In Depth

A history of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso at Christie's

The legendary auctioneers are exhibiting examples of this iconic and elegant timepiece, including those once owned by royalty

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Think of a sports watch and rugged, feature-packed timepieces are likely to spring to mind. And yet what is widely considered the first in the genre – Jaeger-LeCoultre's Reverso – is the very antithesis of this, with its chic, slender Art Deco-inspired silhouette and classically elegant dial. Launched in 1931, it came into being for extremely practical reasons; legend has it that a British army officer who had broken the glass of his watch while playing polo in India challenged watchmakers to create a timepiece that could successfully survive a match. But while it's unlikely to be sported out on the field today, it remains one of the most enduring and well-loved horological icons.

Its defining feature, an ingenious case that could be flipped over to protect the delicate dial from knocks and scrapes, has also made it one of the most versatile watch designs in history. A quick trawl through the Jaeger-LeCoultre's archives reveals a treasure trove of creative iterations, ranging from models with engravings and paintings on the case back to dual-faced watches and high complications. These and more will be explored in a special exhibition at auctioneers Christie's, tracing the Reverso's changing style throughout the decades.

The message or motif inscribed on the dial's reverse hint at many different stories. For example, on display will be a gold Reverso engraved 'Edward VIII - 1937', commissioned to mark a coronation that never took place: Edward abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson. Perhaps the grandest artistic expression, however, is on the 2016 Reverso San Rocco, which depicts the opulent staircase of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in enamel on the rear, created to commemorate Jaeger-LeCoultre's strong cultural ties with Venice. There will also be reminders of the brand's technical watchmaking prowess, from the first pieces to incorporate horological complications to its latest collection, revealed earlier this year.

Visitors will be able to interact with an augmented reality experience, allowing them to try on the latest models virtually, as well as investigating other interactive displays delving further into the watchmaker's archives. On 6 June, an artist-engraver will be at the exhibition to inspire current Reverso owners on possible ways to adorn their timepiece, while on 6 June interior designer Tim Gosling and author Anna Sebba will discuss Parisian culture and women's style in the 1930s as part of a Christie's Lates evening event.

Reverso: wrist-style since 1931 runs until 9 June at Christie's South Kensington, 85 Old Brompton Road, London, SW7 3LD; christies.com; jaeger-lecoultre.com

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