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When Gerhard Wempe decided to open his shop in 1878, he had only modest ambitions. But he’d already had over two decades of watchmaking under his belt, and had seen enough of the watch world to know what he wanted his business to be. So with a small loan of 80 marks, he set up a small shop in his aunt Caroline’s living room, and what resulted was something entirely unseen in his hometown of Elsfleth—or, really, the world.
He remodeled the windows of his aunt’s living room, making them large and putting cases into them to display his wares. Other display cases in the room showcased watches on velvet-covered boards, lovingly made by Wempe himself. In the 1870s Elsfleth was stagnating, as the shipbuilding that had been its livelihood faltered in the face of steam-powered ships, so the success of Wempe’s shop breathed new life into the small town’s economy.
But he could not have foreseen what would come next.
In 1907 Wempe opened a third store in the city of Hamburg. The store there at Schulterblatt 141 was one of the first—if not the first—of what we would now consider “flagship stores.” Within the next seven years, Wempe opened four more shops.
Yet all the time Wempe remained humble, investing all the profits from his stores back into the company and sending his son Herbert to deliver customers’ watches personally—by tram.
He made trips to Switzerland with his son Herbert, meeting with local watch workshops and establishing relationships that would last for decades.
Shortly before the First World War, a Swiss watchmaking company made a pocket watch exclusively for Wempe—the Seagull—making it the first in a long line of special editions that Wempe would sell.
Weathering two World Wars, Wempe has grown from a small family-owned business to a multinational one, with stores all throughout Germany, the States—even on two luxury cruise liners.
This particular watch is a Limited Edition of Reverso made by Jaeger-LeCoultre to celebrate Wempe’s 125th Anniversary.
The Reverso, first released in 1931, is a versatile watch whose distinctive rectangular case lends itself well to all sorts of styles, encompassing many different complications.
Each limited edition of Reverso has a configuration on the dial that’s unlike any other. In this particular LE, there’s a moon phase at 6 o’clock and a night and day indicator at 12 o’clock. Also, it features an exhibition case back, which at the time of its release in 2004 was unusual for Reversos.
This particular piece is number 41 out of 100. Interestingly enough, numbering the pieces in a limited run is a practice JLC no longer does. As quantities are so scarce, few of these beautiful watches surface on the commercial market, with only a few being sold at auction in the past ten years.
Beautiful and unique, it's a carefully-executed tribute to a name without whom the watch world would be very different indeed.
Stainless steel case is approximately 26 x 42 mm. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Grande Taille Reference Reference 270.8.44. Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 823 Manually-Wound Movement. Circa 2003.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition, showing some signs of use and wear. Dial is in excellent, as-new condition. JLC crown. JLC case back has some signs of wear but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one 20mm black leather JLC strap with JLC-signed deployant clasp.