The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watch is one of the most iconic models of the Swiss master-watchmaker’s legacy, writes Lucy McMurray.
It is as classic as it is modern, with the artful ability to switch seamlessly between sporty and elegant. The story of the creation of the revered timepiece dates back to 1930, in Jodhpur India, and this is where we find ourselves, 88 years later, on a quest to retrace the steps of the watch’s history… and hopefully watch a bit of polo.
The genesis of the Reverso has its roots on a polo field, with a player presenting a challenge to watch collector César de Trey to design a watch that can withstand the batterings of a polo match, after his is smashed during the game. De Trey accepts the challenge and approaches friend Jacques-David LeCoultre with his request. They subsequently enlisted the help of a French designer, René-Alfred Chauvot. His solution was exquisite in its simplicity: A wristwatch “that can slide on its base and flip over on itself,” in order to protect the front of the case. Thereupon, in 1931, the first Reverso watch was produced, featuring a patented swivel action, whereby the watch face could be ‘reversed’ in order to protect the crystal. The back could be customised extensively with engravings, or enameling, something that has been revisited as recently as 2016, when the Reverso celebrated its 85th anniversary with several exclusive editions.
The 1930s Reverso was soon adopted by wealthy collectors, not just polo players and two years after the first Reverso debuted, LeCoultre developed its first dedicated movement that would suit the unique shape of the model: the calibre 410. Chauvot’s design perfectly embodied the era’s fascination with Art Deco and fused robustness with personalisation, allowing owners to bespeake the back as they wished.
By 1937, the success of the Reverso officially brought LeCoultre and Jaeger S.A. together to form a new company registered as Jaeger LeCoultre S.A. Later versions feature a dual face, with complications such as a moonphase or small seconds. Very recently, JLC featured renowned Argentine bootmaker Casa Fagliano’s hand crafted leather straps on their Reverso, and it is one of these limited edition works, also sporting a one-of a-kind engraving of the Marwar-Jodhpur coat of arms, that has been gifted to Bristish Polo Day, Jodhpur 2018, for their auction in aid of the Indian Head Injury Foundation, which was set up by His Highness The Maharaja Gaj Singh II Of Marwar-Jodhpur.
British Polo Day first took place in Dubai in 2009 and has, since then, played host to exclusive, invitation-only matches from China to the United States; Jaeger-LeCoultre sponsored their eighth event in Jodphur in tribute to he associated history between the watchmaker and the region.
Arriving at Umaid al Bawan palace, we were greeted with rhythmic drums and trumpets as attendants in traditional dress offered the traditional greeting, ‘Namaste’. The festivities began at the Jodhpur Polo and Equestrian Institute, with polo games and afternoon tea. Dinner was served at the Mehrangarh Fort with guests ushered up to the peak of the fort, pausing every few steps to witness a variety of mesmerising performances. On reaching the summit, we were greeted by local musicians drumming a hypnotic rhythm to the momentum of whirling Rajasthani dancers as free-flowing tumblers of Royal Salut warded off the nip in the air. Making our way along the battlements, the lights of the city below twinkled like stars as beams of light illuminated the intricate details of the fort walls. We entered a courtyard illuminated by torchlight flames; dinner was served and the merriments lasted late into the night.
The next day brought more polo and trophies for Best Playing Pony and Most Valuable Player. As celebrations drew to an end and the sun descended beyond Umaid Bawan Palace gardens, we were greeted by a spectacular display of fireworks before proceeding along the red carpet stretching the length of the grounds of the palace.
The evening commenced with an auction after an introduction by His Highness The Maharaja Gaj Singh, a rare Reverso proving a coveted treasure for the winning bidder. The Reverso is easily Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most iconic timepiece and can rightfully lay claim to being the first sports watch. To contemporary eyes, the Reverso is an elegant dress watch but to those early-adopting polo players, it was a groundbreaking and ingenious timepiece.