The world was an immeasurably different place 90 years ago. There were no computers, no mobile phones, no smart watches and no internet. The stockmarket crash of 1929 was still being felt around the world, the Star Spangled Banner was selected as the US national anthem and the Art Deco icon of the Empire State Building was opened for the first time.
But in 1931 another icon of the Art Deco period was born – the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso – and it would go on to be one of the most successful designs ever for the Le Sentier watchmaker. The clean lines and playful practicality of the swivelling case combined with the high quality movement established it as a classic design. Nine decades on, Jaeger-LeCoultre is celebrating the Reverso and the legacy that has been built around it.
But how do you celebrate such a well-known piece of watchmaking? How do you modernise an icon? These are the questions that come to mind when a design is celebrating a milestone, and fortunately we were able to put them to the people best positioned to answer – Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier and her colleague Lionel Favre, the Product Design Director.
On why the Reverso endured through the decades instead of similar designs, such as the Jaeger Duoplan from 1925:
Catherine Rénier – “The Duoplan was a watch from the ’20s in a rectangular shape that was designed to enable the caliber to be as small as possible. The plan was to have a very tiny watch that could be easily worn and very discreet.
In the Reverso, it’s the balance of the lines, both the Golden Ratio in the shape of the watch and the way it plays with the light that has given it this timelessness in design. Of course the rectangular shape is also a very easy way for the Reverso to be identified.”
On the limits of the Reverso design DNA and if the oversized Reverso Squadra demonstrated one such limit:
Catherine Rénier – “Well the Squadra was extremely popular. It was really a moment for the Reverso to return to its sporty origins as a sought-after watch for polo players, making it bulkier and more robust. What we believe has given Reverso its timelessness, despite it’s long life and whatever shapes or stories it went through, is really this original design.
“This elegance, simplicity and purity of the lines, this is what we really pay tribute now with our collections. No matter whether the Reverso is from the high watchmaking department, or it has been a simpler interpretation with the green dial, you will find the same attention to details in terms of balance, shape and elegance to the piece.”
On how JLC knows when to modernize the Reverso design by adapting it slightly and when to hold more closely to the original design:
Catherine Rénier – “Well, we’re always adapting and it’s step-by-step. It’s little details. It’s a strap. It’s the way we will finish the material. It’s the colour of the dial. I think modernity doesn’t mean transforming it completely, modernity means that it stays relevant today.
Relevance is not brushing out the heritage or the inspiration from 90 years ago. It’s building on it, adding to it and keeping that edge that enables today’s generation to feel as attracted to the Reverso as the last one.”
On all the colour we are seeing in the modern Reverso collection and if the inspiration is from the coloured Reversos of the 1930s:
Catherine Rénier – “Well, it’s not new-new – colour has been an ongoing tribute in the development of the Reverso. Lionel maybe you want to elaborate? You’ve worked a lot on the style and the colours…”
Lionel Favre – “It’s very important to work on color because Reverso you can’t change many things on the case. So colour is a way to make a evolution of the watch, and we work a lot on the type of colour. We don’t want to use luminous colour because it’s too flashy.
So we were more concentrated on a deep colour and it’s interesting to have a dark reflection on the dial with colour. We have a blue, we have burgundy, we have purple, maybe brown and green. And green was the most beautiful for the design of this watch, because we are surrounded by a forest, so we used a forest green.”
On whether or not the Reverso is a perfect expression of Jaeger-LeCoultre watchmaking:
Catherine Rénier – “Reverso is the perfect symbol of what Jaeger-LeCoultre is about. Meaning the merging of technical expertise in watchmaking, because we have made our own calibers since day one. We’ve made calibers for many players in our world in designs that offer timelessness, elegance, sophistication and somewhat of an understated look.
All of this is best found, I would say, in Reverso. Definitely the style, the sophistication but also the expertise in watchmaking because from the beginning we had to make our own calibers for Reverso as the watch is a rectangular shape. This is also a symbol of our ability to work from scratch on a caliber when we need it. This time with the caliber 826 for the Reverso Tribute Nonantième the idea was to elaborate on our existing caliber to bring within the Reverso, for the first time ever, a digital time display.”