Anyone who collects watches knows about the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso. Invented around 1930 by a combination of a few forward thinkers. When the Swiss watch collector César de Trey attended a polo match with an army military officer who had just broken his watch crystal in India, he asked de Trey to create a watch that could withstand the toughness of a polo match. He went to LeCoultre who then sought advice from Jaeger S.A. for the idea of a reversible watch. Jaeger S.A. then sent the idea to French designer René-Alfred Chauvot, the actual inventor of the slide and flip mechanism for the design. On Oct 10, 1933, the patent was granted (patent #1,930,416) and off they went.
For years, the myth about the Hamilton Otis Reverso were heard by many. The urban myth was Hamilton copied the watch without permission from LeCoultre, were sued by Le Coultre and almost put out of business because of their flagrant patent infringement. People have told me they researched and found the lawsuit, others say they researched it and found nothing. To this day, when I buy an Otis, these stories are told to me. Just recently I was told by a seller about the Lawsuit. The rumor has always bothered me, as thru all my collecting years of Hamilton Watches, and through all my research about the company, Hamilton was a very corporate company, not one to steal patents, but rather they would purchase patents. I have seen this thru the research I have done about Hamilton Watch Co the past 40 years. I found check stubs of patents they have purchased back in the early 1900’s.
Until a few years ago, the rumor was concrete and cast in stone. It wasn’t until I purchased a stash of Hamilton Co factory paperwork, all in all about four feet thick of it, that the truth came out. When I received all the paperwork, I went through most of it, including volumes of books on movements, blueprints, the making of the Marine Choronometer, production records and then I put it away. One day, my friend and fellow collector Bryan Girouard came to visit and asked if I had purchased anything interesting. I said sure, I got all this original paperwork from the Hamilton Factory. I said it’s too much to take in and read. He went looking thru the stack of papers and starting reading, and then he gave me this stare that I will never forget. He said and I quote “Do you know what you have in here?” I said yes, a bunch of great original files from the factory.” He said “yes you do, but you have the paperwork that shows Hamilton paid LeCoultre 60 cents per watch to use their patent in a licensing agreement.” We both shared a great laugh and debunked an urban myth that had lasted nearly 80 years. The fee did not change, it did not matter to LeCoultre if the watches were made in solid gold or gold filled, both models would pay a 60 cent per watch royalty fee to LeCoultre.
On or around April 27, 1938, Hamilton was granted permission to use their patent (patent #1,930,416) to make a reversable watch (internal memo). Earlier on, on January 28, 1938, Hamilton Watch Co sent a letter to the casemaker of Schwab and Wuischpard (S&W) outlining what they wanted to produce with the conditions Lecoultre also presented and S&W could only make this watch for the Hamilton Watch Co.
Hamilton named many of their watches after people. This watch was thought of being called the “Reverso” or the “Duo Plex,” but was eventually called the “Otis,” after Otis Byran, who was the Vice president and former chief pilot of T.W.A. Otis was a friend and skeet shooting partner of Ross Atkinson Hamilton Vice President in charge of sales, and in 1938, the Reverso was named the “Otis” after his friend.
So there you have it my fellow watch collectors and friends, the myth is bogus and Hamilton did indeed have permission to use the Reverso Patent!