Vintage Watch Blog.
The United Kingdom developed its empire in the 18th and 19th centuries and many would agree that British India was the crown jewel of the empire. The British Army played a large role in occupying India during the 1930s and 1940s. What does this have to do with the Reverso? Well, the game of Polo was immensely popular in India as well as in Britain. In fact, Polo was an Indian sport well before its discovery by the English. Polo matches were often the sport of choice for the Army. Timekeeping was an important element of the game both to time periods and keep time between periods. Players often wore their wristwatch during matches which lead to broken crystals and damaged watches from shock. Afterall, polo was a tough sport. According to Jaeger-LeCoultre, it was in 1930 when French businessman César de Trey traveled to India to meet some old friends. A close acquaintance of Jacques-David LeCoultre, this influential businessman had recently decided to devote himself to the distribution of high-end Swiss watch creations, including the famous Duoplan watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre. After de Trey attended a polo match, a player showed him his watch with its broken glass and begged him to create a model sturdy enough to be able to stand up to polo playing without being damaged. De Trey saw this as a worthy challenge and, as a businessman, I presume a potentially successful one. Shortly thereafter, de Trey commissions engineer Alfred Chauvot to develop a design with the promise of meeting this challenge. Chauvot filed a patent request on March 4th 1931, describing "a watch able to slide in its cradle and swivel over completely" and the Reverso was born. De Trey formed a company called Spécialités Horlogères to sell the watch; but it was Jaeger-LeCoultre that purchased the rights from Chauvot for 10,000 Swiss Francs (and residuals for each watch sold) and Spécialités Horlogères was subsequently absorbed by Jaeger-LeCoultre.
In 1939, Hamilton Watch Co. produced an almost replica of the Reverso which was named the Hamilton "Otis". The Otis was entirely American Made utilizing the in-house Hamilton caliber 980. Curiously, all historical data shows that the Otis was only marketed and sold in America and was not available for export. This also made the Otis quite rare with only production to support American market demand.
There are two strong theories of what exactly played out here. The first is that Hamilton created the Otis with permission and a licensing agreement from Jaeger-LeCoultre or Chauvot who still held the actual patent. This theory is supported by that fact that the Otis was not available for export as to not complete with the Reverso, and that Hamilton had no history of infringing on patents or opening themselves up to legal problems. The Otis was short lived and stopped production sometime in 1941. If an agreement existed, either the licensing agreement expired at that time or Jaeger-LeCoultre revoked it in favor of bringing their Reverso to the American market - which happened in the early 1940s under the LeCoultre name. Or perhaps, an agreement was made with Hamilton directly through Chauvot and Jaeger-LeCoultre successfully enforced their exclusive rights to the patent ending the agreement between Chauvot and Hamilton - this is my own theory supported by the fact that Hamilton used Chauvot's patent number on their cases. The second theory, and the one most used as fact, is that Jaeger-LeCoultre brought legal action on the basis of patent infringement against Hamilton Watch Co. and won, leading the the extinction of the Otis in 1941. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that such a lawsuit ever existed.
Either way, it's an mysterious tale of two watches that later became iconic legends. Today, both the vintage Reverso and the Hamilton Otis are quite rare and demand high prices for good examples. Price trends over the last 10 years suggest these two watches are poised to continue to increase in value while collectors quickly grab up examples that hit the market.
Adam J. Dubilo, founder of Adam Vintage
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