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History of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

The history of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

Looking back to 4 March 1931, at 1:15 pm, at the INPI (National Industrial Property Institute) in Paris: René-Alfred Chauvot officially patents his invention of a "wristwatch which can slide on its base and flip over on itself”. The Reverso watch was born.

The original patent and drawings of the Reverso

It all started during the winter of 1930-1931. While travelling in India, the Swiss businessman and watch collector César de Trey attended a polo match at a club of British army officers. One of these officers, who had just broken the glass of his watch, challenged de Trey to create a watch model robust enough to resist to a polo match.

César de Trey discussed the idea with Jacques-David LeCoultre, the then owner of the LeCoultre manufacture, who could provide the movements for the new watch.

LeCoultre appointed the firm Jaeger S.A. for the creation of the reversible case, which in turn contracted the  French designer René-Alfred Chauvot, the actual inventor of the unique slide and flip mechanism.

The result was an elegant watch with a dial that could flip, protecting it from shocks while offering a case back with a generous surface that could be used for personalisation.

The original Reverso - 1931

The original Reverso case was 38 mm long, 24 mm large and 6 mm high, pretty close to the size of today's Reverso Classic (40.1 mm x 24.4 mm x 7.56 mm).

A dial variation - 1931

The dial of the original model featured only hours and minutes hands. It was only in 1934 that LeCoultre introduced a version with small seconds counter at six o'clock.

A chocolate-toned dial in this Reverso featuring 
the small seconds sub-dial at six o'clock - 1935

In 1937 Jaeger S.A. and LeCoultre merged officially becoming Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Representing an elegant and sophisticated response to a technical challenge, the Reverso established itself as a great Art Deco classic constantly inspiring the watchmakers, artists and inventors of the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre to reinterpret the back of the watch.

Vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Advertisements

From 1931, the backs of Reverso watches were personalised with engravings or enamel miniatures.

The engraved back of the Balbo Reverso, celebrating the 
journey made by Italo Balbo across the Atlantic - 1933

One of the rarest creations featured the portrait of a beautiful Indian lady, probably a Maharani, whose story remains one of the best-kept secrets in the history of the Reverso.

The back of the "Maharani" Reverso - 1936

Advertising campaign describing the Reverso as the ideal army watch 
because of its ability to withstand knocks -1943

Unfortunately, after World War II, with the mode switching to round watches, the symbol of the Art Deco was somehow disregarded compared to previous years. In the late 60s, the invasion of Japanese quartz watches put mechanical watches on the back burner for a while.

Luckily, an Italian watch dealer, Giorgio Corvo, noticed some unused Reverso cases at the Manufacture on a visit in 1972.  He bought all of the remaining stock (200 empty cases), had movements installed and sold them all in Italy.

Confident that Reverso's re-launch would be a success, Corvo convinced the brand to use only mechanical movements in its models. Finally, in 1982 the Reverso was revived by JLC in a line of watches that housed mostly quartz movements.

In 1985, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented the first-ever water-resistant Reverso case. This required a complete makeover to offer unprecedented wearing comfort and guarantee total security in pivoting.

The first ever water-resistant Reverso case - 1985

While the first model of the Reverso comprised about 30 parts, it could only be swivelled at the far end of the cradle and it was not water-resistant, the second generation was not only water-resistant but it could also swivel at any point along the cradle. Each Reverso case now consisted of over 50 components, making it one of the most complicated cases in watchmaking.

The Reverso 60ème launched the era of limited editions of Reverso models with complications. Framed by a large-size 18 ct pink gold case, the solid silver guilloché dial conceals a hand-wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 824 with a power-reserve and date hand.

Reverso 60ème - 1991

Other 500-piece limited editions soon followed: a tourbillon in 1993, a minute repeater in 1994, a retrograde chronograph in 1996, a dual time zone in 1998 and a perpetual calendar in the year 2000.

Reverso Tourbillon - 1993

In 1994, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduces the Duoface concept with the back of the watch featuring a second dial although driven by a single movement.

Reverso Duoface - 1994

Two years later, La Grande Maison introduced the Reverso Chronographe Rétrograde, a limited edition of 500 pieces that represented an extraordinary technical feat with its Calibre 829 organizing the various indications on the two dials.

The Reverso Chronographe Rétrograde - 1996

For its 70th birthday in 2001, the Reverso acquired an 8-day double barrel, giving it enhanced accuracy offered by teaming a high-frequency balance wheel with over a week’s running power. 500 examples were made.

