The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Enamel Hokusai shows a watch as a literal work of artTom Austin
- Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso returns with an exquisite homage to 19th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.
- Painstakingly reproduced in micro-proportions, two of Hokusai’s famed artworks are miniaturised in 14 layers of grand feu enamel.
- Limited to 10 pieces each, both artworks required over 80 hours of work to reproduce on every watch case by hand, using Hokusai’s exact colours in a totally different way.
All too often we hear watches being referred to as “works of art”, an expression regularly applied to technically impressive watches, perhaps the latest unobtainium, six-figure, multi-tourbilloned piece from an obscure brand you’ve never heard of. Art is of course, subjective and open to interpretation, and not to take anything away from those brands, but in reality, some things fit into the category better than others. A brand can spend countless hours designing a particularly beautiful complication, or push the boundaries in terms of material technology, but in many ways, if computers and CNC machines are involved, this isn’t really art as we envision it. The new, limited-edition Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai are art, in the traditional sense.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso has something that a lot of watches do not. Yes, it has a dial, a (swivelling) case, a strap, and movement, but there’s a byproduct of that feature, that you see when you flip the dial in towards the case. On most models, flicking the case over reveals a clean surface, which is a perfect canvas, often used by loved ones to engrave special messages. Over the near century of its existence, JLC has found a more artistic use for it, utilising their artisanal enamel workshop to create made-to-order rear case designs, such as family crests, monograms, maps, and some of the most illustrious artworks in modern culture.
In 2018, JLC turned to its enamel workshop to produce the Reverso Tribute Enamel, a simple time-only piece, intricately decorated in grand feu enamel with a miniature depiction of three different artworks, one of which was The Great Wave off Kanagawa. This instantly recognisable 19th-century woodblock print by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai depicts a cresting wave with Mount Fuji in the background. Then in 2021, the Tribute Enamel returned once more, again with another enamelled depiction of Hokusai’s work, this time it was Kirifuri Waterfall, painstakingly recreated with over 70 hours of enamel work, including multiple trips in and out of the kiln for firing. Now for 2023, capturing Hokusai once more, Jaeger-LeCoultre returns to show the world its prowess in the enamel workshop.
At 27.4mm by 45.5mm, the case design is Reverso in its most modern form. The familiar rotating case assembly with short, flowing lugs is finished in white gold, doing a perfect job not distracting from the main focal point, which doesn’t come into view until you flip over the case. The canvas mentioned before is adorned with a fired enamel depiction of Hokusai’s artwork, lovingly reproduced in miniature scale to perfection. Each piece required over 80 hours of handwork, not only to miniaturise the artwork, but also to reproduce the artist’s colour palette, using his signature technique to recreate the graduated bokashi effect seen in the works. Something to consider here is that these techniques were originally mastered for 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints, so JLC’s ingenious enamel artisans have developed their own version, in order to achieve the correct colour gradients. This level of detail is beyond comprehension, and it doesn’t stop there – they even reproduced the artist’s intricate signature at around a tenth of its original size, in fired enamel.
Available in two different styles, these Reverso Tribute Enamels will give you some difficult choices to make. Firstly we have The Waterfall at Ono, which shows a small Shinto shrine on a rocky precipice near the waterfalls, with onlooking travellers at its foot. The waterfalls traditionally represent locations where Shinto gods can reside. The second artwork depicts the piece called The Waterfall at Yoshino, which captures an episode from the life of General Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who stopped to rest and wash his horse while fleeing due to an accusation of treachery. Both pieces not only represent some of Hokusai’s most famous works, currently on display at the Met, but also reflect Japanese history and culture.
The enamel work doesn’t stop at just the casebacks, however, because the dials are also treated with some incredible craftsmanship. Both feature exquisite hand-guilloché pattern work, with the Waterfall at Ono getting a classic barleycorn design, and the Waterfall at Yoshino version applying a lozenge pattern, both requiring around eight hours and 4,000 passes of the lathe. On top of this, a further eight hours of enamel work and firing is required to give the dials their deep green finish.
The simplicity of the watch itself helps towards its charm, as there are no bells and whistles here. It’s powered by the Calibre 822 time-only movement, which is manually wound and complete with a 42-hour power reserve. Encased in that classic Reverso design, with Art Deco grooves on either end of the case, and the solar pattern behind the rotating case assembly, it’s a timeless classic. The real show here is the magnificent use of the Reverso’s double life, its ability to be not only an extremely stylish and wearable timepiece but also to have that hidden display of extreme levels of craftsmanship that cannot be replicated by a machine.
It takes a decades-long experienced hand to produce enamel work like this, and in an era where machines, artificial intelligence and digitisation are giving us cause for concern, it’s wonderful to know that in the world of wristwatches, there is something that a computer cannot reproduce, and that is the creativity and skillfulness of artisanship. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel is indeed a true work of art, in every sense of the word.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai price and availability
The JLC Reverso Tribute Enamel is available now via enquiry via the Jaeger-LeCoultre website, with both editions limited to 10 pieces. Price is on request.
|Model||Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai|
|Case Dimensions||27.4mm (W) x 9.73mm (T) x 45.6mm (LTL)|
|Case Material||18k white gold, enamel miniature|
|Water Resistance||30 metres|
|Dial||Green enamel guilloché|
|Strap||Black alligator with case-matching hardware|
|Movement||Calibre 822, in-house, manual winding|
|Power Reserve||42 hours|
|Availability||Now, limited to 10 pieces each|