Since the Grand Taille case was introduced in 1991 for the 60th Anniversary of the Reverso there have been a surprising array of specialty JLC shaped movements designed to fit the larger Reverso case. These were made in series of 500 pieces, and released every few years, and included: date/power reserve, tourbillon, minute repeater, chronograph, time zone mechanism (the Geographic), and perpetual calendar. In addition there were other unlimited series pieces in the GT case like the Art Deco, Date/Day, Duo, Sun Moon, Reserve de Marche, etc. which were all unique in their own way. Starting a few years ago the even larger XGT case housed 8 day movements in various configurations, with surely more iterations to come.
But of all of these models the one that seems to have one of the lowest acknowledgements, appreciation and discussion among aficionados is the Retrograde Chronographe with Cal 829 from 1996.
What compounds this strange situation is that the very similar Cal 859 in the Gran Sport case has recently been discontinued. So that seems JLC has thrown in the towel on this complication as far as the Reverso Grand Taille/Gran Sport cases are concerned. But why has this complication been so overlooked? I could make the argument that it is probably one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, Reverso movements to have ever been made. The tourbillon, perpetual calendar, and Geographic versions dont require too much ground breaking effort compared to a round caliber, mainly rearranging the complication to fit a rectangular format. After all, there have been rectangular tourbillons and perpetual calendars made by other manufacturers, including Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. But the chronograph, and to an extent the minute repeater, really required some new thinking as there wasnt much industrial horological history JLC could draw on for these complications. The chronograph also was unique in that it had a retrograde function for the minute counter in a time frame (1996) when retrograde functions werent generally in use.
Two years ago Jaw wrote an excellent overview of the trials and tribulations JLC went through in its development, and it is well worth a read to understand how groundbreaking it was almost 10 years ago. And still is today!
Back in the 1980s, before the resurgence of the Reverso line, there was a one-off example of a Reverso chronograph from the 30s that sold at auction at Sotheby's. At that point I thought what a unique complication that was, and a perfect application relative to a Reverso case. When JLC came out with the limited edition chronograph in 1996 I was busy elsewhere, and its approximately $30,000 pricetag was pretty rich anyway. A few years later JLC came out with essentially the same movement in the Gran Sport case priced at something close to $10k in a steel case. I didnt care for the dial treatment in the GS line and never gave it serious thought. But the seed was planted for the uniqueness of the chronograph movement.
Over the years Ive tracked the after market prices of the 500 piece limited edition and I noticed that it has gone down and down relative to the original price. Why would this be? A shaped chronograph movement is almost unheard of anywhere in the horological world, yet its value seemed to be less and less each passing day. I think its the markets fixation on coming out with the latest and greatest and throwing out the tried and true. Now the market gushes with the XGT case size and the 8 day movements they contain. They are great achievements to be sure, and I have a Grande Date Reserve myself, but JLC has a LOT more space to work with each time they increase the case volume.
Fortunately for me I just came across a NIB example of the 500 piece pink gold limited edition in the Grand Taille case size that had been sitting in a dealers stock for years, and I quickly added it to my collection at a very, very fair price relative to what much of the newer stuff goes for. Perhaps the day will come when the Cal 829 and 859 will be appreciated on the vintage market for what they are, a groundbreaking complication by one of the top Swiss watchmakers. In the meantime we get all jiggly when JLC comes out with an 8 day movement in an ever larger Reverso case, or a new chronograph movement in a huge 42+ mm case size. I guess that passes for progress. Or does it?
I completely agree with Jaw's conclusion back in 2003, "the price for both the limited edition chrono and the Gran' Sport version are high in absolute terms, but CHEAP in my opinion". The CHEAP aspect is even more true today with the inflated prices we are often asked to pay for lesser, less challenging, complications.