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An Initiation To Polo In The Footsteps Of The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

By exploring a few carefully chosen associations in the polo world, Jaeger-LeCoultre takes this iconic model with its Art Deco aesthetic and functional design straight back to the roots where it belongs. In this article, I am initiated into polo, follow in the footsteps of the Reverso and the Argentine bootmaker, Casa Fagliano, and discover a touch of old-world England…

By Marco Gabella
Chairman & Executive Publisher

In January 2018, we reported on the highly successful Polaris collection launched by Jaeger-LeCoultre during SIHH. While the new collection is already a big hit in terms of sales and arousing great interest at boutiques, the Joux Valley-based manufacture has now directed its attentions towards one of the few iconoclastic watches to have travelled the oceans of time, the celebrated Reverso. But how to perfect a watch that is already so streamlined?

Reverso: a model designed for the sport of polo

First launched in 1931, the Reverso is thought to have been inspired by British army officers stationed in India at the time in search of a watch that could withstand the sporting blows encountered during a polo match, but one also adapted to military usage. Even if you are an absolute amateur to the sport, as you will see below, it is easy to see how violent the sport can be.

The technical solution found was simple, yet ingenious: it enabled the wearer of the watch to swivel the case back-to-front, thereby exposing the back instead of the face to the various rigours of the sport. As illustrated by the original patent, the basic design of the watch was determined by the constraints of the sliding mechanism. In order to swivel smoothly 360° around a perfectly rigid central axis, the only possible solutions for the watch case form were the rectangle or the square.

A streamlined face, a central case-middle with curved sides, demonstrative grooves for ease of handling, distinctively Art Deco markers and hands, every ingredient contributes to the rugged and sophisticated look of this watch. Meanwhile, dial-side, the modernist Reverso signature underlines the functional personality of this instrument watch. Although purchased primarily for its utilitarianism, its design also makes perfect sense. Almost 90 years later, the formula is still working well.

Casa Fagliano straps, a carefully chosen alliance

Casa Fagliano is a renowned Argentine bootmaker, known for its hand-made production of boots and knee-guards for Polo players for over a century. This family-run business continues to manufacture hand-made goods in limited quantities, which therefore sometimes involves a certain waiting time. In total, around a dozen specialist craftsmen (including Fagliano senior and junior) make these highly coveted boots according to timeworn custom using traditional techniques. Proving once again, if proof be needed, that quality comes at the cost of time.

When Jaeger-LeCoultre and Casa Fagliano got together to design a Polo-inspired watchstrap, there was never any question of its availability in large quantities. On average, only a few dozen straps are produced by Casa Fagliano every month. Due to these smaller production volumes, it became necessary, one way or another, to restrict access to these straps. Thus, as part of this exclusive approach, Casa Fagliano straps are only available on a few collection models and not for existing watches brought in for strap changes.

To start with, two steel references on a brown leather Casa Fagliano strap are available in the Reverso Classic Small Seconds range, one in Medium and one in Large. The two models vary in proportion, but are identical in execution, with a grey guilloché dial and blued steel baton hands, which contrast with the brown leather and its subtle tonal stitching.

Two steel references with similar details are also available in the Classic Duoface range, in Medium and Large. The reverse watch face is in black guilloché with Clous de Paris decor in a negative counterpart to the front silvered dial face. Finally, once again fitted with the brown leather Casa Fagliano strap, we have the highly exclusive Reverso Tribute Duoface Large, complete with ultra-chic rose gold watch case. The interplay of materials and textures lends strength and sophistication to this exceptional watch.

A jewel has now been added, to my mind, in this already comprehensive crown of offerings in the form of the new Reverso Tribute Small Seconds: blue dial and strap, Art Deco style polished markers and hands. Needless to say, I fell under its spell in no time. Admittedly, I'm somewhat biased due to my own penchant for blue, especially when it's expertly handled, which is indubitably the case with this Reverso Tribute Small Seconds. The subtle sunburst dial is teamed perfectly with a more intense blue strap. The monochromatic tonal play between strap and dial is a tricky exercise, but executed to perfection as it is in this case, it becomes an extraordinary feat of achievement. The sleek lines of the case, markers and hands stand out in silvery contrast to give total readability of form and function.

An initiation into the game of polo with the Reverso Tribute Small Seconds

I was lucky enough to be invited by Jaeger-LeCoultre to West Sussex, just an hour away from London, to discover a sport hitherto entirely unknown to me. I must admit I was a little apprehensive, since I have persistently resisted any further temptation to climb into the saddle again after a horse-riding accident suffered some years ago.

Clare Mountbatten, mistress of the premises, is there to greet me at Trippetts Farm, tucked away in the heart of a vast estate home to several Polo teams, each with their own stables and sharing some substantial acreage between them. It has been fourteen years since the brand collaborated with the Great Trippetts Polo Club. This part of England is, in fact, polo's second home in the world after Argentina, where the sport is as popular as football is in Europe.

It all begins with a theoretical introduction. I familiarise myself with the apparel of the perfect polo player: boots, knee-guards, regulatory helmet, gloves, crops and, of course, mallet.

Finally, under the watchful eye of a stable lad, I get the opportunity to try my luck at hitting the ball. It's pretty slow going, but at least I stay on the horse's back. Just like in golf, there's that magical feeling when the mallet hits home and your hand doesn't vibrate from the impact. But that's where the comparison ends, because a polo player is not only constantly on the move atop his mount, but is also up against the other players moving around. Without any shadow of a doubt, it's the most dangerous sport in the world, and yet, according to aficionados, you can easily become addicted from the word go.

It's therefore easy to see how violent a game polo can be when players come into contact, especially where horses and mallets are concerned, and especially when the horses are travelling at full speed. Boots, knee-guards and helmets are not just for show, but are vital necessities in the game. The Reverso, with its sliding self-preservation device, is a crucial reminder of the dangers of polo. It's fascinating how aware you become of the importance of protection once you're on horseback out in the field for real.  

Conclusion and pricing

Jaeger-LeCoultre has not updated the Reverso in past months, but instead has once again rekindled its old ties within the sport of polo. By joining forces with the leather craftsmen over at Casa Fagliano, the Joux Valley brand has gone for the exclusivity approach, but not by producing an arbitrary limited edition for marketing purposes. Instead, it is limiting itself for reasons of production capacity. The various models on offer run the full gamut of styles and wrists, while being restricted to a few selected references.

The references are added to existing collections alongside other pieces, which are not special editions aimed solely at seasoned collectors. The brand's democratic approach is upheld by selling prices starting at CHF 6,450.-*/ USD for the Reverso Classic Small Seconds and CHF 8,350.-* / USD 8,420.- for the desirable Reverso Tribute Small Seconds. {*} Recommended retail prices in Switzerland, although all models and prices are available on this page on the Jaeger-LeCoultre website.

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