived to create a brighter, more progressive future.
90 years on, the story of the Reverso can gives us some perspective. Of course, in a world of fast-paced media and incredibly advanced technology, one could argue that we have become blind to the beauty of objects, let alone how they are created. A mechanical watch, however, is often the thing that can bring people back down to earth.
While its design code is no longer exactly groundbreaking, the bold new Reverso models allow us to change our mindsets and appreciate the beautiful, intricate things that humans are capable of creating. Finally, as was the case in the 1930s, the last few years have been difficult for many of us. The Reverso’s Art Deco story reminds us that we can use both art and style for the greater good.
Last but not least, the bright, thoughtfully executed 2021 Reverso models present a picture of what people care about in 2021; confidence, contemporary style, human capability, and appreciation for the beautiful countryside that surrounds us. These are all things well worth valuing, now and forever – and a mechanical watch remains the perfect way to remind ourselves of that.
Sources: Foulkes, N., 2020. REVERSO. New York: Assouline Publishing.
Reverso Tribute Small Seconds in Green
|Reverso Tribute Small Seconds
|Dimensions: 45.6 x 27.4 mm
Height: 8.5 mm
|30 m (3 bar)
|Green sunray-brushed lacquered dial
|Green Fagliano calf strap
|Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 822/2
|3 Hz (21,600 vph)
|Hours, minutes, small seconds
Reverso Duoface Tribute Fagliano
|Reverso Tribute Duoface Fagliano
|18-carat pink gold
|Dimensions: 47 x 28.3 mm
Height: 10.3 mm
|30 m (3 bar)
|Front: Burgundy-red lacquer, applied golden hour markers, Dauphine hands
Reverse: Silvered grey and velvety Clous de Paris guillochage, applied golden hour markers, Dauphine hands
|Bi-material cordovan leather and canvas, designed by Casa Fagliano, pin buckle in 18-carat pink gold
|Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 854A/2
|3 Hz (21,600 vph)
|Front: Hours, minutes, small seconds.
Reverse: Second time zone, 24-hour day/night indicator
|EUR 23,300 – limited to 190 pieces
Reverso Duetto Medium: Steel or pink gold
|Reverso Duetto Medium
Q2572570 (Pink gold)
|Steel or 18-carat pink gold
|Dimensions: 40 x 24 mm
Height: 9.5 mm
|30 m (3 bar)
|Front: light-coloured dial, sunray guilloché pattern, chemin de fer minute track
Reverse: darker-coloured dial, sunray-brushed central circle with golden or steel ring, guillochage in sunray pattern.
|Blue alligator strap (Steel)
Taupe alligator strap (Pink gold)
|Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 968A
|4 Hz (28,800 vph)
|Hours and minutes on both dials
|Steel: EUR 13,700
Pink gold: EUR 25,600