Founded in 1894 by Numa-Emile Descombes and Ulysse Perret, the Universal Genève is every vintage chronograph lover’s dream. It was the company to release the first wrist-worn chronograph in 1917, at a time when wristwatches were considered a novelty amongst gentlemen.

Polerouter - Photography by Atom Moore, courtesy Analogue/ Shift

One of the most affordable and sought-after Universal Genève models in the vintage market today is the Polerouter. Legendary designer Gerald Genta, known for working with iconic brands such as Omega and Audemars Piguet, was approached by the company to design a watch to commemorate SAS’s (Scandinavian Airlines Systems) polar flights from New York/Los Angeles directly to Europe. This watch would be known as the Polarouter, later known as Polerouter. The Polerouter was well known for its durability under extreme conditions and fluctuating temperatures and altitudes, and preferred among pilots who made flights over the arctic.

A Compax Chronograph circa 1942

Another well-known classic of Universal Genève is the Compax. With a 12 hour register, the Compax was equipped with a chronograph function, making it an quite popular with the military. However the most in-demand version of the Compax was the Nina Rindt Ref. 885103/03. It was often seen on the wrist of Finnish supermodel Nina Rindt, widow of Jochen Rindt: the only man to have won the Formula 1 Championship posthumously after dying during an accident in the 1970 Gran Prix.

It is powered by the Valjoux 72 movement (also featured in another classic, the Rolex Daytona) known for its accurate performance and is fitted with a lovely panda dial. Honorable mentions also go to the Tri Compax 1944 in which the ‘Tri’ refers to the three complications: the moonphase, calendar and chronograph. Even today it remains the most complicated watch for a brand whose watchmakers specialized in making complicated watches.

A Universal Geneve that was gifted to His Highness Shaikh Zayed Al Nahyan

After a period of difficulty in the 1980’s and 1990’s, owing to the Quartz Crisis, the company has been lying low, but is an active member of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Seen on the wrists of notable figures such as Harry. S Truman, Eric Clapton and Joan Rivers, a gold plated UG was gifted by His Highness King Saud bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia to His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates.