Maxence Kinget, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s managing director for Southeast Asia & Oceania, talks about celebrations for the 85th anniversary of the Reverso timepiece and his new role at the brand.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Singapore office declared the last week of July as the week of the Reverso. The iconic timepiece is deserving of the honour as it celebrates its 85th anniversary this year. As part of the celebrations, the brand flew in its polo ambassador Eduardo Novillo Astrada to Singapore.

At a mini polo clinic for the media held on the lush gardens of a black-and-white 1930s bungalow on Mount Pleasant Road, Astrada taught the media the basics of polo. He demonstrated how to wield the mallet head to hit the ball on the ground before teaching the basic rules of horse riding. It’s difficult to achieve, but the Argentinean made it all look so easy. After all, polo runs in the Astrada family. He won the Triple Crown with his three brothers at this year’s British Open Polo Championships in June.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s relationship with polo, considered the sport of warriors, kings and princes — Princes Charles, William and Harry play the sport, usually for charity — goes back to 1859 when it was started by British military officers and tea planters in India. In the 1930s, as the game gained popularity in India, the British players wanted a timepiece that could withstand the rigours of the game, which has six chukkers, each lasting 7½ minutes. They found it in Jaeger- LeCoultre’s R everso timepiece.

Legend has it that a polo player struck a friendship with Swiss watch businessman César de Trey and showed him the smashed glass on his timepiece after a polo game. Back at headquarters, de Trey passed this piece of information to watchmaker Jacques-David LeCoultre, and an idea was conceived.

According to a press statement from Jaeger-LeCoultre, the watchmaker’s workshop created a case that could revolve in order to protect the dial, thus exposing only the metal back to potential shocks. The design was finalised on March 14, 1931. When it was time to register the name, French engineer Alfred Chauvot decided to call it “Reverso”, Latin for “I turn around”. Chauvot elaborated that the watch was capable of revolving and sliding into its case.

Time to get personal
Eighty-five years later, the Reverso is as popular now as it was then. The timepiece has kept its patented swivel design, although improvements have been made. One of the ways it has kept up with the times has been with the introduction of the Atelier Reverso, a customisation service.

Options met Maxence Kinget, Jaeger- LeCoultre’s managing director for Southeast Asia & Oceania, at the brand’s tastefully designed boutique at ION Orchard. Kinget, who assumed his position in June, elaborates on the Atelier Reverso service, which is available at the boutique.

“We have some watches here that are pre-selected with different options such as different sample dials and straps. We also let you go through all the different combinations on the iPad — this is very interesting and entertaining. To me, this is the ultimate bespoke experience for watches and we are glad to have this concept of Atelier Reverso, which means ‘Reverso Workshop’ in French.”

The customer begins by selecting the classic Reverso. He or she then picks the material, such as steel or gold, and finds the strap to match it as well as the colour of the dial. All in all, there are more than 1,000 different design possibilities, Kinget says.

Who better to promote such a service than Kinget himself, who has used the bespoke service and had a very special challenge for the engraver. He asked that a very special photo from 2004 — that of the beat-up Renault he drove in a race from Paris to Marrakech when he was a student — be transferred onto the watch.

After showing us the picture on his smartphone, he fishes out the Reverso timepiece from his pocket. “I gave the [Jaeger-LeCoultre] manufacture this picture from the rally. As you can see, the engraver has done a very unique and specific piece of craftsmanship.”

On closer look, we could see on the back of the watch, the minute details in the picture such as the many stickers on the car, Kinget’s name and his race number. It is a fine example of putting something very personal onto the Reverso, and Kinget encourages the customer to do the same.

Visit the Jaeger-LeCoultre boutique and bring a picture of something that is precious to you. The picture will then be sent to the manufacture where an engraver will translate it onto the back of the timepiece. He adds: “Everybody has stories and emotions, and the Reverso is definitely something where you can express yourself and you can make it unique. You can have whatever you like engraved on the back of the case.”

Kinget is visibly excited about the 85th anniversary of the Reverso. “There are many reasons why the timepiece is iconic. First, it is the rectangular shape. Second is its history. Third is the fact that it is a one-of-a-kind watch not only for the movement, but also for the case. Reverse means reversible. That’s definitely a watch that you can play with and it’s very much a piece of design as well, with the art deco inspiration. It’s an iconic product that is very important for us and an icon we want to take even further.”

Kinget is a firm believer in passion and emotion. To him, a Jaeger- LeCoultre watch has to be a part of your life story. “In fact, at Jaeger-LeCoultre, we connect emotions with the watch and with people. And that is the kind of emotion I would like to see in our timepieces.”

That emotion can be seen in its firm support of film festivals, including the recently concluded Shanghai International Film Festival. To celebrate the sixth anniversary of its partnership with the festival and Reverso’s anniversary, the brand hosted a grand charity auction to support the restoration of classic Chinese films. Brand ambassador Zhao Wei was among the stars who attended the charity dinner.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s commitment to cinema extends beyond China. Over the past 10 years, it has supported several world-renowned film festivals. Among them are the Venice International Film Festival, the world’s oldest film festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival, where the largest number of films is presented.

Getting started
Before taking up his current posting, Kinget worked at the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture in Switzerland. He joined the Richemont group in 2005 and has worked as regional manager for Cartier in the US, and in various capacities for Jaeger-LeCoultre, the last one being international business development executive manager in Switzerland.

He has had the best of both worlds — marketing experience as well as being based in the manu facture, which is the heartbeat of the brand’s watchmaking activities. He enthuses: “Over the last six years based at the manufacture with the international team, I had the occasion to really be within the watchmaking environment at the manufacture where everything happened. We have everybody under one roof, which is the concept of our manufacture in Switzerland.”

Kinget says upon arriving in Singapore, he felt its energy, with the many projects going on. He is also travelling and meeting people who want to learn more about the brand. He is confident this can be done as the brand believes in sharing its craftsmanship, inventions as well as tradition.

He says visitors to the manufacture will notice that Jaeger-Le- Coultre staff are keen to share what they are doing. “There is a true willingness to share passion and that is exactly what I am trying to communicate: to share with a friend of the brand, with our partners, with the people who like fine watchmaking.”

As for his new role, he says: “Singapore is a very interesting market. Thanks to my international position over the last six years, I had the opportunity to visit many markets around the world. Singapore is a great opportunity for the brand. It is a pleasure to be in Singapore and I can already feel that the momentum, energy and great business opportunities are all definitely here — there is a possibility to make things happen.”

He has certainly begun to make things happen, starting with the very successful polo clinic by Astrada. These are exciting times for Jaeger-LeCoultre, and for its fans who can look forward to new launches even as classics such as the Reverso are feted.

This article appeared in the Options of Issue 742 (August 22) of The Edge Singapore.