A Closer Look At Jaeger-LeCoultre’s New Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures

A Closer Look At Jaeger-LeCoultre’s New Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures Collection

Jaeger-LeCoultre continues celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Reverso with three limited-edition timepieces that reproduce works by Van Gogh, Klimt, and Courbet in miniature.

By Rhonda Riche

Last August, Catherine Rénier, Chief Executive Officer of Jaeger-LeCoultre, invited the press to a top-secret press presentation of a very delightful capsule collection called Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures, a trio of watches that celebrates the work of three great masters from the dawn of Modern Art.

But what makes these watches special is that all three were inspired by paintings that were lost at some point in their history and later found. The change in fortune of these masterpieces fits in neatly with the essence of La Grande Maison’s Reverso – one of the world’s most recognizable watches.

Here are the stories behind these unique limited edition timepieces and the state-of-the-art craftwork that brought them to life.

Art of Time

In the press presentation, Rénier characterized the Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures as a gallery of the brand’s expertise in unique handicrafts in by showcasing the talent of designers and artisans from every aspect of the brand’s savoir-faire, both past and present.

Beyond that, 2021 marks a special anniversary for Jaeger-LeCoultre – the 90th anniversary of the Reverso. First introduced on March 4, 1931, the intent behind the Reverso’s now-iconic swiveling watch case was to allow polo players to spin the case around while on the field to protect or “hide” the crystal.

Polo was a big deal in India in the 1930s. So, naturally, the Reverso became popular among the courts of the Maharajahs, who had their watches decorated with paintings executed by Mumbai’s skilled miniaturists. In fact, one of the most exceptional timepieces in the brand’s archives is a Reverso from 1936 known as the Indian Beauty.

It was watches like this that gave the Grande Maison the idea of showcasing its métiers d’art with Reverso pieces that revealed works of art.

Face Time

But while this trio of new timepieces honors the Reverso’s history via the hand-guilloched dial covered in translucent grand feu enamel on the front and an enameled miniature of a famous painting on the reverse, these creations were made only possible due to the artisans’ extraordinary skill.

According to Matthieu de Guibert, Chief of Product Development at Jaeger-LeCoultre: “Another big challenge is the firing of the grand feu enamel dial. For example, the temperature needed to bake the enamel may differ from one pigment to the next. And each piece has a different style of guilloché to create a finish that’s harmonious with the painting it’s paying tribute to.”

It’s a rare skill. “Today, we have one person decorate the dial,” adds de Guibert.

Vincent Van Gogh – “Sunset at Montmajour” (1888)

The first piece in the Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures collection is a reproduction of a work by Vincent Van Gogh. The painting, called “Sunset at Montmajour,” had been owned by a Norwegian industrialist. But at a party, one of his distinguished guests called it inauthentic. Embarrassed, the owner hid it in an attic.

The painting then sat there for six decades until, at long last, a family member decided to send it to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to settle the authenticity question. Using Van Gogh’s letters, chemical analysis of the pigments, and X-rays of the canvas, experts announced that the 1888 landscape “Sunset at Montmajour” was the real deal.

This Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures model has a deep green sunray-guilloché dial to reflect the lushness of the landscape. The texture of the dial also evokes the looseness of Van Gogh’s brushwork.

Gustav Klimt – “Portrait of a Lady” (1917)

Like the Reverso, this unique portrait by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt has two faces. It is Klimt’s only known “double” portrait – an image painted an older work. In this case, “Portrait of a Lady” features an elegant young woman painted over an older canvas with the image of Klimt’s former lover and muse who died suddenly.

“Portrait of a Lady” also has another story. The work was stolen from the Galleria d’Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi in Piacenza, Italy, in February 1997. Gardeners on the property eventually found it stashed in an alcove and concealed behind a metal plate on the museum grounds. Experts were able to affirm its authenticity because of the double painting.

Klimt, as an artist, is a particularly apt subject to feature in the new Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures collection. He was a member of the Viennese Secessionists, which was a movement that broke ranks with the art establishment and considered a precursor to the Art Deco era that produced the unmistakable geometries of the Reverso. So, from the classic lines of the case to the texture of the green dial decorated with grand feu enamel over a barleycorn guilloché pattern, the pairing of “Portrait of a Lady” and the Reverso feels perfect.

Gustave Courbet – “View of Lake Léman” (1876)

French realist painter Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet lived the latter part of his life in exile in Switzerland. In 1873, he settled near Vevey, on the shore of Lake Léman (a.k.a. Lake Geneva), where, in 1876, he was inspired by the constantly changing views across the water.

In 1892, his painting, entitled “View of Lake Léman,” was donated with a group of works by lesser artists to The Musée du Vieux Granville in Normandy. Assumed a fake, it was put into storage until 1945. There it languished until a curator working sent it to Courbet experts at the Center for Research and Restoration of Museums of France (C2RMF), which confirmed that the landscape of the lake was indeed a later work by the French master.

“View of Lake Léman” is a wonderful example of the atmospheric landscapes he produced at this time, capturing the movement of the clouds and the sunlight dancing on the water’s surface. So, to capture Courbet’s impasto technique, the brand chose a distinctive herringbone guilloché texture to complement the misty gray-blue enamel of the dial. Vevey, where Courbet worked, is just a few miles from the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture, no doubt providing real-life inspiration for the rich gold and russet tones of the watch’s face.

Pricing & Availability

Each of these watches is limited to just ten pieces each. That is in large part due to the amount of work that goes into each one. As Catherine Renier explained to the gathered press last August: “If you were to come and place an order, it would take about a year to receive the watch. It takes over 80 hours just to complete the back.”

If anything, the biggest discovery of the Hidden Treasures collection is the talent of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s artisans. “We have a big relationship with art,” Rénier said. “This capsule lets us pay tribute to the 1931 and to also hidden treasure. In the future, we want to bring the signature of contemporary artists to the back of the Reverso.”

The Reverso Hidden Treasures pieces are priced at $107,000. For more information about the Reverso, visit the Jaeger-LeCoultre website.

(Images © Jaeger-LeCoultre)

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