Reverso 70ème - 2001

With its patented large date, the anniversary model opened the chapter of the Grande Reverso, which would inherit its chief characteristics and incorporate them in models, like the Reverso Grande GMT, offering useful functions such as time zones, day/night indication and instant power reserve.

Reverso Grande GMT - 2004

Year 2006 sees the world's first ever watch to contain three dials driven by a single movement. In fact, the Reverso Grande Complication a Triptyque features three dimensions of time: civil, sidereal and perpetual.

Reverso Grande Complication a Tryptique - 2006

A sumptuous approach to absolute precision, the three-dimensional development of the spherical tourbillon of the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 -introduced in 2008- fascinates with the rotation speed of its two carriages – one rotation in 18.75 seconds for the inner carriage and one turn per minute for the outer carriage. For the first time, a wristwatch runs on a cylindrical hairspring. This masterpiece houses three major complications: a spherical tourbillon; a perpetual calendar with double retrograde indicators and solar time with the equation of time.

Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 - 2008

To celebrate its 80th birthday, Reverso came out with a fresh take on the absolute classicism of its Art Deco lines, with the Grande Reverso Ultra Thin including two Tribute to 1931 models in honour of the very first Reverso models.

Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 - 2011

Also presented in 2011, the Reverso Repetition Minutes a Rideau takes its juggling with the visible and the hidden, and with technique and beauty, to a new level.

Reverso Rideau à Répétition Minutes - 2011

In 2016, the 85th anniversary of the model was celebrated with the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon.

Measuring 51.1 mm x 31 mm with a thickness of 12.4 mm and crafted from platinum, the Tribute Gyrotourbillon was around 30% smaller in terms of both width and thickness of the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 introduced in 2008.

Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon - 2016

The front face features a finely grained white round dial swept over by blued steel Dauphine-type hands with a day/night indicator at 11 o’clock. A hand-crafted sunburst guilloché pattern frames the tourbillon. The other face demonstrates the art of the Manufacture’s engravers that finely hand-decorated the bridges of the openworked movement. Displaying a second time zone, this side also carries a day/night indicator in 24-hour mode at 2 o’clock as well as a small seconds hand driven by the tourbillon.

In this exceptional timepiece, the hemispherical balance-spring and the Gyrolab balance-wheel, distinguished by a non-circular configuration that considerably reduces air friction, are by themselves a demonstration of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s rare technical mastery.

Following in the footsteps of the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon, in 2018 Jaeger-LeCoultre celebrated the 185th anniversary of the brand with the Reverso Tribute Tourbillon Duoface combining the duoface concept with a flying tourbillon (you can read more about this 50-piece limited edition here).

Reverso Tribute Tourbillon Duoface - 2018

In 2021, La Grande Maison celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Reverso by releasing the most complicated timepiece ever presented in this collection, the Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque, the world’s first wristwatch with four functioning display faces. 

An exceptional creation that brings together a total of 11 complications including perpetual calendar, minute repeater, indications of the synodic, draconic and anomalistic cycles. 12 patents were filed by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Read about this horological masterpiece here.

Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque - 2021
Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque - 2021

Taking cues from the inaugural Reverso Chronographe of 1996, Jaeger-LeCoultre crafted the new Calibre 860, seamlessly integrating a chronograph with a double-sided display of time. This effort culminated in 2023 in the introduction of the Reverso Tribute Chronograph, housed within the Reverso Tribute case and presented in two variations: stainless steel or pink gold.

The Reverso Tribute Chronograph in pink gold - 2023
The Reverso Tribute Chronograph in pink gold - 2023

Remarkably, despite the intricate movement comprising over 300 components, this chronograph model maintains a slim profile, measuring less than 12 mm thick, a true embodiment of Jaeger-LeCoultre's unwavering dedication to elegance.

As it approaches a century of history, the Reverso's narrative, intricately woven with threads of innovation and artistry, maintains its captivating allure, leaving us in eager anticipation of its next unfolding.

By Alessandro Mazzardo. 
Latest revision January 19, 2024. 
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Time and Watches | The watch blog: History of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso
History of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso
The complete history of the Jaeger-Le Coultre Reverso (AKA JLC Reverso) wristwatch, a symbol of the Art Deco, one of the most iconic watches ever designed. Form the original Reverso model to the references our days. Designed in 1931 by René-Alfred Chauvot on the idea of César de Trey to create a watch that could be used by polo players. Discover the history of the Reverso models, from the enameled Maharani Reverso to the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2.
Time and Watches | The watch blog
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