An iconic design with a captivating new interpretation and unparalleled inventiveness – all combined with the highest echelon of watchmaking: marking its 80th
anniversary Jaeger-LeCoultre takes the magic of the Reverso watch to new dimensions with the Reverso Répétition Minute à Rideau.
There are few watches that survive the decades through history, and even fewer to be called exceptional. But one watch can claim both to be true for the past 80 years: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s ingenious Reverso watch. With its fascinating swivel case the Reverso truly can be called an icon of watchmaking. At its 80th
anniversary the new Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau demonstrates that this watch has lost nothing of its lustre and that the watchmakers of the Grande Maison have taken the mesmerizing touch of the legendary reversible case to new dimensions.
The Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau is the latest iteration, a minute repeater watch that is driven by an artfully executed Venetian blind covering the dial, that upon being slid back activates the repeater mechanism which in turn sounds the given time counting hours, quarter hours and minutes by the sound of two gongs.
The Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau reveals its inner values only upon sliding its Venetian blind to one side. This almost poetic act reveals a culmination of culture and technology unseen in haute horlogerie before: the hour and minute hand of the watch travel gingerly over a minute repeater movement, which is widely acknowledged as the pinnacle of haute horlogerie, built to the highest standards of modern mechanical watchmaking.
Pushing this blind drives a mechanically refined mechanism that – as if by magic – activates the melody of the minute repeater through a highly complicated mechanism of teeth, gears and a barrel, containing an amazing 270 parts of its own. Upon release, the curtain slips back into its original position – again hiding the face of the watch. This lavish mechanism, which can rightly be called a complication of its very own, catapults the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau into the highest echelon of watchmaking, placing it right beside traditional grand complications.
But the watch not only incorporates one of the most complex functions, it is also a masterpiece of teamwork in which the designers were teaming up with the watchmakers, both starting from their own sparkling ideas and ending up in a collaboration to merge their talents. This cooperation is not unlike the one that led to the birth of the Reverso in 1931, as this ingenious reversible case had become reality in the Jaeger workshop in Paris and been married with the finest movement of the LeCoultre Manufacture in the Vallée de Joux. Now, 80 years and 42 movements later, the Reverso presents itself as young as ever, with its unique design code, which took its roots in the thriving time of Art Deco, carefully preserved and adjusted. And meanwhile it has lost nothing of its appeal: the characteristic three stripes or “gadroons”, the rectangular swivel case and its beautifully rounded sides, as well as the perfect sliding operation if one turns the case in its chassis.
Let’s lift the curtain and take a close view at this exceptionable piece of high horology that combines the best in tradition with the latest in mechanical watchmaking, all embedded in a truly magical design.
The case becomes mechanical art
For 80 years now, the principle of the Reverso has lost nothing of its lustre. The poetry of its swivel case still fascinates the wearer – albeit in a different way than it did in the first watches from the 1930s. At that time, turning the case was as enthralling as it was useful to protect the glass from the rigours of an active life, making it the first true sports watch in the history of watchmaking. Today however, turning the case in its chassis not only hides its dial side, it now reveals the second face of the Reverso, on which the wearer can discover a second function as in the “Duo Line”, an individually created piece of art, or even a personalized intimate note.
But imagine if there could be more magic added to the already poetic character of the Reverso; a magic as captivating as the swivel case itself. Voilà: the all-new Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau reveals just that. In this anniversary piece, the Reverso not only hides its one face, but conceals the other as well. Therefore the watchmakers, in masterly fashion picked up on the almost lyrical idea of concealing the dial behind a Venetian blind, as was in vogue in the most illustrious timepieces of the art deco era.
But it wouldn’t be a watch from the highly renowned Manufacture in Switzerland’s Le Sentier, if there wasn’t technical ingenuity involved: This curtain, composed of 16 slats, each 2.34 millimetres wide and crafted of 18-carat white gold – like the case itself – can be slid back and forth like the curtain raised at an opera stage. Moving the curtain turns into the commencement of a wonderful concerto as it activates the mechanism of the minute repeater. And while the watch reveals the time by the fine tune of two gongs counting hours, quarter-hours and minutes, the curtain falls again – i.e. slides back into its starting position, concealing the dial.
