An infallible test of whether or not a watch design has achieved the coveted status of “icon” is, in a nutshell, longevity. In 2016, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s famous Reverso watch will be celebrating its grand 85th birthday, with its original design ethos pretty much intact since it was first tested on a polo field in India in 1931. Conceived as an ingenious solution to protecting the glass from getting smashed, it allowed polo players to flip the dial side on its back, and thus the Reverso’s plain caseback opened up a whole new canvas for the more creatively inclined.
Read more about iconic watches for men
Migrating from the British polo clubs in India to the wrists of the maharajas, we have three early examples of personalised Jaeger-LeCoultre watches, including this exquisite enamelled miniature portrait of an Indian beauty from 1936, probably a maharani, and the Hindu divinity Krishna. It makes sense that India’s royals were among the first to embrace the creative potential of the blank caseback, accustomed as they were to the delights of miniature Mughal painting.
However, like many artistic skills wiped out with the advent of industrialisation and the decline of royal courts, miniature enamel painting became a rarity. Luckily for us, the current passion for the revival of rare handcrafts in the watchmaking kingdom has turned the tide on languishing skills. Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the few Swiss manufacturers with its very own enamelling workshop, offering clients a unique personalisation service. Among the multitude of rare specialised crafts practiced in situ, Jaeger-LeCoultre developed the novel snow-set diamond technique in 2002, which has since been emulated by brands across the board.
Read more about snow-set diamond watches
Three full-time painters at Jaeger-LeCoultre’s manufacture practice the art of miniature enamel painting and have mastered all the traditional techniques, including grand feu, champlevé, translucent and cloisonné enamelling. Since 1996, the workshop has reproduced a series of artistic reproductions including the Art Nouveau paintings of Alphonse Mucha. More recently, Vincent van Gogh’s unforgettable Sunflowers has been celebrated on a limited edition of the Reverso à Eclipse watch.
Read more about the Jaeger-LeCoultre Van Gogh sunflowers dial watch
The Reverso à Eclipse plays a provocative game of “now you see it, now you don’t” allowing the wearer three different views of the hand-painted dial. It has been used as the canvas for the Famous Nudes series, with reproductions of works by Renoir, Klimt, Botticelli, Ingres, and even a scene from the Kama Sutra. It still functions like a Reverso, with a swivel case, but in this version the art is on the dial as opposed to the caseback, which has been the traditional canvas for artworks and engravings.
On the dial or on the caseback, there is nothing quite like wearing your favourite work of art.
Read about the new JLC designer watch straps