Jaeger-LeCoultre unleashes a flurry of novelties and innovations to mark the 85th birthday of its grande dame, the Reverso watch. Marketing director Stéphane Belmont takes us through the highlights.
Over the past 85 years, Jaeger- LeCoultre’s Reverso has acquired such a mythical status that it would seem sacrilegious to reinterpret its signature codes. Yet the watch has undergone more makeovers than just about any other modern timepiece, each time still retaining its unique identity.
“That’s the beauty of the Reverso,” says marketing director Stéphane Belmont, speaking to Options in Geneva. “It’s one of the very few watches where you can change the colour of the dial, the numerals, the shape of the hands. You can change everything. It allows incredible creativity. Try to do the same with a round watch. If you change everything, it’s not the same watch any more.”
This is mainly thanks to the watch’s case architecture: the gadroons — three parallel groove lines — that festoon the top and bottom of the case, the angled lugs, and the swivelling mechanism that gives the watch its name, as well as the opportunity for the manufacturer to offer a secondary dial or for clients to customise a plain case back.
Since the 1990s, when interest in mechanical watchmaking picked up steam, Jaeger-LeCoultre has celebrated the Reverso’s anniversary with increasing frequency: in 1991 (60th), 2006 (75th) and 2011 (80th). We ask Belmont: Does this mean there is an anniversary collection every five years? “To celebrate the Reverso every five years gives us an opportunity to think about what we do,” comes the reply.
“It reminds us not to [rest on our laurels]. The Reverso has been around forever and has been so successful [that there’s a danger] that we live in its shadow. If we don’t take care of this product, it can quickly lose its sparkle. So, to celebrate the 85th anniversary, we created three collections: the Reverso Classic, the Reverso One and the Reverso Tribute.”
The Reverso Tribute
The Reverso Tribute takes inspiration from collectors’ favourite models, such as the Grande Reverso 1931 Rouge with its red lacquered dial, the Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Duoface Blue and the Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 with its chocolate-toned dial. It maintains the Reverso’s original proportions, but integrates new elements on the dial, such as applied indexes, finely grained finishes and new hands that are dauphine-shaped and slightly domed.
The top-of-the-line Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon attracted interest from collectors when the piece was unveiled in Singapore in March, just six weeks after its worldwide debut at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Not surprising, considering the incredible feat of engineering required to produce such a complex mechanism. It is not the first time a Gyrotourbillon — a spherical flying tourbillon that rotates on two axes — appears in a Reverso; Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 in 2008.
The new Gyrotourbillon, however, is 30% trimmer in width and thickness to fit the dimensions of the smaller case (51.1mm x 31mm versus 55mm x 36mm in the 2008 version). The challenge lay in making the device appear suspended in mid-air, so that its rotational motion can be admired from both the dial side and case back (it completes an internal rotation in 12.6 seconds, and an external rotation in one minute). The solution was to mount the Gyrotourbillon carriage on ball bearings.
It sounds simple, but the entire architecture had to be rethought. The watch spent five years in R&D. “Watchmakers, designers and engineers all worked to keep the attractiveness of the Gyrotourbillon, the technical specifications in terms of precision, but reduced the whole mechanism to fit in a classic-sized Reverso,” says Belmont. The watch, he adds, is also equipped with the friction-reducing Gyrolab balance wheel that debuted in last year’s Geophysic collection. To heighten the allure, the manufacturer is releasing only 75 pieces in platinum.
Two other models round off the Tribute collection: the Calendar model — featuring an annual calendar on the front and a second time zone with day/night indicator on the back — and the Duo, which has a small seconds function on the face and a second time zone with day/night indicator on the flip side. On both watches, the manufacturer introduces a spring-loaded slider at 12 o’clock that advances the hour hand in the second time zone. It replaces the push-button on the case side, which previously disrupted the sleekness of the case.
The Reverso Classic range
As its name suggests, the Reverso Classic range respects the purity and understated design of the Art Deco period. The proportions of the Classic case exhibit the golden ratio, even as there are three sizes: Small, Medium and Large. It comes in single- or double-dialled versions (Duetto for ladies and Duoface for gents). “With the medium and large models, we developed a new automatic movement which is used for the first time in a Classic with time displayed on both sides,” says Belmont.
While the single-dialled models allow customisation (usually by engraving) on the case back, the double-dialled editions lack this luxury. To level the playing field, the manufacturer will introduce the Atelier Reverso, a new personalisation service that will allow buyers to select different dial and strap combinations beyond the usual offerings. The service will be made available at all Jaeger-LeCoultre boutiques worldwide, although flagships in London, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York will have dedicated areas where prototypes can be perused at leisure (elsewhere, a customer can only view their customised option on a tablet).
To underscore the significance of this initiative, the manufacturer teamed up with the King of Sole, Christian Louboutin, who designed seven dials and seven straps for the Atelier. “What we liked about Christian is that even after 25 years, he’s still the one designing the shoes, selecting the materials, being in charge of the creations. He came to our manufacturer to select every single bracelet and dial and check the combination. It was important for us to have the man behind the name be in charge,” says Belmont.
As to why Louboutin was chosen for the partnership, Belmont says the answer is simple. “The Reverso is very popular among women, so to have Christian Louboutin, it’s very emotional for women. The Gyrotourbillon might be incredible for men, but Christian Louboutin is a Gyrotourbillon for women!” And speaking of women, the Reverso One collection is entirely dedicated to the fairer sex, with a case that is slightly longer than the Classic, à la the original Reverso for ladies created in 1933. Clearly, the universal appeal of the Reverso is still strong more than 80 years after its inception.
Besides chronicling developments in the luxury watch industry, Aaron De Silva also runs The Time Traveller SG on Instagram (@thetimetravellersg) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/thetimetravellersg)
This article appeared in the Options of Issue 748 (Oct 8) of The Edge Singapore.