The task bestowed on French watch designer René-Alfred Chauvot in 1931 made him excited and anxious at the same time, for what he was about to attempt was unheard of in the history of watch manufacturing. A watch that could flip over, hiding its face and presenting the caseback to the world. The very idea seemed undoable, but it also reeked of genius, sparked as it was by the immediate need of some watch-owners living thousands of miles away from Chauvot’s Parisian workshop. The watch owners were polo players in British India, tired of getting their watches smashed during the fast-paced and intense game.
The story goes like this. Apparently one fierce match and a smashed timepiece later, one of the British officers, covered in perspiration and dust, held his horse by the bridle and walked up to César de Trey, a visiting Swiss businessman and watch connoisseur. “Another one broken,” the officer said, crestfallen, holding out his watchpiece. The same evening, at a reception at the club, the officer again approached Trey. He was clearly not over the incident. This time he asked Trey if he could make a watch sturdy enough to survive polo matches. Trey did not have an answer just then, but he had a plan.
Back in Switzerland, he discussed the idea with Jacques-David LeCoultre, owner of the eponymously named watch company that had been in business since 1833. Several discussions later, the two settled on the idea of developing a watch that could flip over, thereby protecting the delicate dial and exposing only a strong back case. Designer Chauvot—who went on to patent his unique design in 1931—was taken onboard to create the piece. The result was a very formal and sturdy timepiece that soon became the toast of the town, thanks to the love the polo players showered on it. What added to the stardom was the blank case that could be embellished and personalised on request.
Six years after the creation of the masterpiece, Jaeger S A and LeCoultre merged to manufacture technologically advanced luxury watches together, but Reverso stayed the star of the show. The India link stayed strong, and engravings and enamelling were used to create an impressive line of India-inspired Reverso watches. In 1946, a Reverso was engraved with the insignia of the Rajputana Rifles, the oldest elite rifle regiment in the Indian army. There were also special editions created for the Sawaiman Guards and Lord Vishnu. Perhaps the most talked about case was the one with an enamelled portrait of a mysterious Indian queen. Masters of the traditional techniques of miniature enamel painting, grand feu, champlevé, translucent and cloisonné enamelling, crafted the pieces at the workshop in Le Sentie in Switzerland.
For 85 years now, the tale of Reverso has been told and retold with fascination by enthusiasts across the world. The watch’s rectangular shape has remained untouched—the case’s height-to-width ratio resembles the golden ratio, a geometrically derived number that occurs in natural things such as flower petals, animal bodies, spiral galaxies, DNA molecules—but variations such as a seconds counter at the 6 o’clock marker, a water-resistant version, the ability to rotate at any point in horizontal case travel, and a complex case with over 50 parts have been added.
The affinity with India still remains. “While it is challenging to coordinate launches globally, we do prioritise certain markets like India,” says Marc de Panafieu, the regional brand director for the Middle East. India was among the first countries to have received the shipment of Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre Unique Travel Time watch. “The timepiece enables wearers to track two time-zones at once, down to the minute. It’s perfect for an Indian traveller,” Panafieu explains. The Indian Standard Time (IST) has an offset of 30 minutes from Coordinated Universal Time.
“Luxury is not new to India. Its refined watch culture and clientele’s understanding of our craftsmanship makes it an important market for us,” says the brand director, adding that over the years the brand has formed strategic partnerships with retailers in Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chandigarh, apart from the four metros.
Why no standalone boutique in India then? “India is as big as a continent and we’ve reached a phase where upgrading our existing network is our priority. The next milestone would be the addition of a boutique,” Panafieu says. The brand director also agrees when we say that a boutique would not just be a key driver but also a testimony of strong ties that bound India and Jaeger-LeCoultre together. He believes that there’s untapped local potential and the retail scene in India is evolving rapidly. “India will become a very important luxury hub soon,” Panafieu says.
We’d expect no less from a market that inspired the creation of the world-famous Reverso.