UNIVERSAL 1960s POLEROUTER DATE – SOLD
Item description: The Universal Polerouter series of watches was brought out in 1954 to celebrate Scandinavian Airlines flight over the artic. The initial watches were given to SAS management, along with pilots doing the artic route. The Polerouter series was a success for Universal, and the watch continued within their range throughout the 1960s, and into the 1970s. This example dates from the 1960s, and has the much liked bombe lugs.
The case in stainless steel, and with a fine burnt chestnut enamel dial and silvered outer ring. The dial with Universal logo and name at the 12.0 clock position. At the 6.0 clock position, the ‘Automatic Microtor’ designation. This example has a date window at 3.0 clock. The crown with correct ‘U’ logo. The case with screw back bearing the Universal name. Inside of case-back bearing the full Universal logo. The 28 jewel 215 calibre movement with Geneva Stripes. The Universal name and logo to the top bridge. The watch with a brown leather strap and non-branded stainless steel buckle.
Size: 45mm x 35mm
Condition report: Case in excellent overall condition. Dial original and with a particularly pleasing patination. Case-back showing light use, and the Universal name and world logo still remaining visible (although no longer sharp). Movement clean and in working condition (no warranty implied). The strap and buckle remaining in excellent condition. The timepiece may have been opened, so it should not be used near moisture or water without being checked by a qualified watchmaker.
Background to Universal Geneve: Ulysse Perret founded the Universal Watch in 1894 with classmate Numa-Emile Descombes, both of whom were horology students at the time. Although Universal began only as a manufacturer and retailer of cases, crowns, dials and movements, the company whilst under Perret and Descombes patented the brand’s first 24-hour indication watch. After Descombes’ death in 1897 at the age of 34, Perret recruited Louis Edouard Berthoud as a co-manufacturer of complications, and both briefly operated under the registered name Perret & Berthoud before switching to Universal Watch et Company (UWEC) Genève, Ltd. after relocating to Geneva.
Under both trademarks, the horologists created various pocket and trench watches for both sides during World War I. By 1925, the duo created the brand’s first patented self-winding timepiece called the Auto Rem, an octagon-shaped men’s wristwatch with lozenge-styled hands and a 15-jewel movement. Perret died in 1933.
After the pocketwatch started to lose usefulness in favor of the more convenient wristwatch during the first world war, Universal seized the opportunity by creating the Compur in 1933 and the Aero Compax (“Aviator’s Compact Chronograph”) in 1936, shortly before the start of World War II. In addition to its automatic “smooth sweep” timekeeping, the Compax was also equipped with a built-in stopwatch which made it a suitable device for soldiers during training exercises and full-fledged combat operations.
The Compax was produced in many variations including the Moon Phase, Medico, Tri-, Uni-, and Master Vortex.
During the same period, Universal briefly collaborated with Parisian high fashion brand Hermès and designed the Pour Hermès (“For Hermès”) chronographs, which featured square button registers, telemeters and tachometers, a movement containing a Breguet balance spring, and an Arabic-numeral dial. Hermès’ Paris headquarters would in turn act as a major sales hub for all Universal brand watches in Europe until the 1950s, while the Henri Stern Watch Agency in Manhattan, the U.S. distributorship of Patek Philippe, would be an official Universal Genève dealer in North America.
For female clients, Universal distributed the art deco “Couture Diamond” watch, which featured a mother of pearl dial rimmed with diamonds and manufactured in either gold, stainless steel or platinum metals. The feminine cuff watch, which earned Universal Genève the title of “watch couturier”, was sold in affluent boutiques worldwide and was most popular among actresses, socialites and wives of world leaders.
With the start of the so-called ‘Quartz Crisis’ in the 1970s, Universal tried to remarket itself producing a large range of quartz watches. This marketing venture was catastrophic for the company, leading to an overall decline in sales and status. During the 1980s it managed to re-establish itself, bringing out ranges of mechanic watches, many with complications.
Background to the Universal Polerouter: In 1954, Universal Genève brought out the Polarouter (later renamed to Polerouter) The background to this watch is particularly interesting. SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) was the first airline to fly a trans-arctic course with a commercial aircraft, taking off from Los Angeles in 1952, and making the 28-hour journey to Copenhagen. A year later, SAS ran a test flight between Norway and Alaska, marking the first-ever flight over the geographical North Pole. Finally, on 14th November 1954, SAS officially opened their Copenhagen-to-Los Angeles flights using the polar circle as a shortcut, cutting flight times down to 22 hours from 36.
However, flying over the North Pole came with the new and serious problem of magnetisim. SAS had to develop an entirely new navigation system to overcome the extreme magnetic fields found on the Poles. The other issue was timekeeping. Flying over the North Pole wreaked havoc on timing instruments, including the wristwatches worn by the pilots and crew. Universal Genève was SAS’s official supplier of watches, with the firm being chosen specifically for their work with anti-magnetic timepieces.
To commemorate the historic Copenhagen-Los Angeles flight, Universal Genève brought in Gerald Genta, to design a watch that would be given to SAS as the airline’s official pilot’s watch. Genta’s submission was aptly named the Polarouter. The first of these were appropriately given to the crew upon landing in LAX, and featured the SAS logo on the dial. It is believed the only several hundred of these were ever issued.
The Polarouter was officially released in 1954. That initial design, with a 34.5mm case boasting gorgeous bombé lugs and a dateless dial featuring a textured inner index ring, would become the foundation for the series, with later models taking certain liberties on that core design. A year later the line was renamed Polerouter. The Polerouter was an expensive watch of its day, with a steel cased Polerouter being priced the same as a Rolex Explorer. Today the Polerouter range of Universal watches has a strong following.
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