A complex arrangement of chainlike teeth, gearings, springs and a barrel were necessary to transform the simple push of a slider into this poetic act of revelation. Still, as in all Reverso watches, the swivel case operates in its full beauty. And as the watch case can be turned from one side to the other, the curtain can be adjusted likewise – this time without activating the repeater, if the slider is pushed from “repeater” into the “silent” mode.
With this romantic invention, Jaeger-LeCoultre has taken its mastery of complications from the movement to the casing, as with the Reverso Minute Repeater à Rideau the watchcase serves as a vital functional part, the winding-system-turned-Venetian -blind that feeds the minute repeater with the energy needed to chime the time. The 18-carat white gold case incorporates a total of 270 parts, most of which are centred on moving the curtain and charging the winding system of the minute repeater. It contains its own barrel to provide it with the energy necessary for sliding back once the repeater is activated. The 16 slats are arranged in parallelin vertical positions and each fixed with a link on the upper and the lower end which act as guiding pins in the rails of the case.
On the inside, each of the slats is outfitted with three teeth and in conjunction the whole curtain works as a chain that interacts with the gear train consisting of four wheels and pinions and a barrel, with a Maltese wheel on top of it. The gear train transforms the sliding action of the curtain into a rotational movement of an axis with a thread. Through this thread a pinion is pressed down. This sliding action winds the spring of the repeater and activates the mechanism. And while the curtain is slid open, the barrel in the case is wound and, upon releasing the curtain, it shoots into its initial position, hiding the dial from sight again.
Thus the master watchmakers of Jaeger-LeCoultre have once again topped their own expertise with the addition of a new poetic dimension to an already magical mechanism.
The quest of how to deal with a classic
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso can truly claim to be a classic in watch design: Having withstood 80 years of changing currents in the tides of fashion, the swivel watch proves to be a true icon in the watch world. But while the Grande Maison can be counted lucky to have such an enigmatic piece in its portfolio – and has been wise enough to nourish it through the years – it can be a millstone-like burden on the neck of the designers as well. For even a classic needs some brushing up from time to time.
There was undoubtedly no better person for this task than the company’s head of design, Janek Deleskiewicz, whose intrinsic knowledge of the swivel watch not only made him an expert in the history of the Reverso’s style, but gave him a feeling of exactly how far he can go in adjusting the iconic shapes to the demands of a contemporary watch design. From the very beginning, it was clear that the specific signature of the watch, its rigorously rectangular shape, the exact angles of its chassis and the three trademark-stripes on top and below the glass and the railway minute track in the dial were not to be touched if the appearance of this landmark style should not be mocked by the prevailing chic of the moment.
With the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau, Janek Deleskiwicz and his team were well aware of the significance of their interference, not only because of the added feature of the Rideau, the white golden Venetian blind, but because of the layout of the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 944, which can be seen through both dials of the watch. Deleskiewicz was searching for means to express not only the heritage of the Reverso as such, but the timelessness and the function of a watch, whose forms turned out to be a stroke of genius from the very beginning.
As fundamental design periods through the ages usually can best be scrutinized in architecture, the aim was clear: finding a way to reflect an architectural period, which almost can be claimed as timeless, in a watch. With Jaeger-LeCoultre’s long and close connection to the city of Venice, it was entirely natural for the designer to choose these two elements as the perfect combination. He decided to transform the geometric patterns of the world famous Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace in Venice, with over 700 years being one of the most important symbols of Gothic architecture, into a suitable resemblance of the timelessness of the Reverso. He integrated its façade’s décor as an engraving pattern into the classically designed second side of the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau.
But how could the designers of Deleskiewicz’s workshop emphasize the fine art of musical watchmaking into a watch that presents itself so secretively at first glance? They opted for a waving design of the movement’s bridges on the openworked dial of the classical side, hinting at the harmonious flow of sound emitted by the repeater-function. The hour and minute hands meanwhile sweep delicately over the movement bridges.
