When considering the best-known "tool" watches — the Submariners and Speedmasters of the world — you come to realize that these are design objects that have been kicking around for quite a while already. They were born out of a post-War burst of creativity that enveloped the world, and they're still going strong.
But consider some of the best-known dress watches of the last century or so, and you quickly realize that these timepieces are even older: Cartier's Tank was born during World War I, and Jaeger-LeCoultre's Reverso, with it's flippable case, will shortly be 90 years old. These are watches that remain more than simply popular today — they're embedded within the horological and stylistic zeitgeist, not merely as historical objects, but as living, evolving icons.
We won't recount the entire story of the Reverso here — for that, you can read this piece we wrote last year after a visit to JLC's atelier in Switzerland. (The short story is: British officers stationed in India were breaking their glass watch crystals while playing polo. They requested a solution to this problem, and, very long story short, the Reverso was born. The watch could flip over to protect the glass crystal such that only the steel back was exposed — a unique solution to a fairly esoteric problem.)
However, we will say that the Reverso remains an icon well into the 21st century for several important reasons: it features a unique mechanism that allows the watch dial to be hidden and protected; its design allows for personalization of the case back with an engraving, enamel work, etc; and there are countless different sizes, colors, and complications that have been offered as part of the Reverso line. In fact, the watch has housed 50 different calibers since its debut in 1931.
Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier spoke to the longevity of Reverso: "In a way, it's the simplicity of the look — it's pure, it's symmetrical and well balanced. But the complexity to make it happen with a swiveling case...I believe these give it its timelessness. And a very strong code and design elements that have remained identifiable through the years have anchored around this image for Reverso, and this identity."
She continued: "There's always this little magic when you turn the case over — even if you've seen it before, or it's your own watch and you've done it a million times. Having a very personal message on the back or another face or complication is a unique feature and keeps surprising you. And for someone who's never seen it before, it's definitely a key feature of the piece. And I think that it's timeless, for sure."
In celebrating the Reverso's 90th anniversary, the maison is issuing a new limited edition timepiece, dubbed the Reverso Tribute Duoface Fagliano. Outfitted with a burgundy dial and a pink gold case, it pays homage to one of the earliest Reversos, which began using colored dials as early the 1930s. With a conventional 12-hour display on one side and a second time zone with 24-hour indicator on the reverse, this is the perfect Reverso for a frequent traveller. The lacquered burgundy dial and the silver guilloché of the second time zone dial are further enhanced by the addition of a burgundy strap by Casa Fagliano, an Argentinian maker of polo boots. (Fitting, considering the Reverso's origins.) It takes Casa Fagliano roughly six hours to make a strap, which is padded with cotton canvas and cut from cordovan leather.
The DuoFace, which first debuted in 1994, is a unique envisioning of the travel complication: powered here by the hand-wound Jaeger-LeCoultre cal. 854A/2 with 42 hours of power reserve, it allows for monitoring of a second time zone without the need to have that functionality constantly visible. The watch appears, at first glance, like a simple, time-only dress watch, and it's only upon further examination — and flipping the case around — that its utility as a travel watch is revealed. (Indeed, the DuoFace could be considered a sort of elegant tool watch.)
Rénier continued: "Over the past 90 years, the Reverso has remained very loyal to its beginnings — the style and design has remained key to the identity of the piece. It was always an opportunity for the maison to be very creative, starting right away in the 1930s with colored dials, one of which was a deep red that gave the idea for a more modern and contemporary burgundy that we are celebrating again this year with this new timepiece. The Reverso has always been not only an icon, but a source of creativity and artistic design."
There are few timepieces that can truly be considered watchmaking icons, but the Reverso, now 90 years young, is certainly among them. Limited to 190 pieces, the Reverso Tribute Duoface Fagliano carries a price of $23,900 and is available exclusively from Jaeger-LeCoultre boutiques.