#TBT A Forgotten Universal Monopusher Chronograph With Cal. 339
I don’t like the term “wedding watch,” but I can easily imagine wearing this Universal Monopusher to the next wedding I’m invited to. It looks unwearable, but the opposite is true.
The previous statement needs a bit of clarification. When I said “unwearable,” I didn’t mean that the watch looks too big or too beefy. It’s just so different, so gold, and so 1930s that it blinds everyone in a 5km radius. Add those lugs that make it look a bit like a handbag, and well, it’s so far from any of today’s vintage standards that it’s almost impossible to imagine how it wears. The inability to imagine it on my wrist led me to conclude that it wouldn’t be the most comfortable experience of the year. Nevertheless, the watch had some magnificent glory about it that made me want it badly.
What a purchase…
Honestly, it was one of the additions to my collection that doesn’t make much sense today. It didn’t even make sense back when I bought it. It wasn’t anything unusual or rare. The watch didn’t have any novel or bizarre complications. And it wasn’t even from a brand that I focused on so deeply that I felt I had to buy an early model. It just seemed to be fragile and gold, which is not my kind of poison.
The surprising Universal Monopusher Cal. 339
I remember that it went straight to my watchmaker upon arrival. I got it back at the start of summer, and I remember the day well; I even know what shirt I wearing. It was around noon when I parked at my office. I got out of the car, and I rolled up my sleeve slightly to look at the time. Sometimes I do look at my wrist intentionally just to look at my watch. This time, I did so subconsciously as I just needed to check the time, and I forgot what I had on my wrist. What I saw really surprised me. It was nothing extroverted or flashy, just a pleasingly warm and decent watch. You know what? I really made the effort to scroll 15 minutes through my camera roll to find that memorable picture — June 6th, 11:15. Judge for yourself.
I wore the watch for a few days, no matter what I did. When I had client meetings, I pulled out a shirt and blazer, which was a very fitting match. On the days with no new business ahead, I put on my jumper and jeans. And I tell you, it’s not really the most stylish combination. After all, the Universal Monopusher Cal. 339 is not a skin diver, and it needs a bit of style to look good.
I’m not exactly sure where to start. The lugs, the porcelain dial, or the “front door” Plexi, you choose. I said “lugs,” but I should have called them earrings instead. Rather than a pair of horns to put spring bars into, this watch has tunnels attached to the top and the bottom of the case. There is a fitting ring that attaches with a threaded pin, like a screw. It moves freely in the tunnel, which allows wider flexibility and a better wrist grip. This is a great system to pair with carefully selected open-ended straps made of soft brown leather.
Both the case back and the front frame holding the crystal are mounted on hinges on the left side of the case, exactly like a pocket watch. This reminds me why I actually hate the “wedding watch” term — it makes me think of big pocket watches remade into wristwatches. Dirty welding business…
But that’s not the case with the Universal Monopusher Cal. 339, which was carefully crafted with a 37mm diameter. To be able to pop the front frame and open it like a lid on an old wall clock is a priceless experience. Opening it almost feels like committing a crime because the dial “has” to be hidden under a protective Plexi. But here, we are talking about an opportunity to rest your eyes on a genuine porcelain dial. Sadly, this dial has a few tiny cracks, the only scars on an otherwise epic show featuring blued hands, Arabic numerals, and a red snail tachymeter.
Another pleasing detail is a tiny lip on the case back for easier opening. By the way, the inner case back stamping is almost satisfying as the dial itself. Thanks to my watch friend Giuseppe, we can identify the movement as the second-series Calibro 16 / Universal 339. Have a look at the catalog clipping in the gallery at the end. This movement was probably produced sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s.
In-house or not?
Are you a bit puzzled as to why there is a Martel branding on the catalog clipping? Martel Watch Company was a Swiss watch movement maker in the 20th century. Founded in 1911 in Le Locle by Georges Pellaton-Steudler, Martel Watch Co. was a specialty maker of repetition and chronograph movements. To make a long story short, Martel made movements for Universal (renamed Universal Genève in 1937). Martel also made movements for Zenith, which purchased the company at the end of the ’50s.
Are early chronographs different?
Well, they are. To share a bit of the sensational experience, they just feel more mechanical than any other mechanical watches from the 1940s, ’50s, or ’60s. I find operating one very similar to driving an early Porsche 911. Everything you do, you feel it to the bone. And everything needs effort, obviously. Caliber 339 is way louder, and being louder makes the ticking sound a bit more metallic. I wore it one night when my son woke up. When he fell asleep after I laid my hand on his back, I realized that this movement was pretty functional as white noise for kids. And winding the Universal 339 is like a statement. When you turn the crown, it rattles so much that you can feel every single tooth in the movement.
I have been thinking about the Universal Monopusher Cal. 339 for the last week. That’s what I always do before I write an article about any #TBT watch. It’s an unbelievably fascinating piece. It looks so fragile, probably due to its noble style, but after wearing it for a few consecutive days while doing anything I normally do, I found it to be sturdy enough. If you ever get the opportunity to try one of these, I wouldn’t be worried about wearing it.
Going back to my initial thoughts, I don’t know where the “wedding watch” association came from, but funnily enough, I was invited to a wedding today. It will be in May, which is my favorite time of the year when the green is the greenest out there and I can’t get enough of the spring sun. I think that will be a great opportunity to take my Universal Monopusher Cal. 339 for a few swing moves on the dance floor. Happy hunting!