Universal Geneve Polerouter — An Iconic 1950s Watch

Jun 10, 2022
Universal Geneve Polerouter — An Iconic 1950s Watch

Throughout the years, the world of horology has constantly been evolving and innovating. In the 1950s, watch connoisseurs witnessed the releases of watch icons such as the Omega Seamaster and the Rolex Submariner. Hailing from reputable brands like Omega and Rolex, it is no surprise why these trailblazing dive watches continue to make a mark on horology today. 

Around the same time, however, an underrated classic was also released: the Universal Geneve Polerouter. Compared to Omega and Rolex, a brand like Universal Geneve faced an uphill challenge, especially since it was not yet as well-known in the watch industry. Nevertheless, the Universal Geneve Polerouter managed to overcome all challenges to become an iconic, instantly recognisable timepiece with its unique style and understated, one-of-a-kind design.

In this article, we will be taking a closer look at the vintage Universal Geneve Polerouter and everything it offers. Read on to figure out just what made this watch so popular amongst the 1950s watch community.

Brief History of the Universal Geneve Polerouter

Fans who are familiar with the watch industry have probably heard of the name Gerald Genta. Genta is one of the most legendary watch designers in the industry. He was the creative mind behind the beautiful designs of the iconic Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which are widely considered his most significant contributions to horology.

Genta’s story c0ntinued in 1954 when the Universal Genève Watch Company approached Genta. They solicited him to design a watch in honour of the Scandanavian Airlines Systems (SAS) polar flights, whose flight routes went from New York/Los Angeles directly to Europe.

Genta’s 1954 watch design for the Universal Genève Watch Company became widely known as the Polarouter. This timepiece was available in a 34.55mm case size and equipped with stunning lugs as well as a dateless dial. One prominent feature of the watch was the vintage Calibre 138 SS bumper automatic movement that powered it. In addition, the Polarouterm underwent numerous procedures and tests to ensure that it could withstand extreme air pressures during flight missions

Later, the Polarouter was renamed “Polerouter”. Beyond this name change, however, the Universal Genève Watch Company made sure to preserve the original look of the watch. The Polerouter was a huge hit in 1950 and went on to become one of the most highly-coveted pieces in the vintage market

Eventually, thanks to the popularity of the Universal Geneve Polerouter, the Universal Genève Watch Company decided to branch out, producing more versions of the Polerouter in 1969. These include variants such as the Universal Genève Polerouter Date, Universal Genève Polerouter de Luxe & Jet, Universal Genève Polerouter Sub, and Gay Frères Bracelet, which we will also discuss in greater detail further down in this article.

First Impressions of the Universal Geneve Polerouter

front view of Universal Genève Polerouter watch
Photo from Reddit

Right off the bat, the Universal Geneve Polerouter distinguishes itself with its unusually subdued design. It stood out from other famous watches being released in the 1950s, like the Rolex Submariner or the Omega Seamaster, which tended to take the form of robust, hefty timepieces with luminous dial layouts.

The Universal Geneve Polerouter chose to take a different approach, embodying a classier, more chic style. With its aesthetically appealing features and elegant watch build, it is no wonder why the Universal Geneve Polerouter remains such an exclusive pick in the vintage world.

Anatomy of the Universal Geneve Polerouter

Case

front view of Universal Genève Polerouter watch
Photo from Reddit

The Universal Geneve Polerouter is a simple but timeless watch. Although the Universal Geneve Polerouter showcases a very straightforward design, its sleek practicality is still instantly visible in its robust build. This watch comes in a slender 35mm round stainless steel case, which is incredibly durable and highly resistant to shocks, scratches, and impacts. This case also underwent numerous tribulation tests to guarantee that it could withstand all sorts of extreme temperatures.

