The Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso is one of the most revered dress watches of all time. Its purpose-built origin story and unique art deco design have allowed it to transcend nearly a century of trends and fads, all the while always remaining distinctively stylish. After being in production for almost a century, we’ve seen various versions of the watch come and go, but the simple design of the original model may be the best. The watch we have here is an almost perfect copy of the very first Reverso, offering classic styling with modern durability and a little something special to set it apart. This is the Jaeger LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin “Tribute to 1931” New York Skyline Limited Edition.
Like another famous square dress watch, the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso actually started out as a kind of tool watch. In the early 1930s, the story goes that a Swiss businessman and watch collector named César de Trey attended a polo match of British military officers and witnessed the damage the game could bring to a wristwatch—a polo mallet makes light work of a watch crystal. At the request of the polo players, César approached Jaques-David LeCoultre, who at the time was the owner of a watch movement manufacturer, in hopes he could help solve this problem and create a watch that could withstand the rigors of the sport. LeCoultre ended up soliciting help from Jaeger S.A. and French designer René-Alfred Chauvot to create the now famous rectangular flipping case. The watch those men collaborated on became the Reverso. A watch that could, with a simple flip of the case, go from an elegant timepiece to a durable one that could withstand all kinds of sporting activities.
This makes the Reverso—which is now almost exclusively seen as a dress watch—one of the first-ever sports watches. It was also the beginning of what would become one of the premier watch brands globally. The Reverso model showed the world a preview of what the watch brand Jaeger Le-Coultre would become, as it initiated the partnership between Jaeger S.A. and LeCoultre before the brand’s officially merged.
The watch’s handsome good looks and utilitarian design caught on, and it has proven to have a longevity rivaled by very few other watches. This Grande Reverso Ultra Thin “Tribute to 1931” New York Skyline Limited Edition is kind of a special edition of a special edition. It’s based on the Tribute to 1931, launched in 2011 for the watch’s 80th birthday, and is an almost perfect copy of the original version of the watch introduced in 1931. However, this specific example is made even more special due to the fact that it is just one of three that has the New York Skyline depicted on the back. This design detail comes from an ad in the New Yorker announcing a new boutique that JLC was opening. When the advertisement was run, it depicted a Reverso with the New York skyline image you see on this watch, but there was one problem: no such watch existed. After the ad, JLC got numerous requests to make the watch, and this and two other watches just like it were created because of it. This distinct image makes this Tribute to 1931 Reverso one of the most rare variants the brand has ever made.
The stand-out detail on any Reverso is the distinct rectangular shape and overall art deco styling. I know the Great Gatsby predates the Reverso, but this is a watch I suspect Jay Gatsby would love. The long case with its unique character lines at twelve and six, the railroad minute track, and the sharp sword style hands are all classic early twentieth-century design traits. Even its New York skyline depiction with its iconic spire-topped skyscrapers could serve as the backdrop of 1930’s art deco painting. However, despite being so distinctly of its time, the watch is as relevant as ever.
The case measures 46mm x 27.5mm and is just 7.23mm thick. It’s made entirely in-house and, despite its simple appearance, is a lot harder to construct than people might realize. It contains approximately 50 components making it one of the most complex cases in production by any brand. The flipping mechanism utilizes grooves, pins, and a locking mechanism to allow the mid-case to slide out of its frame, rotate 180 degrees and securely close all in one elegant fluid motion. The exposable caseback protects the watch crystal and dial, but nowadays, it’s more common purpose—as is the case here—is to be a secret canvas for engravings or even artwork.
The enamel picture of New York is undoubtedly the most special part of this watch, but because this is a Tribute to 1931 edition Reverso, it has some additional features that set it apart from its standard production counterparts. To start, you may notice that it simply says “Reverso” without any other branding on the dial. This relatively bare dial is due to the original Reverso predating Jaeger andLeCoultre’s official merger. It was branded with just the model name, as you see here. Additionally, the long sword-style hour markers and railroad minute track are just as you would find on the first Reverso. However, the sword hands are a bit of a departure as those early Reverso’s had a kind of syringe style handset.
