Universal Geneve produced a watch in the 1950s that would go down in the history of the brand as one of the most iconic and helpful timepieces for the aviation industry. The Universal Geneve Polerouter, now, a highly desirable collector's piece is a family of watches produced throughout the 1950s and '60s era. To fully understand the fascination with the Polerouter we must first understand its significance in history, along with the contributions it made with usefulness and innovative technology for its time.
The history of the Universal Geneve Polerouter
According to Wond and Wound, the original version of the Polerouter was called the Polarouter, with a modernization of the name to follow later. The first timepiece was introduced in 1954. It was the design genius of a young Gerald Genta, who had not yet made his mark on the world of horology.
The intention of the 1954 Universal Geneve Polerouter
The Polerouter was designed in collaboration with Scandinavian Airlines Systems and Universal Geneve to create a commemorative watch to celebrate the polar flights made by SAS from New York and Los Angeles in the United States as direct flights to Europe. This is where the name Polarouter/Polerouter was derived. Flights traveling over the North and South Poles faced the serious issue of a strong magnetic field. This wreaked havoc on the functions of timepieces and navigation systems. Pilots and crew members required a special wristwatch that had the capacity to resist these magnetic forces and function normally.
The innovative technology of Universal Geneve
Universal Geneve's designers and engineers set about the tasks of building a timepiece suitable for aviators. They were chosen because of their previous work with anti-magnetic materials. Gerald Genta entered the scene to create the commemorative watch that celebrated the Copenhagen to Los Angeles flight that made history.
1954 Universal Geneve Polerouter for the SAS crew
The first Polerouter was made for SAS pilots in need of an anti-magnetic timepiece. The originals featured a 35.5 mm stainless steel case with special engraving on the back to commemorate the historic flight. This was a dateless version with an inner index ring that featured texturing. Since the initial example, only several hundred of these timepieces were ever built, making each surviving watch a rare collectible. These watches aesthetically were dressy, yet functional with some water resistance with robustness when exposed to the elements. The SAS logo appeared on each timepiece that was handed to each member of the historic flight crew upon its landing at LAX. The following year, the Polerouter received a Caliber 215 micro-rotor movement, but only as an optional version in an automatic.
Versions of the Universal Geneve Polerouter
A variety of styles with cases made of a range of metals including gold, steel, and a capped version were offered the following year through the next 15 years with the final Polerouter models released in 1969. There was also a choice of a watch with a date function or without a date. The Polerouter came in multiple iterations. The collection included the Polerouter de luxe, the Polerouter Super, the Polerouter Jet, the Polerouter Day-Date, the Polerouter Sub, Polerouter NS, the Polerouter Geneve, the Polerouter Compact, and the Polerouter III
The Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet
Easily one of the most collectible pieces, the Polerouter Jet is a minimalist piece featuring a 34 mm case made of stainless steel circa 1957. Each watch case came engraved with unique numbering. The Polerouter Jet version has a clean dial with a printed signature. The indexes are silver in baton style with a touch of lume ear the ends for visibility in dark conditions. The hands are dauphine style with lume applied. The jet is powered by a caliber 215 micro-rotor movement in a self-winding style with a slim case profile of just 9 mm in depth. Interestingly the lume is radium, as was the trend in the 1950s. The dial is covered with a plexiglass lens.
1960s Universal Genève Polerouter Date
Hodinkee's review sheds a little more light on the 1960s version of the Polerouter with an example that is similar to the original 1950s with a stainless steel case in a 34mm width and thin 9 mm thickness. This example received an updated 218-2 micro-rotor movement which is the next generation with a date window, yet it maintains the simple aesthetic with the vintage appeal. A Shell Cordovan strap completes the look.
What to know about collectible Universal Geneve Polerouter timepieces
When looking for collectible Polerouter, it's essential to note that these watches were offered in a variety of different metals ranging from stainless steel to silver, pink gold, and yellow gold. Some have developed a unique patina over time that further distinguishes them as vintage pieces.
The Universal Geneve Polerouter is an iconic watch with historical significance that celebrates a turning point in aviation history. The historic flight from Copenhagen to LAX signaled a new age in air travel that better connected the world. The Polerouter was handed out to each member of the crew serving on that historic flight. This period marked the beginning of a 15-year production run. It resulted in various Polerouter models in a wide range of sizes, styles, functions, and metals. Vintage watch collectors marvel at the simplicity of these pieces. The rarest among the family of Polerouters are those made during the first year of production. The Polerouter is an affordable yet valuable collectible with multiple examples found at auctions and private sellers. Each piece pays tribute to the days when the international flight was in its infancy. The 1950s was a unique time in the history of aviation. Universal Geneve was there to celebrate that monumental journey with a timepiece that provided usefulness and high functionality for aviators while serving as a dressy accessory suitable for wear with the professional attire required by the flight crew.
Written by Lily Wordsmith
Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith