Thirty years ago, someone somewhere at Jaeger-LeCoultre started a tradition that spanned almost a decade. The Reverso, a watch that saved Jaeger-LeCoultre’s bacon not once but twice, had reached its 60th birthday and that’s a fairly justified cause for celebration. The revelry took the form of the Reverso Soixantième, and from there until the year 2000, six special Reversos were created.
1991: Reverso Soixantième
For the Reverso’s 60th, Jaeger-LeCoultre built the Reverso Soixantième, or Reverso 60ème. Whilst the watchmaker’s way with words might be a little on the nose, its watchmaking, thankfully, more than makes up for it. The Soixantième, limited to 500 pieces, isn’t too overembellished with complications, with the caliber 824 getting an unusual central date hand and a power reserve indicator. Nevertheless, it is the first complicated Reverso, not to mention the first with a clear caseback. It was also the genesis of the larger 42mm by 26mm Grand Taille case, found on all six of these editions, which opened up the Reverso to a modern audience.
And what better way to show off the first visible Reverso caliber than by making it out of solid gold? Arranged in a very classic style, with the center wheel on full show, the caliber 824 set a benchmark for watchmaking finesse that would come to underpin the entire collection of these very special watches. But that’s just for starters — let’s see what came next.
1993: Reverso Tourbillon
It was 1993, and the next in the line of these exceptional Reversos had to pack a punch. Why not a tourbillon? Seems like a reasonable next step, not overkill at all… The Reverso Tourbillon was, like other tourbillon watches of its time, a bit of a recluse, keeping the main event hidden around the back. Like Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Breguet, the few other watchmakers who actually made tourbillons at the time, Jaeger-LeCoultre considered this tumbling technical marvel to be better heard and not seen.
Except not quite, because the Reverso, as you well know, is reversible. Bored of the beautiful yet austere dial? Flip the case and you’re treated to a view that no other watch presented: a tourbillon visible without taking off the watch. The caliber 828, again in gold, not only houses this magnificent array, but also squeezes in a power reserve, especially handy for such a greedy little complication like the tourbillon.
Only 500 examples of this watch exist and that’s pretty incredible. You don’t get a whole lot of use as a watchmaking business out of a rectangular movement design, yet here is one in gold with a tourbillon, to be built just 500 times.
1994: Reverso Répétition Minutes
So, tourbillon? Went too big too soon and ran out of room? You’d like to think so, but this is Jaeger-LeCoultre we’re talking about here, so have some respect! Well, there’s still the daddy of complications to squeeze inside a Reverso case that … no, there’s no way Jaeger-LeCoultre managed to cram a minute repeater into one of these, surely? Well, they did, in 1994, with the caliber 943.
Now this is just showing off. It was the first and perhaps still is, to this day, the only rectangular minute repeater movement. That’s the ability to, at the pull of a lever, sound the time in hours, quarters and minutes via twin gongs. It’s a watch that can read itself and then tell you the time, all in a case as big, or as small, as this. That’s 306 parts crammed inside, and whilst you can’t see through the caseback — the solid back aids the sound — you can see the gold governor, which regulates the minute repeater’s progress, at work through the dial. A lot of effort for, you guessed it, just 500 watches.
1996: Reverso Chronographe Retrograde
Now what? If the minute repeater is the biggest watchmaking challenge of all and we’ve only got to 1994, then Jaeger-LeCoultre really is stuck. Oh well — time to start inventing a few challenges of its own then. From the front, this caliber 829 equipped Reverso seems, apparently, rather normal. Time, date and a little something else that looks a little bit like a mailbox flag.
No, it doesn’t let you know when you’ve got an email — this was 1996, remember — it tells you stop, “arret,” and go, “marche.” That’s because this watch has a hidden trick up its sleeve — or rather, backside — a chronograph on the reverse that you only get to see when you flip the case. Handy to know if it’s going or not when the watch is in its primary position, then.
A chronograph in the back, you say? How original. But perhaps not quite as exciting as the years past. Well, hold your horses, because not only did the caliber 829 pack the most parts ever into a Reverso yet at 317, but it found some extra space to do so by making the minutes counter retrograde. So, when the minutes get to 30, the hand jumps back to the start by itself and carries on. You don’t need me to tell you how many there are of these.
1998: Reverso Géographique
The Geographic name has become synonymous with Jaeger-LeCoultre, with the master watchmaker having demonstrated a number of ingenious ways with which it has conquered the globe, so to speak — however, none quite like this little Reverso Géographique. Again, from the front, we have something quite simple, with the addition of a day/night indicator, and you would be forgiven for thinking that this might just be a more embellished version of the 1994 Duoface, a dual time zone watch that added a second dial to the Reverso for the first time.
But it’s not that simple. Maybe to use, but certainly not in the production of this caliber 858. Flip the case and you’re presented with an array of indications, revealing the true nature of this globe-crushing timekeeper.
Whilst the silver dial stays in tune with your home city, the pusher on the case side advances the rear through all 24 time zones — but it gets even cleverer than that.
Instead of a single display for the cities, there are two, GMT minus and GMT plus. As the displays advance with each button push, the smaller GMT indicator advances too. So when that smaller display is in the minus zone, the watch can be set to cities in the GMT minus category, and when it’s in the plus, the GMT plus category. That means that not only will the main local time display be correct for the selected city, but the day/night indicator will be too.
2000: Reverso Quantième Perpétual
You might be thinking to yourself at this point, isn’t there a missing complication? You’d be right — the perpetual calendar. For the year 2000 and the final in the series, Jaeger- LeCoultre paired its by now famous Grand Taille case with the caliber 855, a 276-component perpetual calendar mechanism. But as you can imagine, this is no ordinary perpetual calendar, rather a hugely befitting send-off to a decade of tradition in, well, breaking tradition.
For this final iteration, it’s through teasing on the front that Jaeger- LeCoultre reminds us that all the fun is to be had around the, er, back, with a day/night indicator top right and a leap year indicator center bottom. After a decade, we’re a bit wiser and we know there’s something awesome waiting for us on the reverse. And there is.
Never has there been a simpler, more user-friendly perpetual calendar display on a watch, let alone one of such diminutive proportions. The moonphase takes center stage around which wraps the lunar cycle and date, which, like the chronograph before it, is retrograde. Pretty impressive by itself, but this is a perpetual calendar, remember, so not only does the date hand jump back to the beginning at the start of every new month, it also jumps back from a different spot as every month ends, and that includes the irregularities of February.
Twin month and date wheels complete the astonishingly straightforward display, wrapping up the last of these six awesome limited editions.
For many, the Reverso is a dress watch with a fanciful history and an odd party trick, but for Jaeger-LeCoultre, it has, from its very beginnings in 1931, been a platform for engineering advancement. Nothing about it or these six watches is ordinary in any sense of the imagination, making them the complete antithesis of an industry often fixated on sticking with tradition. And, for the Reverso, these watches were just the beginning.