UNIVERSAL 1960s AEROCOMPAX AVIATION PILOT WATCH
By anyone’s standards, the Universal Aerocompax, is a serious looking watch, capturing interest from even the most ardent watch collector. It’s that dial filled up with no less than four sub-dials, which says, “I’m important, take a look at me.”
Item description: One of Universal’s iconic ‘collector’ watches is the Universal Aerocompax (Aviation Compact Chronograph) for pilots. Produced from 1936, this example is one of the last of the line, dating from the 1960s. Stainless steel case with champagne dial bearing the typical ‘Aerocompax’ four registers. The dial signed Universal Geneve, along with the model name ‘Aerocompax’. The watch with blued steel hands, and the chronographs set with rectangular pushers at ‘2’ and ‘4’. The additional wind crown on the left sets the additional time zone register at the 12.0 clock position. The watch with polished press-fit case-back, fully signed with the Universal name & logo to the inside. Fine Universal 287 calibre movement with nice mercuric gilt platform and bridges. Fine regulation and with screw in balance wheel weights. Black leather stitched strap with non-branded stainless steel buckle.
Case size: 45mm x 35mm
Condition report: Case in excellent to near mint condition with a near perfect polished and satin finish remaining (free from major scratches or other damage). Original dial with a nice ‘soft’ age patination. The movement clean and in working 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: 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.
Special notes: With flying distances ever increasing during the 1940s, early 1950s; and pilots travelling across multiple time zones; it was obvious there was a need for a watch which could tell different time zones simultaneously. Universal jumped in before its competitors, bringing out the Universal Aerocompax for pilots in 1936. The watch had a secondary mini hour dial at the 12.0 clock position. The watch was a success, and carried through in various reincarnations to the end of the 1960s.
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