Jaeger-LeCoultre releases two new Reverso Tribute Enamel models in homage to Hokusai
Created for polo players so they could protect the face of their precious timepiece from the brutal impacts often suffered during the course of four to eight chukkas (the periods of play into which a polo match is divided), the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso could thus lay a convincing claim to being one of the world’s very first sports watches given its conception dates back to 1931. An aesthetic advantage of the recognizable sliding case construction was the considerable space available provided by the closed case back for customization. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the Reverso’s initial target audience and the likelihood that those polo players were either relatively high-born or connected to military factions, the engraving of family crests or regimental insignia became commonplace.
As the model filtered into the public realm, this unusually expansive canvas for personalization caught fire, and engravings of all sorts decorate these pieces to the delight of watch historians the world over. While it may seem odd to some to covet a watch so clearly owned and worn by someone else, such sigils and inscriptions can barely help but elicit a thrill inspired by the knowledge that the watch in question has lived a life and has a personality like no other.
Less personal designs, however, have their own appeal. The chance to own a nailed-on stalwart of the industry, decorated with the work of a true artisan is enticing. These watches will not just be curios that appeal to the curious few that care about a watch’s past, but also, perhaps more so, items of import that point the JLC’s future, and to the interests of future generations that want to own a piece of art affixed to a legendary wristwatch.
For 2023, Jaeger-LeCoultre has prepared two new Reverso models that pay tribute to Katsushika Hokusai, Japan’s most celebrated artist of the nineteenth century. These models display micro-painted reproductions of The Waterfall at Ono on the Kisokaido Road (Kisokaidō Ono no bakufu) and The Waterfall Where Yoshitsune Washed his Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province (Washū Yoshino Yoshitsune uma arai no taki) on the case back.
Hokusai was known for his fascination with the natural world and his innovative use of color. During his life (c. 1760–1849), the Japanese master was a prolific illustrator, printmaker, and ukiyo-e artist. His influence was felt worldwide. His refined use of woodblock printing would shape Western perceptions of Japanese art.
The two models are stunning testaments to the man and his craft. Both models present two of his most his classic creations in a medium that has never been seen before. The drama Hokusai was able to create in his original works translates astoundingly well to such a small canvas (by comparison). Despite their small size, a sense of natural power exudes from both.
In a satisfying fusion of Eastern art and Western techniques, these reproductions have been realized using the Geneva technique, which requires at least 14 layers of enamel, each fired at 800°C before the next can be applied. Each micro-painting therefore demands 80 hours of painstaking concentration to complete. More impressive still is the attention to detail in emulating Hokusai’s use of color. As experienced as the enamelers charged with this daunting task are, this project tested their abilities and insisted they endeavor to reproduce the effect with mind-blowing accuracy, despite the end result being almost ten times smaller than the originals.
A Complete Package
It would be easy to just focus on their glorious casebacks and ignore everything else that is also noteworthy about these watches, but I won’t be distracted by the lede. There’s too much to like about this release to sidestep the main reason why I would personally consider making one of these 10-piece limited editions Reversos the first one in my collection.
It’s not that the case is particularly remarkable. The 18-karat white gold housing measures 45.6 mm long, an era-of-inspiration-appropriate 27.4 mm wide, and a shirt-cuff-dodging 9.73 mm thick. It’s beautiful. It’s classic. But it’s just a Reverso case in white gold (which some might argue denigrates the watch’s true roots, but, almost 100 years after the fact, I think we can let that one slide). The strap is a standard black alligator and the movement is, while top-quality as one would expect from Jaeger-LeCoultre, not exactly the most complicated caliber on the planet (showing only the hours and minutes on the dial side).
No, it’s the marriage of an exquisite use of the Reverso’s obverse and an extremely wearable dial color and embellishment that make these pieces winners. Both dials are enameled with four to five layers of dark mint green enamel that is quiet but characterful at the same time. Sitting beneath this engaging shade of green enamel are expertly guillochéd surfaces. The Waterfall at Ono features a Barley-corn Guilloché pattern while the Waterfall at Yoshino model sports an unfathomably intricate lozenge engraving (which requires 4,000 passes of the lathe to achieve).
Simply put, these two pieces (reference numbers Q39334T5 and Q39334T4 for Ono and Yoshino respectively) are exactly what I’d want from a luxurious Reverso. They do not leap off the wrist. They are humble, easily worn watches. There is nothing visibly remarkable from a distance on either side. It’s all tightly realized and so privately enjoyed. It is, in an odd way, about as good a modern example of what real high-end watchmaking should be about.
It should be about the history, the craft, and the experience of owning such a fine piece. Both models presented here exemplify those virtues and are valuable additions to the JLC catalog, and will be, I’m sure, the same to the twenty lucky wrists that are able to secure one for themselves.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai — The Waterfall at Ono:
Movement:: Manually wound Calibre 822
Functions:: Hours and minutes
Case:: 45.6 mm × 27.4 mm × 9.73 mm, white gold
Dial:: Barleycorn guilloché, Grand Feu enamel
Strap:: Black alligator
Price:: On request
Availability: Limited to 10 pieces
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai — The Waterfall at Yoshino
Movement: Manually wound Calibre 822
Functions: Hours and minutes
Case: 45.6 mm × 27.4 mm × 9.73 mm, white gold
Dial: Lozenge guilloché, Grand Feu enamel
Strap: Black alligator
Price: On request
Availability: Limited to 10 pieces
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