An Under Sung Hero: The Curious Case of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso
First made for polo players in 1931, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, with its rectangular case and discreet presentation, is often overlooked in the pantheon of watches (despite being one of the very first models of sports watch ever made). So, today, we wanted to remind the world of perhaps the most elegant sports watch in existence.
The “sports watch” is arguably the most popular genre of timepieces. Generally made of stainless steel (though often over-built and over-engineered), sports watches are also typically well-priced.
Now, admittedly, it can be hard to compare most sports watches with the likes of the Rolex Submariner, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, and the Vacheron Constantin Overseas, but consider this: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso is not only first and foremost a sports watch but should be counted among these illustrious ranks.
According to Jaeger-LeCoultre, in 1930, Swiss businessman César de Trey was challenged to find a way to protect the glass of a watch worn while playing polo.
So, Trey came up with an idea for a watch that allowed you to flip over the case during the match, thus exposing only the caseback to potential damage. After presenting the idea to his friend Jacques-David LeCoultre, the two approached French engineer René-Alfred Chauvot to design the watch. Then, in 1931, the Reverso was introduced to the world.
For watch collectors, it can be difficult to find a vintage Reverso in top condition. But if or when they do, they expect to pay around the $15,000 mark (or about double the current retail price of a new Reverso). However, this premium is a testament to the staying power of this rectangular icon.
Examples of vintage Reversos range are far and wide, with different types of fonts, hand styles, and dial colors. From Reverso models with a small seconds complication to variations without a seconds hand at all, there are even very rare white dial variants from the late 1930s and 1940s.
The Name Game
Additionally, Jaeger-LeCoultre made the Reverso a private-label product. They were still Reversos through and through (i.e., made by Jaeger-LeCoultre); however, since protectionary tariffs at the time meant that Jaeger-LeCoultre couldn’t sell Reversos under its own logo, these private-label versions made it possible for consumers in the United States market to get their hands on a JLC-made watch. And the most coveted and rare of these are the “Reversos” with Cartier dial badging.
Unfortunately, as round watches became all the rage after World War II, the Reverso was largely forgotten by consumers. That is until 1972, when Italian businessman Giorgio Corvo visited the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture and noticed some 200 unused Reverso cases.
Corvo purchased them right then and there. He then convinced the brand to put mechanical movements in them, whereupon Covro sold these “Reverso Corvo” to the Italian market via his distribution company.
A decade later, the brand re-introduced the Reverso, albeit with quartz movements. And in 1985, the first-ever waterproof Reverso debuted.
Since 1985, the Reverso has gone from strength to strength, with Jaeger-LeCoultre helping to foster its current legendary status via limited editions, high complications, and historically inspired re-issues. Everything from a gyrotourbillon to a minute repeater has found a home in its small, reversible case. There is even an extremely rare Batman-themed Reverso (which is a personal grail watch for this writer).
While Jaeger-LeCoultre’s recent re-focus on the Reverso is re-igniting interest, the heritage of the timepiece as a sports watch is still a bit underplayed. Still, it is hard to beat a sports watch that is also dramatic and elegant, and the Reverso is exactly that.