Red-faced: Jaeger-LeCoultre's 1931 Reverso
During the "Années Folles" in in France of the 1930's to wear a
watch with a blue or a brown dial was considered most daring. From
the house's wide colour of dial options, the majority opted for the
bon-ton of ivory, white or gold dials. So those who chose to wear a
Reverso with a red dial stood out as being highly individual and
ever so racy and daring.
Jaeger-LeCoultre, creator of the Reverso, decided to create a
new version of this red-face dare-devil of a watch. Available only
in Jaeger-LeCoultre boutiques, the large rectangular case holds a
handwinding mechanical movement, the Calibre 822.
The Reverso had a good start in life, as like many enduring
designs, it was born out of necessity - if polo playing can be
considered a necessity. Eighty years on the success of the Reverso
proves that function-led design can be the elixir of eternal youth.
The story goes that in the early 1930's during the days of British
Colonial rule in India and before the invention of resilient
crystal officers were finding that their watch glasses were being
shattered by errant polo-balls during particularly rambunctious
The problem of the polo player's watch came to the attention of
César de Trey who was visiting India. Returning to Europe with
tales of elephants, maharajas and a smashed watch in his pocket he
worked with his business partner and watchmaker Jacques-David
LeCoultre to develop a timepiece capable of withstanding great
Ever inventive, LeCoultre looked beyond the serene and isolated
Vallée du Joux for a solution more ingenious than simply a watch
with a cover. Paris, in full Art Deco swing, was where he turned to
and commissioned the French engineer René-Alfred Chauvot to create
And so the Reverso, perhaps the world's first purpose-built
sports watch, was born. The solution was brilliant in its
simplicity. The rectangular case slides along a track on
ball-bearings to swivel 180 degrees and return to its casing face
down. Thus the watch could be safely worn while playing polo and
then simply swivel and click and it's dials up for G&T
The success of this newfangled timepiece was probably as much to
do with it's practicality and built-in fiddle appeal as it's
streamlined Art Deco looks and cosmopolitan air. Even though the
arrival of unbreakable glass a few years later made the original
use for the Reverso redundant, such was its acceptance amongst the
non-polo playing crowd, that it remained a favourite and has gone
on to become an icon.
Since early days, the Reverso has proved adaptable. From the
simplest engraving on the blank steel back to elaborate works of
art in enamel the Reverso has found many ways to add delight and
intimacy to daily act of strapping on a watch.
In the ensuing 80 years, way beyond simply telling the time, the
rectangular case has been enriched with a dozen watch complications
as two faces mean double the space for ingenuity. The minute
repeater, tourbillon and perpetual calendar are just some examples
of the Reverso has developed in the world of high horology. Women
too have adopted the Reverso and many like the idea of the "two in
one" watch. An elegant watch for the day can be transformed into a
bejewelled face for the evening or a bracelet with yellow-diamond
butterflies fluttering across a gold canvas.
Today the Reverso is looking as fresh as the day it was born and
the red dial adds a vintage look with touch of daring.