What's your favourite Reverso? It’s a question to which any bona fide watch aficionado should have an answer, though one person’s response will rarely match that of the next, such is the choice. In the panoply of all-time classic watches, does any offer up the same multitude of styles and references as Jaeger-LeCoultre’s icon?
The Carrera maybe, but at the expense (in the most part) of anything that relates it back to the original look. The strength of the Reverso, by contrast, is that no matter the baroque complications, dial designs, decorative concepts and stylistic ideas stirred in over the years, from asymmetric big dates to “Eclipse” art pieces to the Gyrotourbillon 2, its Art Deco essence has remained intact. (Perhaps with the lingering exception of the brute that is the Squadra, but we’ll forgive that one deviation from the path.)
The Reverso turns 85 this year, making it one of the most enduring designs in the history of wristwatches, and among all the classics, probably the most singular. The origin story is well rehearsed: the polo-playing officers of the British Raj who wanted a watch with a dial that could be protected during play; the businessman who brought this requirement back to Switzerland; the combined genius of a French engineer (Alfred Chauvot) and Jacques-David LeCoultre in realising a beautiful watch with a swiveling case.
Whatever the Reverso’s sporting origins (one suspects this aspect of the legend is overplayed today), what’s certain is that Cesar de Trey, the businessman behind its development and success, knew from the off that he had on his hands something of rare appeal, which took it far beyond the world of polo. In the still-early days of the wristwatch, it was an object of true, forward-looking sophistication and genius – discrete, intriguing, and designed with an architectural elegance that hit the Deco zeitgeist dead-on. Moreover, the opportunity to decorate and personalise the flipped case-back revived a sense of exceptionality and individual preciousness that existed with pocket watches, but had largely failed to transfer to the wrist.
Five years ago, when it marked the 80th anniversary of the Reverso, Jaeger-LeCoultre went back to the original 1931 style with a fabulous, slimline modern equivalent, the Tribute to 1931 – now known as the Grande Reverso Ultra Slim 1931, and the suave entry point for a men’s steel Reverso. It does everything a traditional Reverso should – an ergonomic design, a glossy, gorgeous Deco dial, and a caseback that demands engraving and personalising.
If the litany of complicated and busy models introduced since the early 1990s can take on the appearance of scattershot experiments in style and micro-engineering when viewed broadly, the Tribute to 1931 reminded us just how unbeatable a Reverso in its purest form could be. It’s joined this year by two upsized versions of the “Classic” (hitherto a ladies’ model), one at a medium size of 40mm long x 24.4mm, one larger at 45.6mm x 27.4mm (for reference, the Ultra Slim 1931 is 46.8mm x 27.4mm). The Classic gives us the most conservative version of a two-hand Reverso, with a silver dial and guilloché central rectangle, with no seconds hand.
But one significant change in perception has really bedded in during the modern era: to many people the Reverso simply has to be two-sided – or “duoface” in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s French terminology. A Duo Reverso is arguably the ultimate travel timepiece, with local time on one side and a home time dial on the reverse. From this viewpoint, a blank caseback when flipped is simply a waste of good space for a secondary display.
According to Jaeger-LeCoultre, these are now the biggest sellers among the Reversos, and it’s to this constituency that the brand is looking with the major new models launching at SIHH. These are both in the “Classic” style and in what is now being called “Tribute”.
Okay, pause a moment – about those names. One thing that’s been apparent for a long time to anyone who’s had a browse of a Jaeger-LeCoultre catalogue or its website, is the chaotic way the Reverso collection appears to be arranged and labelled. Names like Duo, Duetto Duo, Duoface, Classic, Classique and the biscuit-taking “Grande Reverso Lady Ultra Thin Duetto Duo” hardly denote order and thoughtful delineation. Oh, and “Grande Reverso Ultra Thin” appears (depending on the model) with and without “1931” attached, though the difference is unclear.
Actually, this reflects part of what’s so admirable about the Reverso: you need to pick the thing up, test it for size and style and admire the richness of its details closely to decide one from another – which means that other than for geeks, stock takers and journalists, the individual names have little importance. Nevertheless, effort is afoot to simplify things and bring order. According to CEO Daniel Riedo, Jaeger-LeCoultre is “instating three stylistic expressions” – Reverso Classic, Reverso Tribute and Reverso One, each “with their own distinct worlds and aspirations”; and introducing a uniform small, medium and large sizing structure.
“Reverso One”, at time of going to press, remains a mystery – but I’d hazard a guess that it refers to grand complication Reversos. QP has learned that SIHH will see the launch of a new version of the Gyrotourbillon 2, reportedly 30 per cent smaller than the legendary original.
It isn’t yet clear how the new naming and structure will impact on what’s currently in the collection – what will get re-named, re-sized or phased out (fingers crossed for the Squadra) – but such processes are inevitably gradual. For now, we have the return of the “Tribute” title, which it seems is to be applied to the various watches that take the bones of their look from the 1930s pieces, with ultra-Deco baton markers rather than Arabic numerals, slimline cases and those rare and coveted dial colour variants.
First up under the Tribute banner is a handsome duo-faced pairing: our cover watch, the Reverso Tribute Duo, and the sober but beautiful Reverso Tribute Calendar. The Tribute Duo is a refined version of the Grande Reverso Ultra-Slim Duoface, using the same skinny Calibre 854 but with a marginally reduced case-size. It’s a dinkier piece on the wrist, for sure, but a richer design, notable in particular for the introduction of dauphine-style hands. Opinion on these is divided in the QP office, but they give the dial a certain jagged energy that’s offset rather elegantly with a round small-seconds register at 6 o’clock (generally we’ve seen square subdials on the Reverso).
The front dial – for local time – is white with blued hands and hour markers, while on the reverse is a home-time dial in a glorious shade of Prussian blue. The hours are set into a circle against a hobnail guilloché, and a day/night register sits at the bottom. It’s a complex piece of dial design, and sublime.
One may long for the days when Jaeger-LeCoultre would spread asymmetric date windows and other indications around a Reverso dial with free-wheeling abandon. The Tribute Calendar takes the more conservative route, but does so with a gorgeous richness of tone, becoming one of the most judiciously showy Reversos around.
On both Tribute models, there’s something of a surprise when you slide the watch to the side in its case – instead of the normal perlage interior finishing (something I’ve always thought could be improved upon), you have the lovely burst of an engraved sunray pattern, something found on last year’s Hybris Artistica Reverso.
The ergonomics of the case have also been altered. Like its rectangular forerunner, the Cartier Tank (which itself was made possible by LeCoultre’s excellence in miniscule oblong movements), the original Reversos were noticeably made to integrate case and strap as closely as possible, and in fact the first cases were minutely curved at the back – something that has been re-introduced in these models.
Jaeger being Jaeger, small technical advances are never far away, and the eagle-eyed will note what’s missing from these and the new Classic Duo models compared with other two-sided Reversos: a button on the case flank for setting the GMT dial. The system has been reworked so that the GMT is now set from the crown itself, with the aid of an ingenious switch set into the top of the case.
Streamlining the case is a laudable move, but there may be purists who question another significant development: in the Classic Duo models, the introduction of automatic movements. An automatic Reverso of any style is not straightforward given the size restrictions of the case; and in a watch where one movement must drive two sides, each of which needs to be independently set, it’s a terrifically tricky operation involving a tiny circular rotor and gears that run through the centre of the movement. So proud is the brand of this accomplishment that the centre of the Classic Duo’s reverse (home time) dial is cut away to show that circular rotor as it moves.It shouldn’t work, but it does.
As ever, the Reverso is always moving forwards, while remaining ever the same.