The history of the rise and fall of Universal Geneva

The history of Universal Geneva, which enjoys cult status around the world

Did you know that Universal Genève watches have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity in recent years?

As the vintage craze spreads, collectors are discovering more affordable watches.

As a result, long-defunct brands like Universal Genève are experiencing a renaissance, with a new generation of collectors rediscovering them. Here we take a look at the rise and fall of Universal Genève.

The birth of Universal Geneva

Universal Geneve was founded in 1894 as Universal Watch in Le Locle, Switzerland, and served as a workshop, an establishment, which means assembly factory in French.

At that time, we inspected évoges (movements made by other companies), installed the movements in the dials, hands and cases, then packed and shipped them.

Universal Geneva Switzerland

In 1919 it transferred most of its operations to Geneva and became Universal Geneva.

Founded by two horology students and with its roots in manufacturing, the company soon patented a 24-hour clock.

During World War I, the company manufactured pocket watches and trench watches, and, perhaps due to its Swiss character, supplied watches to both warring countries.

In 1925, the company began patenting and produced the first automatic watch, the Autorem.

This watch had a unique octagonal shape.

One of the founders of Universal Genève has already passed away, and the second founder, Ulysse Perret, passed away a few years after the launch of Autorem.

Pelle's son then took over the business, which has remained a family business for the next 30 years.

Hermes and the era of Compact

In 1936, Universal Genève created the first "Aerocompax" (short for Aviator Compact Chronograph).

By this time, wristwatches were becoming increasingly popular, and chronographs in particular were a hit with consumers.

The stopwatch function was suitable for everyday use and was also used by the military, making it suitable for training and combat operations.

Since then, various variations of the Compact have appeared, with "Uni-Compax," "Tri-Compax," "Moon Phase," and "Master Vortex" becoming widely known.

Universal Geneva Compact

Universal Geneve Moon Phase

Around this time, Universal Genève collaborated for a short period with Hermès to produce the "Pour Hermès" series of chronographs.

Hermes became Universal Geneva's main point of sale.

The watch distributor was Henri Stern, who was known for bringing Patek Philippe to the United States in 1935 and was later absorbed into Patek Philippe.

When Patek Philippe was first brought in, it was sold as a sister brand to Universal Genève, but later Universal Genève came to be known as the "poor man's Patek Philippe" and is still referred to today as the poor man's vintage Patek Philippe.

Although Universal Geneve has an elegant history, you can purchase it at a relatively affordable price.

Chronographs stamped with Hermes can fetch a premium of up to 50%.

Furthermore, Universal Genève has been sourcing its chronograph movements from Martel since 1918, but when Martel was later acquired by Zenith, a legend in chronograph manufacturing, it is said that Universal Genève began using movements from another company.

Universal Geneva and Nina Lint

Perhaps the most popular UG Compact at present is the Nina Lint.

The classic chronograph from the 1960s, the Nina Rindt, was made famous by Nina Rindt, wife of racing driver Jochen Rindt.

The ref 885103 is a panda-dial chronograph (a cream dial with black subdials) with a black tachymeter bezel, reminiscent of racing chronographs such as the Rolex Daytona.

The reverse panda dial, also known as "Evil Nina," attracted a lot of attention.

Universal Geneva Nina Lint

Paul Rueter and Gerald Genta

What Universal Genève does best today is the "Polaire".

It was designed by the relatively unknown jewelry designer Gerald Genta.

While he would go on to design famous pieces such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Paul Router was his first stroke of genius.

In 1954, Universal Genève commissioned Genta, who was 23 years old, to design a watch to commemorate SAS's non-stop polar flights from New York and Los Angeles to Europe.

It was during this period that the first Rolex GMT-Master (Ref. 6542) was made for Pan Am pilots as they began their long-distance flights, marking the beginning of the jet age.

In 1953, a Scandinavian expedition from Norway reached the North Pole and landed in Alaska.

This was the first commercial route to the North Pole.

While this news made waves in aviation history, a new problem developed.

The problem is that the watch is exposed to strong magnetic fields.

Universal Genève was able to solve this problem as they produced antimagnetic watches, and Scandinavian Airlines commissioned their official watchmaker to create a new timepiece that would go down in aviation history.

And so the "Paul-Router" was born, pronounced "Paul-a-Router."

The first few hundred have the Scandinavian Airlines logo on them and are extremely rare.

Released in 1954, the watch features a 34.5mm case diameter and a uniquely textured dial.

In 1955, the Polerouter was updated with Universal Geneve's new Cal. 215 micro-rotor movement and remained in production for 15 years.

Universal Geneva Cal215

Along with Hamilton, Universal Genève was one of the first companies to make mass-produced automatic movements possible, making watches affordable.

Since then, Polar has been released in a variety of variations, including Polar Sub, Polar Jet, Polar de Luxe, Polar Date, and Day Date, and watches with trapezoidal date windows are also popular.

Universal Geneva Polar Super

Universal Geneve Polar Router Date

Universal Geneve Day Date

In 1965, the micro-rotor movement "Caliber 2-66" began production, leading to the birth of models such as the "Golden Shadow" and "White Shadow".

With a thickness of 2.3 mm, this movement was the thinnest automatic movement at the time.

Then, as the quartz crisis began to impact Universal Genève and the rest of the Swiss watch industry, the adoption of electric movements began.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Universal Genève increasingly focused on quartz production, which resulted in the brand being devastated.

Paul Ruther's quartz models were not popular and were short-lived, and the brand's power, which had once been on par with that of Omega and Longines, had fallen to rock bottom by this time.

Universal Geneva today

Universal Geneva

Today, Universal Geneva remains owned by the Hong Kong investment group Stellax.

It was briefly renovated in 2001, but there have been no updates to its marketing materials or website since 2009.

It remains a member of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry and oversees production of Cima, another Stellax-owned brand.

It makes you wonder what the future holds for this once popular brand.

The world of watches is unpredictable.

This decade has seen the relaunch of "Tudor" become a huge success, but one that no one expected.

This could have been a future model for Universal Genève, which held a similar or even greater place in the pantheon of vintage watches.

However, Tudor's relaunch was made possible by Rolex and the Hans Wisdorff Foundation, and is not something that just any other brand could do.

Today, legacy brands and microbrands are releasing “heritage” watches and homages on a weekly basis, and that’s where Universal Genève could find a market.

It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Universal Genève would be a huge success, relaunching the Heritage Polar Router with an ETA2000 series movement and priced at under $2,000. For now, we'll just have to "settle" for the vintage Polar Router, which is fine too.

Source: Universal Geneve: What Happened to the Beloved Watch Brand?