On the repeater-side of the watch however, they chose a completely different approach to enhance the impression of modern technology used by creating this complication: here the – still waved – lines of the bridges, reveal as much of the mechanism as possible, in this way emphasizing the mechanical virtues of the watch and creating a tension through its strong forms, which makes the striking of the gongs an almost visual experience. A ruthenium coating gives them a contemporary and technical appeal.
As not only the whole mechanism, but one complete side of the watch is hidden by the blind, the thirst for discovery almost instantaneously charges the wearer with the excitement of an opera, moments before curtains up! There is no better way to express the grandeur of a mechanical masterpiece than incorporating it into its own stage – which by way of the “Rideau” of this new Reverso adds a touch of magic to the swivel case formerly unseen in a watch and thought virtually impossible until the 80th
birthday of this extraordinary design.
Minute repeater mechanism:
The magic of sounding the time
There is nothing more demanding in the art of high watchmaking than creating a sounding watch. Not only does it require decades of experience in classical watchmaking and years of training; a sounding watch cannot be perfected without an intrinsic knowledge of the physics of sound, metallurgical expertise and a fine ear for tonality. Though no other watch is as complex to build, at the same time none more clearly displays its status as either a success and complete failure: just a simple push of a button releases a tune that enables the listener to instantly judge the capabilities of its maker.
Ingenious movement arrangement
Only those who handle obligations with ease excel in free choice. This of course is not only true for musicians and dancers, but for watchmakers as well. And Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Manufacture that set landmarks with the creation of exceptional musical timepieces, whose watchmakers have developed over 200 sounding watches from minute repeaters to grand sonneries, and provided the latest demonstration of their extraordinary skills with the ingenious Hybris Mechanica à Sonnerie, those watchmakers are perfectly at ease with playing free solo in creating the most demanding of horological complications.
Of course with the Répétition Minute à Rideau, the master watchmakers present a musical timepiece featuring a stunning composition and lavishly executed to the highest technical standards. But as the Reverso casing opts for a rectangular shape, a completely new layout of the functions of the repeater mechanism had to be thought out. The watchmakers were well aware of its possibilities – and pitfalls – from experience with the first Reverso with minute repeater that was introduced in 1994 (with it the world saw the first rectangular repeater movement of all times). But building on the expertise acquired through the over one thousand movements created in the history of the Manufacture, along with access to the multiple new inventions they have come up with in the last fifteen years, they were well prepared for this challenge and brilliantly succeeded in creating a thin, (the repeater mechanism is only 1.85 millimetres thick), and sophisticated handwinding movement beating at 21,600 vibrations per hour and delivering a power reserve of 35 hours through its winding barrel.
All in all, the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 944 consists of 340 parts. Not only does it display the latest developments in acoustic technology, transferring it into the casing of the rectangular shape of the Reverso; in addition the watchmakers push their expertise to new heights by creating a completely new winding system for the repeater. This adoption of a newly thought out aesthetics shows true virtuosity in the sphere of movement construction – a discipline in which Jaeger-LeCoultre has remained unequalled for almost 180 years.
The essential sound-producing element of a repeater watch is the gong. As in a piano, where the strings are struck by hammers to produce vibrations on which any sound is based, the gong defines the quality of the tone that is enhanced and enriched by the watchcase which adds specific colours and sonorities to it. To deliver the best possible sound, Jaeger-LeCoultre, after years of research, developed a completely new gong form first used in the Master Minute Repeater of 2007. These gongs are made of a special alloy and manufactured completely in one piece from the heel through to the wire; their cross section being square and not round in order to provide a larger contact point for the hammer which in turn can strike more forcefully. However, for the Reverso Répétition Minute à Rideau, the watchmakers had to adapt the form of the gongs to the shape of a rectangular movement. Therefore they had to come up with a specific pattern of bends and curves in the two gongs used in this watch to avoid sharp corners and at the same time not suppress free propagation of vibrations.
