Art Deco. Watchmaking looking to enjoy itself.
By Cristina D’Agostino20 juillet 2021
Each era has its style, each generation has its modernity. For a hundred years, great artistic movements have generated works that have marked their time. Watchmaking is no exception. Our summer series “A Time, a Watch” begins with the Art Deco movement.
As of 1920, after years of privation, the times are now about moving away from the coldness of a technology formerly generated by the Great War, which only served utilitarian purposes. The Art Deco style sets off towards the future, more relaxed than ever. Jazz, movies, and fashion are symbols of a new modernity. Architecture and design follow this path towards a future where excess, progress and pleasure will soon intertwine.
Modernity is everywhere, from the look and feel of supple sports clothes that are now worn downtown, to the harmonious curves of a sports car, driven at fast speed. Watches also follow this trend. The pocket timepiece begins to decline for good, while wristwatches appear and can be found on many men and some women’s writs. “The years 1923 to 1931 are those of fundamental patents which allow the wristwatch to technically surpass the pocket watch. This progress stems from the joint development of self-winding mechanisms and of waterproofing”, says Dominique Fléchon in his book La Conquête du Temps, issued in 2011.
During the Winter of 1930, wristwatches represent half of Swiss watch exports. Their use continues to grow, as outdoor activities multiply. Sports, travel, leisure outside of usual paths encourage technological innovations. A model characterized by the Art Deco style, captures everyone’s attention, and finds itself in a new modernism: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. The two-sided model stems from the observation of Cesar de Trey - a dentist passionate about watchmaking – during a trip to India in 1930: wristwatches remain too fragile to be worn during sports activities, particularly during the polo games he watches. The idea of reversing the side of a watch with its glass and face, to the other side becomes his obsession.
On March 4th, 1931, a patent application is requested in Paris for “a watch likely to slide in its bracket and able to flip itself”. Cesar de Trey contacts Jaeger and LeCoultre workshops to bring it to life. On November 4th, 1931, the name Reverso is registered. The saga can begin. The case is stretched out, a « trio of gadroons is added up and down which subtely stretch the case” decorates the whole. The index fingers coupled to dagger-shaped hands complete its look. “The transformation of the watch into a modern Art deco object is complete”, written in the piece dedicated to the Reverso watch by Nicholas Foulkes at Editions Assouline. More than ninety years later, the Reverso watch is still a symbol of modernity. Its “bare classicism”, typical of the Art deco style evolution is still today a foundation of its success.
An opportunity to talk about this iconic model with Catherine Rénier, CEO of the brand.
Catherine Rénier: “We understood how to create desire”
Heading Jaeger-LeCoultre for three years, Catherine Rénier has worked in consolidating the three pillars of client relations, which seemed important to her considering the evolution of the brand for the decade ahead. In 2019, she extends watch guarantee to eight years, works on digitalization by improving direct contact with consumers and creating true communities. And as of 2020, she consolidates the innovation capability of the manufacture with the Polaris, Master Control, and Reverso lines, which Jaeger-LeCoultre is celebrating the 90th anniversary in 2021.
This year, you are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Reverso. A celebration most welcome for the business while the year is still impacted by the pandemic.
We have learned a lot with the pandemic. We have understood how to create expectation, desire, and how to best reveal our creations, through digital. It was essential to us to succeed in creating enthusiasm among our audience, and to know how to create emotion through digital, considering physical events were practically impossible to organize during the first half of 2021. Today, we are turning towards the future with great excitement!
What are the milestones?
We are specifically celebrating our icon, the Reverso, and the Hybris Mechanica. Two years ago, I already had the honor of presenting the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel. This year, it will be an exceptional Reverso with four faces and eleven complications. The response was unanimous regarding creativity and innovation. I am very proud of it. We are of course benefitting from this, as after the year we just went through, to be able to present this piece is true happiness and already a great success for us.
Hybris Mechanica is produced in 10 pieces. Are there takers already?
The ten buyers are already known. They are great collectors. If I had to find a comparison, I would say we are in the spirit of concept cars in the automotive industry, a world completely apart.
Will this four-faced Reverso generate new evolutions to the classical Reverso?
This type of timepiece, just like a concept car, represents a lot of research and development. In this case, six years of work with dedicated teams. Yes, this will open new perspectives. But new technical concepts will also emerge, thanks to patents linked to Hybris Mechanica. An example is how we reduced the silence periods in the minute repeater between hours and minutes, when there are no quarters that chime. This savoir-faire will of course trickle down to models of the collection.
What do you expect of these celebrations?
The Reverso is a watchmaking icon. It touches many, it conveys emotion. It is an excellent milestone for 2021. The market feedbacks are very good, as the models presented in April were delivered to boutiques right away. But many new Reverso models will be presented over the months, just like we did in Shanghai with a Reverso that showed time in a digital way, at the back of the watch. We have also created an interpretation of the Reverso by the artist Michael Murphy, an anamorphosis of the Reverso for its 90th, which we will exhibit in China, in the USA and in Europe. We will also create special sessions for the Reverso in our Antoine workshop at the Manufacture. Our intent is to further open our doors to the public. It is important that watchmaking know-how be visible and understood by the greater public. It’s a sort of education to the watchmaking culture, as it can be done for wine, by visiting cellars and following oenology classes. This doesn’t mean everyone has a cellar, but it is possible for anyone to appreciate a glass of wine (and that’s the same idea).
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