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Jaeger-LeCoultre - Reverso, back on track (and back to basics)

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, back on track (and back to basics)

After a series of detours, the Reverso is back on track. Between 1931 and 2019 the timepiece hasn’t changed – it has evolved. It’s been a game of subtle shifts, followed attentively by discerning aficionados.

When you’re an iconic watch, the risk is that you become a prisoner of your iconography, a prisoner of your history, and your contribution to the bottom line. A prisoner also of your design – because the watch market is notoriously conservative. What people love about a Royal Oak, a Monaco or a Reverso is that they are immediately identifiable as... a Royal Oak, a Monaco or a Reverso.

In that respect, the Reverso by Jaeger-LeCoultre is like all watch icons: it changes very little. And so we have a seemingly intractable dilemma: how do you make a watch evolve, when all collectors want it to remain unchanged... and at the same time come up with new models every year? 

Back to basics

So, while the devil is supposedly in the detail, it’s also in the detail that solutions can sometimes be found. The key is to retain the essence of the watch, without ever succumbing to the siren song of fashion. This is particularly easy for the Reverso, which has never been “in fashion”. It was created as a sports watch, specifically for the game of polo, and is now a high-status timepiece. The Reverso has naturally followed the contours of its time. It’s a swell, an undertow: slow but unstoppable. And if you try to turn back the tide you’ll be punished for it; when Jaeger-LeCoultre attempted to change things up by creating a “Sporty Reverso for the 21st century”, the Squadra, collectors voted with their feet. You won’t find it in the catalogue any more.

Reverso, back on track (and back to basics)

Reverso Tribute Small Seconds, 2019 © Jaeger-LeCoultre

But now, more than 80 years after its creation, the Reverso seems to be returning to its roots. After a flurry of novel models between 2000 and 2010, encouraged by the booming watch market, the model has gone back to its core values. Goodbye Squadra, Grande Date, Grand Sport, Perpetual Calendar and Minute Repeater. The vast majority of models mark a return to classical styling, with two central hands. Any additions are rare and understated: small second, moon phase, a calendar at most. On the back, we generally have the same time display with a different look, or a second time zone presented with the same restraint.

Same proportions

The sizing is close to the original 1931 model, which was 38 mm long. The current “Small” Reverso measures 36 mm, while a “Medium” measures 40 mm. The thickness has not changed much, averaging 7.5 mm for current models, compared with 8 mm for the original. The same goes for the width, which is between 21 and 24 mm now, versus 23 mm originally. The conclusion is simple: the Reverso can gain or lose a few millimetres here or there, but the proportions always remain the same.

Reverso, back on track (and back to basics)

© Jaeger-LeCoultre

Three significant differences

On the dial, three changes can be observed. First, over the years, Jaeger-LeCoultre has opted for a minutes track in the centre of the dial, aligned with the tip of the hour hand. In the 1930s, however, the minute track followed the upstand around the outside of the dial. 

Also, back then, the watch usually came with a uniform lacquered dial. Today, most Reverso models have a sunray or satin brushed finish. And finally, contemporary models with vertical markers (including a double index at 12) are very rare, except in the appropriately named “Tribute” collection.  

In everything else, the design remains virtually unchanged: the same railroad minutes track, the same spear-shaped hands and, of course, the emblematic triple gadroons. 

Reverso, back on track (and back to basics)

© Jaeger-LeCoultre

A simple and reliable movement

As far as the movement is concerned, the original models were equipped with the hand-wound Tavannes calibre 64 (15 rubies) with a frequency of 18,000 vph. Today, Jaeger-LeCoultre is a completely integrated manufacture. The Reverso’s base movement, the calibre 822A/2, is still hand-wound, with 19 rubies. The frequency has increased slightly, to 21,600 vph, which has become the de facto standard.  

Astonishingly accessible prices

The pricing of the Reverso remains a mystery. A contemporary model very similar to the original from 1931, in steel and without a complication, will generally be priced at between 5,000 and 9,000 euros. An original model from the first five years (1931 – 1935) will be around double that, between 10,000 and 20,000 euros. The difference might seem a lot, but it isn’t really. Some original models have seen their prices skyrocket (including the Royal Oak, which is four decades younger), while others have remained surprisingly stable (Heuer Monaco, 1969, or Patek Philippe Calatrava). But this state of affairs might not last forever. There are still some fine original pieces to be had for a reasonable price... you just have to find them! 

The brand

Ever since the brand was established in 1833, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been enchanting lovers of beautiful objects. Its craftsmen and craftswomen, the guardians of the inventive spirit of company founder Antoine LeCoultre, pool their expertise to create collections that are as surprising as they are sophisticated: Reverso, Master, Rendez-Vous, Duomètre, Geophysic® and Atmos. This great brand continues to be inspired by its rich heritage and...

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