Coupling the gongs with the casing, the watchmakers relied on traditional, tried and tested principles of sound amplification. Since the Venetian blind is in movement while the striking mechanism is active, the acoustic yield of the minute repeater achieves the fullest and most harmonious sound if the vibrations are transferred directly to the 18-carat white gold case. Therefore the experts refrained from using their famous “crystal gong” system, in which the gongs are attached to a layer of metallic foil coated onto the watch’s crystal. They suspected there would be slight changes in sound emanation if the vibration had been transferred solely through the crystal as the curtain slides over it quickly while the gongs are striking.
Because the watchmakers always keep the usability of their timepieces in mind, they relied on a system of water resistance that basically resembles a case within a case structure, the Rideau-winding system of the repeater mechanism being transferred to the otherwise sealed movement through a tube sealed with a gasket. Only thus can the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau be guaranteed to hold its own against dust and water and still deliver its extraordinary musical performance. And only in this way the watch can survive the gruelling demands of the 1,000 hours chronometer control, to which of the manufacture’s watches is subjected.
In their guest to perfect the mechanical principles of the century old system of sounding watches, the watchmakers completely overhauled the striking system and with it the mechanism of the hammers. They devised a dual-axis-system with a special joint on a moveable arm. Upon activation, this hammer accelerates until it touches a small finger, whereupon the upper part of this arm is released, thus accelerating the hammer further shortly before the impact. This modification enables around 80 percent of the force applied by the spring to be delivered, whereas traditional hammers only yield a mere 10 to 30 percent of the power originally applied. The watchmakers also fitted a spiral spring for calibration and in this way created an easy method of adjusting the hammers with one screw.
Through an amazingly synchronized ballet of ratchets and gears, which can be observed through the openworked dial of the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau, the engineers of the manufacture took great care to provide the listener with an accurate and interruption-free melody. In contrast to traditional timing mechanisms where the rhythm of the strikes is timed through gearing, which could negatively affect the sound by their motion, the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau uses a centrifugal (or silent) governor fitted with a flywheel to control the energy released by the repeater barrel, thus timing the mechanical operations throughout the striking action.
In contrast to traditional systems, the silent governor in the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau works completely without any noise which might disturb the clear sound of the repeating melody; its two arms with platinum-weights lightly extending outwards, press the sapphire stones against the surrounding wall and thus act like drum breaks in moderating the flow of energy in accordance with the laws of centrifugal force.
This silent governor is a small but potent part of modern repeater systems, for the striking rhythm of the hammers has to be timed in a way that allows the gongs to develop their vibrations and deliver a full sonorous sound as well as correctly follow the rhythm of the melody. The evenness of this timing not only underlines the quality of mechanical virtue, but the purity of sound as well.
Traditionally a repeater watch is activated by pushing a slider on the side of the watchcase. This winds the spring and releases the sound producing mechanism. As mentioned in the “Casing” section, the Reverso Répétition Minutes à Rideau changes this activation process into a much more sophisticated and mesmerizing task by transforming the sliding action into an opera-like opening of the curtain. Still this process relies on a mechanismthat serves a decisive function: called an “all-or-nothing” spring, it enables the repeater to strike only if its barrel is fully cocked, avoiding the repeater to run out of power in the middle of action and thus delivering false timing.
For the 80th
anniversary of the Reverso, the master watchmakers of Jaeger-LeCoultre have come full circle with this iconic watch, delivering not only the best of this marvellous swivel design, but propelling the Reverso concept to a completely new level. By developing a Venetian blind, they add a new dimension of poetry as well as complexity to the unique Reverso line. At the same time, with the all-new Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 944 they present the most demanding of horological complications, the minute repeater, in a breathtaking new form in which design and technical knowhow go hand in hand to produce an extraordinary timepiece which up to now is unequalled in high watchmaking. The watchmakers of the Grande Maison once again prove to be masters of the exceptional with the Reverso
Répétition Minutes à Rideau that distils into one watch all the virtues that have made the Reverso one of the most famous timepieces in the history of watchmaking.