Fixed on top of the case is a thick stainless steel bezel, which protects the watch face from any damage. Universal Geneve’s engineering team also made sure to outfit the case with a tension ring that keeps the watch securely sealed, preventing any external elements like dust and moisture from entering and damaging the watch. The watch’s gorgeous, twisted lugs also help add to the watch’s distinctive, elegant personality. The lugs, like the rest of the case, bear a well-polished finish, giving the Universal Geneve Polerouter a refined, gleaming lustre.

Dial

One of the most striking features of the Universal Geneve Polerouter is its stunning yet simple dial. It boasts a straightforward, more minimalistic flair, much like the style showcased by dressy Bauhaus watches. The Universal Geneve Polerouter’s dial is adorned with just small dot markers for the hours, a subtle minute track with stick indices, and applique dauphine hands that exude a classy, vintage vibe.

Each dial also incorporates a fluted chapter ring with rectangular hour markings, which adds to the refined look of the Universal Geneve Polerouter’s watch face. Finally, the dial bears an unusual crosshair dial marking, with two lines that cross right under the polished silver hands, giving the watch face more of a unique edge.

The Universal Geneve Polerouter also offers quite a bit of variety with its dial colourways. In particular, its dial is available in four different colours: black, silver, white, and gold. The standard version of the Universal Geneve Polerouter does not come with a date aperture. However, there are also date models of the Universal Geneve Polerouter. These Polerouter Date variants come with trapezoidal date displays located at 3 o’clock. Some date models also come with a cyclops lens, while others do not.

Movement

movement of Universal Genève Polerouter watch
Photo from Reddit

Another noteworthy feature of the Universal Geneve Polerouter is the powerful movement that drives it. Over the years, the Polerouter has been paired with a number of different movements, all of which are a testament to the sheer innovative spirit of Universal Geneve.

The earliest Universal Geneve Polerouter models come with the unusual Calibre 138 SS, which was tested to run up to 18,000 vibrations per hour. This is an old-school bumper automatic movement, which has a rotor that bumps from one side to another, unlike modern automatic calibres with rotors that rotate in full circles. While bumper movements are not as efficient as the modern full-rotor movements, they do possess a certain antique charm. 

Other models of the Universal Geneve Polerouter run on the Calibre 215, which is notable for having a particularly thin micro-rotor. Furnished with the Côtes de Genève finishing, the Universal Calibre 215 is recognised as one of the first micro-rotor movements in the watch industry, along with Hamilton/Büren’s Planetary rotor. Unfortunately, due to legal discord between Universal Universal Genève and the Büren Watch Company, the Universal Calibre 215 could not be patented. This prompted Universal Genève to create the new Microtor Calibre 218-2, which is the movement found in most Polerouter Date watches. 

In 1962, Universal Genève sought new ways to upgrade and improve its micro-rotor movement. This resulted in the production of the top-notch Universal Calibre 68 and Universal Calibre 69. The latter movement can typically be found in the Polerouter Sub and Polerouter Super watches. Both of these movements have been tested to run for up to 55 hours when fully charged. 

Bracelet

Completing the Universal Geneve Polerouter is a supple, handsome leather strap. Each strap comes with a steel pin buckle, which keeps it firmly fastened on the wearer’s wrist. Like the dial, this leather strap is also offered in a variety of different colours, allowing wearers to pick what best suits their tastes and preferences.

Price

Ultimately, the main highlight of the Universal Geneve Polerouter is its reliably affordable price. Despite being crafted and designed with excellent quality, the Polerouter watches are still available at fairly budget-friendly prices, making them more sought-after in the vintage world.

At a time when Rolex Submariner and Omega Seamaster watches are sold for around five digits, the Universal Geneve Polerouter retails at just $1,000 USD to $2,000 USD.

Other Recommended Versions of Universal Geneve Polerouter

1. Universal Genève Polerouter Date

front view of Universal Genève Polerouter Date watch
Photo from Reddit

As mentioned, the original Universal Geneve Polerouter does not come with any date complications. This is why the company eventually released a Universal Geneve Polerouter Date variant, which showcases an asymmetrical date complication outlined with a trapezoidal shape made of stainless steel. Since this date window design was considered a one-of-a-kind feature during its time, the Polerouer Date quickly became a sought-after piece by many watch collectors.

