Time is precious
A treasured icon of watch design celebrates its 90th anniversary, by harking back to its functional, and exuberant, roots. By Alison Veness.
A treasured icon of watch design by Jaeger-LeCoultre celebrates its 90th anniversary.
CATHERINE RÉNIER, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre is talking to us from the frozen and snowy depths of Vallée de Joux, the headquarters of some of the finest watches in the world. We are discussing the latest iterations of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s iconic rotating Reverso watch with four new designs of the Reverso One called Precious Flowers, each snow-set with diamonds and enamelled and hand-engraved with delicate flowers. “We are so excited as these pieces are just out of the workshop,” Rénier says, sharing glimpses of their intricate complexity.
That Jaeger-LeCoultre has chosen to release precious, jewelled, highly decorative versions of the Reverso as part of the watch’s 90th anniversary speaks to the hunger for exceptional timepieces that are both prized heirlooms and a collector’s joy.
Rénier has been CEO since 2018 having started her career with Cartier then Van Cleef & Arpels. She knows her precious stones and has read the room alongside the design team headed up by Lionel Favre, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s product design director. The new Precious Flowers collection, with its heartbeat of arts and craft flowers intertwined with the original 1930s Art Deco curvaceous geometry of the Reverso case, speaks to the feminine, signalling the growing number of serious female watch collectors seeking elaborate and jewelled timepieces and reflecting a renewed appreciation for nature.
The Reverso was born from the request of the Swiss watch collector César de Trey, who, having seen the dial of a wristwatch smashed during a polo match in India in 1930, commissioned a robust solution. The result: a reversible case with its swivelling flip-and-slide mechanism. The watch was quickly embraced by clients attracted to the purity of the seamless Art Deco design and the possibilities of individualising the back of the case so that when swivelled, it made an equally elegant statement. Famously, Amelia Earhart’s historic 1935 flight from Mexico to New York was lacquered and engraved onto the case of her Reverso – being among a slew of famous women who’ve worn the watch, from Catherine Deneuve to Princess Diana and Meryl Streep.
“The femininity of Jaeger-LeCoultre has always been there,” says Rénier. “In 1931, the Reverso was designed as a timepiece for both men and women, which was very unusual. Even before the Reverso, in the 1920s when ladies were starting to free themselves and wear a discrete watch, Jaeger-LeCoultre invented the Calibre 101, which today remains the smallest mechanical calibre. This enables the watch to become a bracelet, a jewel, really. The watch is hidden … this was all developed for women. So, this inspiration was really all here,” she says, “embedded in the identity.”
The starting point for the new pieces has also come from the 1920s, which, post World War I, was a design era that exploded with pattern, print, geometry, the glamour of craftsmanship and striking new colour combinations. In fact, the rectilinear shape of the face itself comes from the d’Orsay Gate entrance to the 1925 Art Deco Exhibition held in Paris to showcase cutting-edge modern design, igniting fervor for futuristic designs worldwide.
Today, a total of 40 pieces of the Reverso One editions have been made, 10 of each design: White Lilies, Pink, Purple and Blue Arums – the latter of which alone required 30 hours of enamelling and 95 hours of gem-setting. “The creativity of the maison is blossoming – the idea is to keep this series small, limited-edition and then to let the designs evolve,” Rénier continues. “The Reverso is a blank canvas but this time it is about the language of flowers. I think during this time we have looked at what is around us and taken the time to be a lot more present. During Covid, nature has taken a whole other place; the protection of nature and appreciation we have of our surroundings.”
And what better way to celebrate a milestone birthday during a global pandemic than with the simplicity and wonder of beautiful flowers delivered in a watch with a dial and bracelet in perfect harmony?