In the pantheon of the 20th century’s greatest timepieces, the Reverso by Jaeger-LeCoultre ranks at the very top. I became a believer 15 years ago, when I first spotted a convincing fake in Bangkok’s Patpong market. It went into the trash after it turned my wrist green, but the love affair had begun. The Reverso—singular, elegant, timeless—is the first watch I coveted, and it’s the watch I continue to covet today.
That goes double after this past weekend, which I spent in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a guest of Jaeger-LeCoultre. The Swiss watchmaker hosted a press event in honor of the Reverso’s 85th anniversary in 2016 and chose to stage it in Argentina’s graceful capital city for reasons that are obvious to anyone with cursory knowledge of the model’s history: The Reverso was introduced in 1931 to satisfy the demands of officers of the British Raj who wanted a watch that didn’t shatter while they were playing polo.
“Why in Argentina?” Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Daniel Riedo reiterated during a welcome presentation on Friday evening. “Because the idea for the Reverso was born on the polo field.”
From the VIP stands at the Argentine Polo Open of Palermo, we could see all the action.
The distinctive swiveling case that the watchmaker created to satisfy that peculiar demand lives on, both as an icon of watchmaking and as the preferred timepiece of the world’s best polo players. I learned this firsthand on Saturday; we were lucky enough to attend the Argentine Polo Open of Palermo, the final match of the country’s polo triple crown, and I spotted a classic-looking Reverso on the wrist of Jaeger-LeCoultre ambassador Eduardo Novillo Astrada of the La Aguada polo club.
Eduardo Novillo Astrada wearing his Reverso.
In a sea of Panama hat–wearing polo fans, Eduardo Novillo Astrada is the odd man out.
I knew nada about polo before the weekend began, but I am now a zealot. It’s the most gorgeous sport I’ve ever seen. Elegant, skillful, and incredibly muscular, the game is mesmerizing—not unlike the sophisticated and surprisingly robust timepiece that it inspired. Here, a handful of little-known facts that contribute to the Reverso’s enduring mystique:
1. The Reverso was the result of a brazen challenge.
The model has its roots in a conversation that took place on the sidelines of a polo match in India. An officer of the British Raj is said to have challenged César de Trey, a Swiss businessman and friend of Jacques-David LeCoultre, to devise a timepiece that could withstand the rigors of the game.
2. The model is named for the Latin phrase I turn around.
The phrase is a reference to the Reverso’s unique swiveling case design. But the name of the person who first uttered the timeless moniker has been lost to history.
3. The Reverso’s “blank page” back is a paragon of personalization.
Thanks to its smooth metal caseback, the reverse side of the Reverso has always been an ideal canvas for a personalized engraving or a tailor-made enamel or gem-set drawing. With a new Atelier Reverso service debuting next year, expect to see Jaeger-LeCoultre ramp up its customization program.
Custom-made engraving on a Reverso Classic (photo courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre © Johann Sauty)
4. Jaeger-LeCoultre uses the model to showcase the art of gadrooning and the golden ratio.
Have you ever wondered what those three signature lines atop and beneath the Reverso’s dial are called? They’re known as gadroons—a decorative motif consisting of a series of convex curves—and they are emblematic of the model’s Art Deco heritage. There’s respect for mathematics here, too. The relative proportions of the length and width of the Reverso Classic case correspond to the golden ratio beloved by ancient mathematicians.
Reverso Classic in medium size (photo courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre)
5. The entire collection is getting a massive overhaul in 2016.
“To mark the 85th anniversary of the Reverso, we wish to offer a new vision,” Riedo said. The collection, which had grown to include 53 models, is being simplified. The model will now be rendered in three distinct expressions: Reverso Classic, Reverso Tribute, and Reverso One (a ladies’ version).
Most pieces in the Classic edition will be equipped with automatic movements, and all will be offered in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The Tribute edition, on the other hand, borrows its aesthetic from the original 1931 model. Built to house the Reverso’s complicated models, including the good-looking Tribute Calendar, the series will feature dials in shades of brown, blue, and even red.
Reverso Tribute Calendar in 18k rose gold (photo courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre)
1933 Reverso with blue lacquered dial (photo courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre, © Johann Sauty)
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