Book Review: The Polerouter
Within vintage circles, the Universal Genève Polerouter looms large as one of the most revered watch designs in history. Of course, with a name like Gérald Genta at the drafting table, that makes a lot of sense. Now a book is available, simply titled The Polerouter, and it is a magnificently detailed tribute to the entire history of these watches.
I reckon that most fans of vintage watches could come up with a shortlist of pieces that everyone should have in their collections. Within such an index, I think it’s fair to say that the Universal Genève Polerouter, especially in its early form, would be found. The masterpiece was first released in 1954 and famously took its name from a partnership the brand forged with SAS Airlines. SAS was the first airline to fly a polar route from the USA to Scandinavia. The company asked for an antimagnetic and shock-resistant watch for its pilots, and Universal answered the call with what became a Genta-designed legend.
After 1954, the Polerouter evolved over the decades and even lent its name to several highly desirable divers. A Polerouter, in basically any form, is a desirable watch. However, up until now, most of the knowledge about these models and their variants was found on forums or in short-form articles. With The Polerouter, I believe that many questions, both former and future, now have an answer.
The Polerouter — A mighty tome
Authors Andrew Willis and Mattia Mazzucchi came together to write The Polerouter, and the result is an incredible accomplishment. This book has nearly everything that either a longtime or prospective collector would want or need. Every reference contains a chapter. Each chapter contains details like catalog photos, advertisements, and full-color photographs. Rarities, royalty pieces, and concept drawings are also within.
Like so many once-famous brands, Universal Genève is currently a shell of its former self. Unbeknownst to me, the brand still operates both a site and a historic service department. The last remaining vestiges of the company were generous enough to allow Andrew and Mattia access to the archives. Unfortunately, these are now little more than bound documents, but it’s all here in the book. A fascinating example of this is the dedicated section on bracelets. It even includes internal part numbers.
Chapters on references such as the Polarouter, Polerouter Microtor models, Polerouter Sub, and the Polerouter Jet generally include a mix of design documents, factory images, archive catalog photos, brochures, photos of fair booths, and more. Of course, there are also movement-related sections along with a specific chapter on production records.
An immersive treasure
Truly, The Polerouter is an immersive book that allows one to date a watch, cross-reference the logo to ensure consistency, and then locate a sample photograph. For example, I enjoyed finding a similar Microtor to mine and an exact twin of my 1959–60 Polerouter Jet. The relatively brief chapter introductions are supplemented by information provided within each photograph caption. There’s a lot to learn! I also liked seeing all of the different models on their original straps and bracelets. On the former front, Universal used many minimalistic, attractive straps that resemble the styles most are enjoying today.
A high-quality production
If you’re only familiar with the most famous twisted-lug Polerouter models, it might surprise you that this book is nearly 400 pages! The pages are well laid out and easy to follow. Furthermore, the paper quality is fantastic, and the book has both size and weight. To this point, I made the mistake of having The Polerouter shipped to my wife’s office. I was concerned about rain, but it’s beautifully packaged, so don’t fret. In any case, I received a perturbed call because this book weighs roughly five kilograms and is 305mm × 280mm × 40mm! Yes, this is a heavy book, but it will look wonderful on your coffee table or bookshelf. It’s certainly not a throwaway.
How to order The Polerouter
The Polerouter is available via the authors’ website, and, unsurprisingly, it’s not inexpensive. At £225 plus 10–15% in shipping costs, it would make for a wonderful gift for the holidays or a special occasion. Bear in mind that this isn’t any old glossy, photo-rich watch book that will receive an initial glance and then collect dust. It’s a reference, and if the Universal Genève Polerouter is at all of interest to you, the book will see repeated use. It’s a real accomplishment, and it has also had another effect. Namely, I’m now checking out for-sale listings for vintage Polerouters.