If you want to buy a sports watch these days there are countless options, from cheap and chunky slabs of quartz-powered plastic to imposing pieces of mechanically powered carbon fibre. But in the interwar years – when keeping a timepiece on your wrist, rather than in your waistcoat pocket, was still a relative novelty – there wasn’t such a great range of wristwatches of any kind, let alone of the rugged sporting variety.
In 1930, a British cavalry officer was playing polo in India when his watch got smashed by an opposing player’s mallet. This just bally well won’t do, he complained, presumably to precious little sympathy from the locals. One man who did take notice, however, was the visiting Swiss businessman and watch dealer César de Trey.
César de Trey also happened to be close friends with Jacques-Davide LeCoultre, boss of the successful watch business founded by his grandfather, who was then engaged in a soon-to-be fully consummated business relationship with fellow watchmaker Edmond Jaeger.
The engineer Alfred Chauvot was appointed to put into practice a simple yet ingenious idea: a watch where the central part of the case would flip over completely, presenting errant mallets with a steel case back, rather than a fragile face.
This is how, in 1931, the Reverso was born. It was a simple idea, very cunningly executed, with a case that flicked back and forth with a beautifully engineered click. As well as providing protection when the face was turned away from danger, the case back also provided a blank canvas for engravings and enamellings that could personalise a watch to the owner’s taste.
While the period Art Deco styling led to the Reverso being muscled out by more contemporary designs after the war, in the 1980s Jaeger-LeCoultre revived the model. It has continued to be a great success for the company, and is this year celebrating its 85th birthday.
While some of the latest models stick closely to the original design, the company has also made Reversos with tourbillons, moonphases and – like the watch pictured here – two faces.
This means that rather than flipping your watch to protect it from knocks, you turn it over to show a different face – either because you are travelling to a different time zone, or perhaps just when you damn well feel like it. This might not have been exactly the original watch’s intention. But then again, if you just want something tough to wear on the sports field, these days a chap has so many other options.
Having been around for more than 260 years, and fresh from unveiling the most complicated watch ever made, Vacheron Constantin is one of the undisputed daddies of fine watchmaking. As well as eye-wateringly complicated pieces and beautifully enamelled ladies’ watches, Vacheron also does a very nice line in sports watches. New this year are some very handsome additions to the Overseas line, which come with redesigned cases, Poinçoin de Genève certification and water resistance to 150 metres. Each watch also comes with an easily interchangeable rubber and alligator strap in addition to the metal bracelet. It might only have one face, but it has three different looks.
There have been white Panerais before, but they remain a rarity among their darker-dialled sisters, and pictured is the first of this particular model to come with a white face. It has a 42mm case in steel (acciaio in Italian) with straight lugs that replaced the wire lugs on the Radiomir, then the Italian frogman’s watch of choice, in 1940.