The Universal Geneve brand is as storied an institution as any in the watchmaking world. They date their history back to January 18th, 1894 and through various names have been producing some of the finest watches in the world ever since. There is too much history behind the brand to cover in this piece so we will focus specifically on the time period surrounding this watches creation. If you are interested in diving deeper into the world of Universal Geneve then we highly recommend the Universal Geneve chronographs and complicated wristwatches book by Pietro Giuliano Sala.
Beyond the chronograph prowess of UG, with first the Compur, then the Compax and Tri-Compax product lines, Universal’s Polerouter is the most collected watch from the brand. Appreciation for the supposedly Genta-designed time-only piece has been bubbling up over the past 5 to 10 years and a big book project has been in the works for almost a couple of years now. The Polerouter, originally Polarouter, was introduced in 1954 after a Copenhagen to Los Angeles trip on the wrists of SAS pilots crossing the north pole along the way. The first examples were printed with a SAS logo and given to the pilots and crew upon landing in LA as well as some company execs. From there the Polerouter dominated time-only offerings in the UG catalog for the next three-plus decades.
Universal’s time-only history obviously did not start with the Polerouter. While the focus in the first half of the 20th century was certainly chronographs, there are many time-only references that remain undervalued without subdials and prior to the Polerouter branding. The reference 20219 for auction here is one of the last of that breed. Before all the Polerouter Jet and De Luxe sub-model business of the 1970s, UG just made plain old time-only watches that were outstanding and did not need any further marketing than that. The 20219 dates to the mid-50s and was likely offered right alongside an early Polerouter.
The example for auction shows what we believe to be one of the least seen dial variants—double signed by Philadelphia based retailed JE Caldwell & Co and featuring an “explorer” style 12, 3, 6, 9 dial layout. Slightly twisted lugs, a la Genta’s UG, and a polygonal-shaped screwback case make this case stand out from the crowd of simple time-only vintage watches.
The 34mm case is in stainless-steel and presents in polished but average condition. Unfortunately, the sharpness of those twisted lugs has been lost to the polishing wheel but the general aesthetic remains. Also lost to that same polishing wheel are the reference and serial numbers on the caseback. We put some research into verifying if the caseback is correct for this reference, but we can confirm it is. The polishing has left the outer surface devoid of numbers that were once there. We believe the crown to be a replacement, it is similar in style to the non-signed crowns seen on other 20219 examples but there are more teeth than there should be and the metal does not match exactly right.
The Dial and Hands
The dial is in great condition with no major flaws seen to the finish in the seller’s photos. Most importantly, we believe it to be original and never refinished. Of course, the JE Caldwell & Co retailer signature is of note on the dial and is in great condition. The radium lume plots at each hour are in average to good condition with some darker than others which could be evidence of lume loss.
The handset is correct for this reference and preserved in good to great condition. Our seller notes “a few pin-prick sized marks at the base of the hands” but the three hands present well. The luminous material in the hands has aged to a dark, almost black, color that is mostly not matching of that on the dial.
This watch is powered by a UG caliber 138SS bumper automatic wound which is evident by the caliber number that is stamped on the movement itself. The seller is offering this watch with a 1-year mechanical warranty.
|Location||New York City|
|Movement||Automatic (bumper), UG Calibre 138SS|
|Case Material||Stainless Steel|
|Band Material||Leather Strap|
|Clasp Type||Stainless Steel Buckle|