Another small detail is the subtle amount of fauxtina applied. This is about as much fauxtina as I would like on a watch, and here I think it’s necessary. Without it, this already very simple timepiece could look boring or almost sterile. Overall I think this is one of the best looking modern Reverso’s and love the blend of vintage charm with modern quality.
Powering this watch is the Jaeger LeCoultre caliber 822. This manual winding movement is somewhat rectangular itself and was designed specifically for this case style. It’s rhodium plated, with Côtes de Genève embellishments, a shock absorber mechanism, and a self-compensating balance spring. It has also gone through Jaeger LeCoultre’s famous 1000 hour testing, which entails testing the movement solo and then cased up to ensure the watch’s accuracy, resistance to temperature change, shocks, magnetism, and water all meet the brand’s stringent standards, which are higher than even COSC. They don’t call JLC the “watchmakers, watchmaker” for nothing. Despite the fact that you can’t see it, you can trust that this movement is one of the best in the business.
Versus The Competition
I think this watch speaks to a very particular type of person, a collector’s collector as it were. Someone who appreciates art deco design but also is after the unique and rare. Here are some other watches that come in close to the Reverso’s value of $24,900 that I think fit that bill.
First and for me, the most obvious watch to compare to this limited Reverso is the also limited Cartier Privee Tank Basculante Millenium limited edition. This 18k yellow gold square-cased beauty is one of 365 pieces which is a hell of a lot more than three but still quite scarce. Like this Reverso, it has timeless good looks and even a flipping case mechanism. The mechanism on the Cartier is more suited for turning the watch into a small desk clock than for protection, but let’s be honest, the Reverso’s isn’t used for protection anymore anyway. This Cartier also has a special caseback with 1999, 2000, and 2001 engraved to celebrate the Millenium. At $26,900, its value sits just a bit higher than Reverso’s but not enough to sway a purchasing decision in my opinion.
The next watch that came to mind is a bit less known, but like the Reverso, it’s one that I think deserves more attention. This is the A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret in 18k rose gold. Produced from 1998-2009, it stands out from its Lange siblings due to its distinct art deco inspired stepped rectangular case. Despite being much newer, its design is very much cut from the same cloth as the Reverso. There isn’t any fun flipping mechanism, but like the Reverso, this Lange is a truly exceptionally made timepiece. The main advantage this watch has over the Cartier or JLC is its fully visible and perfectly finished movement. If that’s a feature that’s important to you, this is the one you’ll want to go with. This watch was a standard production model and wasn’t limited, but Lange is not a large manufacture, and the short amount of time this watch was produced means it is still a very rare timepiece. With its value of $26,900 being right in line with these other two, a decision between them won’t be easy.
If we were to ignore the New York skyline on the caseback, I think this watch makes one of the chicest, formal daily wearers money can buy. But we can’t ignore it, and the picture on the caseback makes this a rare and precious example of a legendary dress watch. I think this watch belongs with a collector who can fully appreciate the Reverso story and where this watch slots into that history. This is a modern watch I feel should be treated like a vintage one and should be put in rotation with that in mind. If you’re looking for a daily wearer to the office, look elsewhere, but if you want the ultimate collectors Reverso to bust out on special occasions, this is perfect.
I think this is a truly special timepiece and it’s a kind of crazy how little it’s been talked about. If this was a one of three Calatrava or, god forbid, a Nautilus, it would be the only watch you’d see on Instagram, but because it’s a Reverso, it sort of goes over people’s heads. I was talking about this watch recently with a fellow watch nerd—James Gates—and he made a comment that really stuck out to me “The Reverso doesn’t have hype; it simply has respect.” I think that perfectly describes this watch, and I don’t know about you, but I’d take respect over hype any day.