UniversalGenève TriCompax
Vintage & Auctions

Universal Genève: a Geneva-based manufacture

We go down memory lane of the legendary brand Universal Genève on the occasion of the big auction taking place in May 2015 in Geneva. Here is a brief overview of some representative models proposed by the auctioneers.

By Joel Laplace

Universal Genève is a name that still echoes in the ears of vintage watches experts and collectors, as the manufacture was very famous for its production between the 1940s and the 1960s. Intrinsically linked to Geneva by its denomination, it is one of the few watch brands to be named after its town.

Universal Genève Compax Universal Genève, Compax, ref 22499, 1943, sold for CHF 12,500

The inception and the golden age

The brand was founded by Descombes and Perret in 1894. The appellation “Universal” was only adopted in 1934 when the brand was established in Geneva. From then on, it became highly successful and specialized in chronographs with models prized by experts, such as the “Compax”, the “Aéro-Compax” and the famous “Tri-Compax”, launched in 1944.

The brand’s biggest commercial hit was undoubtedly the “Polerouter”, released in 1954. It was worn by pilots of the Swedish company SAS during the inaugural flight of the first air route linking Europe to the United States via the North Pole. The wristwatch was specifically designed to resist the Pole’s magnetic fields.

Universal Genève Polerouter Date  Universal Genève Polerouter Date


It would be negligent not to mention that the brand is behind the creation of one of the most efficient micro rotor calibers of the time, the caliber 215, which was used mainly for the “Polerouter”. At the time, the development of such a movement was an achievement in itself. For the record, the designer of the “Polerouter” was none other than Gérald Genta, the man who was 18 years later behind the legendary Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.  A note to those interested: the “Polerouter” is today quite underpriced.

Universal Genève TriCompax Universal Genève, Tri-Compax, 881.101/03 1968, sold for CHF 30,000

The decline

In the mid-1970s, the brand fell into some sort of of lethargy, let’s say. However, it still celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1994 by introducing the “Janus”, which is a reversible watch inspired by an original 1930s model. Despite one last attempt at reviving the brand in 2005, the Stelux group, its Hong Kong-based owner, decided to put the brand on standby in 2010.

Rumor has it that the sleeping beauty is for sale. Any passionate investors out there ready to awaken it?

Universal Genève Bombtimer Universal Genève, bombtimer made for the Italian Air Force and retailed by Cairelli in Roma, ref 3990, circa 1939, sold for CHF 3000

Batches from the rich production of Universal Genève

One of the most beautiful Universal batches is the one offered by Phillips: the “Tri-Compax” chronograph produced in the late 1960s. The piece is in excellent condition and has an original strap manufactured by Gay Frère, a famous watchmaking supplier of leading brands such as Patek Philippe and Rolex. Last but not least, an original guarantee and packaging accompany this “Tri-Compax” that should easily outbid the catalogue’s high estimation.

Antiquorum offers a beautiful single pusher chronograph from the mid-1930s with a very interesting black dial with tachometer scale. Its size, 40mm, was rare at the time and is hence an additional asset that should seduce collectors. There is also a beautiful piece in the “Aéro-Compax” that was produced in the late 1950s. It features a beautiful dial and sword-shaped original hands that are in excellent condition. Launched in 1944, the “Aéro-Compax” has a special ‘memento dial’ at 12 o’clock that can be set by an additional crown at 9 o’clock.

Universal Genève Monopusher Universal Genève, single-button chronograph, circa 1935, sold for CHF 6875

Christie’s offers a piece that looks like a wristwatch but which is in fact a bomb timer, a big 52-mm counter that served bomber pilots to measure time. They used to wear it on their gloves or even their thighs. The watch is in excellent condition and that won’t go unnoticed by fans of military watches. It was produced in 1939 for the Italian Air Force and is engraved with the name of Roman retailer A. Cairelli.

Universal Genève Compax Universal Genève, Compax, ref 22499, 1943, sold for CHF 12,500

We found another favorite in the superb “Compax” chronograph from 1943. Its dial features a splendid patina and hypnotizing hands. The high estimation of this piece (a delightful 38-mm) will most probably be outbid.

As for Sotheby’s, we find a refined watch from the 1950s that is often featured in sales catalogues. It is a special pink gold piece made for Saudi Arabia with a cloisonné enameled dial that represents the kingdom. It features its emblem and a derrick that is a perfect symbol of the oil power of the small monarchy.

Universal Genève Royaume Universal Genève,  18k pink gold case and cloisonné enamel dial made for the Saudi Arabian market, circa 1950, sold for CHF 16,250

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