The Polerouter Date comes in a slim 34mm stainless steel case, coupled with a simple yet memorable crosshair dial, which is the signature look of all Universal Genève Polerouter watches. In addition, the earliest Polerouter Date models were equipped with the powerful Calibre 218-2 movement, which is known for its accuracy and ultra-thin micro-rotor. In later Polerouter Date models, this movement was replaced by the Universal Calibre 69. 

2. Universal Genève Polerouter de Luxe & Jet

front view of Universal Genève Polerouter de Luxe & Jet watch
Photo from Reddit

The Universal Geneve Watch Company sought to offer a more luxurious version of the Polerouter. As such, it came up with the idea of incorporating lush gold into the Polerouter watch and this resulted in the Polerouter de Luxe and the Polerouter Jet variants. These watches offer a more luxurious style, while still staying true to the spirit and identity of the original Universal Geneve Polerouter. Showing off an effortlessly chic and fancy vibe, it is no surprise why these models quickly became top choices amongst the Polerouter watches.

The Polerouter de Luxe is available in a pure 18K yellow gold case, furnished with the signature Gerald Genta twisted lugs. This is coupled with a refined champagne dial that is adorned with matching gold dauphine hands. In addition, the dial of this watch is protected by a layer of solid plexiglass. On the underside of the watch, you can find a screwed-down caseback that is also made of solid 18K gold.

On the other hand, some of you might find the Polerouter de Luxe just a little too fancy. If so, the Polerouter Jet makes for an excellent, more subtly upscale alternative too. The Polerouter Jet utilises the same simple stainless steel case and crosshair dial as the regular Universal Geneve Polerouter. However, the Polerouter Jet still manages to retain a posh vibe with the gold accents peppered around its dial. This includes gold dot indices for the minute and hour markers, along with applique gold dauphine hands.

3. Universal Genève Polerouter Sub

Universal Genève Polerouter Sub watch on the wrist
Photo from Reddit

Finally, we have the Polerouter Sub. After the success of the Universal Geneve Polerouter dress watches and the Rolex Submariner in the 1950s, the Universal Genève Watch Company decided to venture into the dive watch field itself. As such, in 1961, the Polerouter Sub was introduced. However, this watch was only in production for about seven years, up until 1968.

The Polerouter Sub is a sportier version of the classic Universal Geneve Polerouter, designed solely for sailors and recreational divers. It has a rugged build that is closer to that of the Rolex Submariner but still retains its own unique dial design. The Polerouter Sub is also available in two sub-variants: a single crown model and a dual-crown Super Compressor style version. 

The single crown Polerouter Sub is housed in a larger 40mm stainless steel case, paired with slender lugs and a robust five-link strap made of the same material. One interesting tick of the single crown Polerouter Sub is that it was offered in two different case shapes: symmetrical and asymmetrical. While the symmetrical case has no crown guards, the asymmetrical case has protruding crown guards that bulge out, giving the watch an uneven, unusual look. The single crown Polerouter Sub is also driven by the Universal Calibre 69.

The dual crown versions of the Polerouter Sub, on the other hand, are powered by the original Universal Calibre 215. These watches are available in two case sizes: a slender 36mm version, and a bulker 42mm version. The 42mm Polerouter Sub is also notable for being the bulkiest version of the Universal Geneve Polerouter there is.

Final Thoughts

Hailing from a truly underrated watch brand, the Universal Geneve Polerouter was a true surprise when it was released in the 1950s. With its own unique style and aesthetic, this watch has built up a reputation that continues even to this day, reigning as a popular and highly sought-after piece in the vintage market.

 

All images are courtesy of TheWatchCompany.com unless stated otherwise.

Featured image courtesy to u/Oldwatchjason on Reddit.

Looking for another legendary vintage watch? Take time to read our article about the Bulova Royal Oak watch.

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