Review: The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’

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The story of how the Reverso came to be is akin to legend within watch enthusiast circles, passed down from one generation of would-be collectors to another. As the story goes, the signature swiveling case of the Reverso was conceived as an ingenious solution to the problem of protecting the dial and glass of the watch when worn on the polo field. However, not long after its release in 1931, the Reverso began transcending its original sporting purpose. It quickly became apparent that the blank metal of the case back was an ideal canvas for artistic expression. Indeed, there have been numerous Reverso releases over the years that featured stunning artworks on the case back such as the Reverso Tribute Enamel Alfons Mucha or the Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai, to name a few recent ones.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’

This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre have seized the opportunity to add a new chapter to the story of artistry on the Reverso. In conjunction with the Year of the Dragon, the Le Sentier brand breathes life into a new Chinese zodiac-themed timepiece. Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the new Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’ is rendered in pink gold and measures 45.5 mm x 27.4 mm x 9.73 mm. From the front, it looks like any other Reverso case with its rectangular shape and signature horizontal gadroons. Where the watch really shines is on the case back. Swiveling the case to its reverse side reveals a stunning ‘dragon in the clouds’ motif set against a black background. The concept is straightforward enough, but not the process. The case back is first entrusted to enamellers to produce the black background with a silhouette to be filled at a latter stage. The apparent simplicity of pure black enamel is deceptive because in Grand Feu enameling (the type used on the Reverso Tribute), the outcome of the firing process is never entirely predictable and subject to a high rejection rate. To create blackness of such depth and richness requires five or six layers of enamel, with each new layer followed by firing and cooling – a process that takes many hours over the course of many days. Half a day of polishing is then needed to achieve a flawless, uniform shine. Once the enamel coating is completed, the case back is handed over to the engraver. This presents as an added challenge, as the engraver isn’t working on a bare metal surface as per usual, but on a surface already coated with Grand Feu enamel. Utmost accuracy is mandatory to avoid damaging the pristine, laboriously crafted enamel layer. Using 10 differently sized chisels to remove metal, the engraver spends 80 hours to conjure the mythical creature. The polished surfaces of the dragon’s body, the fine details of its scales – highlighted with black rhodium – and the contrasting sandblasted texture of the clouds catch and refract the light to imbue the illusion of movement.

Pausing midway when flipping the case reveals an engraved, off-centred sunray motif.

While it is normally the dial that becomes the star of the show, here, it demonstrates elegant restraint instead. At first glance, it looks simple enough: black background, dauphine hour and minute hands, hour marker appliques, and a railroad-style minute track. A closer look would reveal that the dial, too, is the same black enamel used on the case back. That the two surfaces are perfectly matched in colour and purity is testament to the brand’s capability in watchmaking crafts. Jaeger-LeCoultre remains one of very few manufacturers to have its own in-house enameling atelier.

The dial is all about the sheen, be it from the immaculately polished dauphine hands and hour marker appliques, or the luscious black enamel dial.

The Movement

Driving the Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’ is the tried and tested 21-jewel, 134-part Calibre 822. Used in over a dozen Reverso references, the movement has been in service for decades and is a reliable workhorse. Its functions are simple enough – only the hours and minutes. The Calibre 822 has a power reserve of 45 hours and operates at 3 Hz, both tell-tale signs of an older movement.

Despite taking cover behind a solid case back, the Calibre 822 is by no means neglected in the finishing department. If anything, it is attractively finished, beyond engineering requirements. While it is nothing to sing about, the movement is still decorated with the usual Geneva waves; polished bevels, screw heads, and countersinks; and gold-filled engravings.

The Competitive Landscape

There is no shortage of Chinese zodiac watches in the Year of the Dragon. The dragon – known for its intelligence and ambition – is by far the most popular zodiac of all. This translates to above average demand for zodiac-themed watches which manufacturers are keen to take advantage of. While some maisons like Roger Dubuis and Ulysse Nardin have opted for a more aggressive, contemporary design, others like Jaeger-LeCoultre have gone for classicism. The Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’ is a watch of elegant restraint displaying a dressy dial by default and only revealing the mesmerising art-piece on the case back on demand. While it is not a limited edition timepiece, the Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’ is strictly made-to-order and available only at boutiques. The watch is priced at EUR100,000, which seems steep for a time-only Reverso but also understandable given the highly challenging modelled engraving technique used to decorate the watch.

The smoothness of the unblemished enamel, the grooves on the intricately engraved dragon – the art on the case back isn’t only visual, but also tactile.

One maison that has consistently produced incredible Chinese zodiac-themed watches for twelve years running is Chopard. Consistency cannot be understated here, as Chopard have always utilised the same technique and purveyor for the dials of its L.U.C Urushi XP pieces for Chinese new year. This year’s Year of the Dragon edition is no different. Crafted in Japan by Minori Koizumi from the century-old Yamada Heiando company, the dial is decorated with the Maki-e technique which involves the skillful application of urushi lacquer, gold powder, and pearl inlays. The outcome, is an otherworldly dial. From a watchmaking perspective, the L.U.C Urushi XP Year of the Dragon is a simple yet solid two-handed automatic watch with COSC chronometre certification. Limited to 88 pieces only, the watch will set you back CHF26,600 which, in truth, is great value, all things considered.

The Chopard L.U.C Urushi XP Year of the Dragon

Much like Jaeger-LeCoultre and Chopard, Piaget have also presented their own two-hand métiers d’art timepiece to celebrate the Year of the Dragon: the Piaget Altiplano Dragon Zodiac. Enameling master Anita Porchet is behind Piaget’s annual Chinese new year watches and the Altiplano Dragon Zodiac is no exception. Set against a mother of pearl sky, the bluish-purple dragon is skillfully brought to life using cloisonné enameling and gold engraving. Pricing is available on request but it won’t be around for long as the watch is a limited edition of 38 pieces only.

The Piaget Altiplano Dragon Zodiac

Final Thoughts

The Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’ achieves the ultimate balance between elegance and exhibitionist in a way that no other timepiece can. Worn with the dial-side up, the watch is dressed up enough for the boardroom or a banquet. Flip the case over and you’ve got private viewing access to art made possible by rare crafts. The price of the watch is higher than expected, but that’s just how it is in today’s market for a piece that’s made-to-order and highlights a particularly challenging decorative craft.


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