Man of the Hour – Stéphane Belmont

To mark the exclusive and limited series Jaeger-LeCoultre The Watch Gallery Reverso watch, we discuss heritage, design, and the legacy of this iconic watch, with the Creation & Marketing Executive Director of Jaeger-LeCoultre.

How would you describe the DNA of the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand, and in turn, what makes the iconic Reverso line, celebrated this year, so special?

It’s a pure watchmaking company; it has a very long history of more than 180 years, so that’s what we know and what we are best at- traditional watchmaking. We master all the complications, whether that be the chronograph, the travel times, the tourbillons, the minute repeaters, the perpetual calendars. There are very few brands that master all the range of the complications. But we also do care a lot about the design. So Jaeger-LeCoultre is special in the sense that there’s a Jaeger side, which is more concerned with aesthetics, about design, about the rare craft it takes to make the watch beautiful.

The Reverso is quite a good expression of that, the Jaeger side, with the iconic design of the Reverso. But the brand also has the watchmaking side, which is more of the LeCoultre side, the manufacture, the ability to master all the complications. Our DNA is to create a watch from A-Z, 360 degree design, in a sense that we do not make the design to fit around the complication, but that the complication has to adapt to the design of the watch. And that’s particularly true with the Reverso; the hardest thing is to develop complications for the Reverso because there is very little space inside the watch, because of the swivelling of the case. And we have to make everything a rectangle. The reason why watches are round, these days mostly, it’s from the trend of rectangular watches that started when the watch went from the pocket to the wrist.

Most elegant design is the rectangular watch because actually it is a real wrist watch. But the reason why watches are round today is more for the function of parts or, to a degree, complications, for water resistance, to integrate the automatic. To be able to put an automatic, to put complications, to have a water resistant rectangular watch, is much more difficult. And that’s what Jaeger-LeCoultre is good at, certain design, and to always make things that others cannot, with watchmaking and design.

And for you, what were the main influences behind the Reverso collection?

It’s a pure Art Deco watch, not just in terms of design, I would say also in terms of philosophy. So Art Deco goes far above design, it’s also a way to combine functionality and design, and Art Deco was born at the period where all artists were calling into question the classic codes of the previous period, of the 19th century. So instead of having photography or painting that were just one dimensional and were just capturing one instance, they tried to inject three-dimensionality, to put life, into their paintings, into their photography. So to have the movement that would add to the creation. And the Reverso is very much of that period, not like all the other watches, a flat watch, but it is a three-dimensional watch, you can turn it and discover that there’s something on the back. It’s kind of playing with temporality, with time, to have two times- the two times on the front and on the back. It’s the only watch that very much reflects the spirit of the Art Deco, by being, in terms of design, a very smooth design, by having that small movement inside, and also by integrating the functions on the two sides, for instance, having the second time zone on the back instead of having everything just on one side.

And why do you think the Reverso collection has achieved such longevity and become such a strong pillar for the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand?

It’s become one of the iconic designs of watchmaking, something iconic of the Art Deco period. And also because in terms of many other watches that were actually rectangular, the most famous one is the Reverso, because of that turning, that originally was to protect the watch, to take it from playing sports to an elegant watch. Resistance with a classic design. And then people used the back to personalise the watch, to make engravings or enamelling, from the Reverso, to make their own Reverso. And that’s probably the key to its success; the possibility to add something personal to the watch, and the watch would become “your” watch. Many people are now seeking personalisation, and I think it’s thanks to the Reverso that they can now have something special on the back, and that’s what we’ve enriched this year with the anniversary. It is not only about engravings, you can also change the back dial- select the colour you want on the back dial. So that way every Reverso becomes individual, becomes different, and when people see a Reverso they will think “ah, what’s on the back of this watch?”

So in terms of design, what are your personal ambitions for the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand?

So Jaeger-LeCoultre is basically a very classical brand, and we aim at making those traditional designs, either in round or rectangular watches, different from our watchmaking competitors by using the technical watchmaking content. So if we look for instance at the new Rendez-Vous collection that we did for women, a round classic watch, in terms of design it’s very classic, but there’s a small adaptation, the night and day feature on the front, the traditional way of doing night and day. There’s a little hand, with a moon and some stars, it’s actually making the design different from any other round design for women. A little function, has been reinterpreted in a way to enhance the classic design, the technical content, the function should be in service of making the design of the watch unique, so that when you see a watch from far, you think, “ah, that’s Jaeger-LeCoultre, that’s a Reverso, that’s a Rendez-Vous”; it’s something that others can’t do, because they don’t have the technical ability.