Dress watches can provide the new or seasoned collector with a great opportunity to pick up a high quality vintage watch for a fraction of the price of a similarly aged sports specimen. Case in point, vintage Rolex Datejusts – ok, they’re not that dressy – are typically undervalued by multiples when compared to similarly dated Submariners and GMT’s. All the goodness is there from a build quality perspective and, of course, the movements are in-house. Vintage Rolex, though, is certainly not the only haven for this type of opportunity. No, we’ve covered areas like King and Grand Seiko and Robert-Jan has shown us some amazing Omega Constellations. The fascinating thing with these latter examples is that they actually provided platforms for the watchmaking companies to strive for their best. What I mean is that dress watches typically exemplified the pinnacle of brand’s skills. After all, in the 1950’s and 60’s, the dress watch was de rigueur in the workplace and around town, so it was a real prestige piece. Furthermore, thinness along with subtlety was seemingly valued as well as precise timekeeping. All of these aspects added up to some pretty slick offerings in tight packages. In today’s #TBT, let’s take a look at a very hot brand’s entrant into the high-end dress market during the “feel good” era. These were the times of jet setting and three martini lunches; what better accompanier than the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet?
Vintage dress watches don’t have to be boring!
If you’re a regular reader of #TBT, you know my predilection for vintage sports chronographs. Sure, I collect divers and military watches to a minor degree, but I have a soft spot for certain dress watches. For all the reasons I supplied above, these watches do something for me and while I don’t don a suit and tie on most days, I do dress up every so often and find it apropos to pair my garb with a more formal timepiece. Now, it’s interesting when you head to a platform like eBay and look up all the popular vintage brands because the auction site is truly littered with anonymous dress pieces from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. To be frank, especially when the late 1960’s came around and some truly god-awful Poindexter-esque day/date-windowed pieces were introduced, most dress watches are extremely boring. Despite the popularity of dress watches at the time, it seems that relatively few companies got it right or that the watches have successfully stood the test of time. To me, “getting it right” meant, or means, adding that little touch of panache that sets the watch apart from the herd. This could have been the use of fancy lugs, a dash of élan on the dial, or some small characteristic that draws the eye. Conversely, I oddly find some of the aforementioned Seikos interesting because of their finishing and mechanical content in light of their highly austere looks. Well, thankfully, when we take a look at today’s Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet, we are not only treated to a visual delight, but the owner gets to enjoy a rather compelling movement in the “Microtor”.
The Story behind the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet
So, what’s in a name? Well, as this brief, but informative Polerouter history site shows us, the Universal Geneve Polerouter – originally Polarouter – was debuted in 1954 and later used by SAS pilots in 1957 when they began flying over the Arctic circle in order to shave time off of intercontinental flights. The watches gained fame because of their antimagnetic properties and obviously their timekeeping prowess on said flights. To be sure, the publicity department at Universal Geneve in the 1950’s was in full swing. People obviously took notice because the watches were popular despite being expensive. It’s also important to note that the original Polerouters were designed by a very young Gerald Genta. Some reading that I did online tells that Polerouters were priced similarly to like Rolexes of the time: interesting indeed! Much like the Constellation from Omega, Universal Geneve continued to refine the Polerouter by changing its movement over time and also by introducing more variants. Enter the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet.
I suppose the “Jet” nomenclature was fashionable due to the rise of jet-powered commercial airlines and more frequent air travel in the late 50’s as the watch you see here dates from roughly 1959-1960. Perhaps Universal Geneve felt their Jet offering was more modern with its straight lugs and, dare I say, turbine motif on the outline of the dial. Still, the company continued to produce the now more collectible normal Polerouter with the marque’s trademark twisted lugs. So, yes, UG was offering a comprehensive line of Polerouters that even included date-equipped models.
Loads of details on the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet
Speaking of the case design, the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet comes in at 35mm in diameter and features a stainless steel case with a beautifully engraved screw-down stainless case back. It’s sized typically for dress watches of the era, but really wears a little larger due to its long, spindly lugs. The lugs, which strike a balance between delicate and purposeful, feature a nice chamfer that blends well into the case but also assists in providing some nice visual detail. The way the lugs taper down to meet the strap is also interesting because the lug holes are set back far enough into the lugs that a 19mm nestles well between those holes but is too wide to clear the span between the gaps. It’s a conundrum that is oddly solved by pairing the watch with a 18mm strap that is a little thicker (not wider) in order to visually fill the space. Personally speaking, I’d like to add a normal Polerouter at some point because I do like those twisted lyre lugs, but the Jet is, at least in my looking, a slightly less seen piece. As an aside, I wasn’t able to find evidence that Genta designed the Jet as well…if anyone can confirm, I’d love to know!
The dial and hands on the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet are very nicely executed with some fine detail. As mentioned, there’s a bold track of gold and what looks like an anthracite color of alternating rectangles; this track is actually the flair that attracted me to buying the watch in the first place. Outside of this track is a thin minutes chapter ring in silver and finally dots at every hour on what seems like a brushed linen background. This background makes up the bulk of the dial and dominates the center. Staying on somewhat of an aeronautical theme, the dial is actually bisected into four parts with thin intersecting lines that run through the center from 3/6/9/12. I’d go as far as to say that those lines look a little like a propeller or even a radar screen. In the center of the dial, both above and below the center, your eyes meet some truly wonderful font that certainly doesn’t look new, but it doesn’t look passé either. No, it looks decidedly 50’s in an official way. All of this is topped off by a lovely applied gold UG symbol. Hands are gold daggers with a simple black stripe and the sweep seconds hand is a basic gold needle. I’d say my only concern is that that hour and minute hand are dangerously close to each other in length, but I guess common sense tells you which hour is the present – as long as those martinis don’t get past two at lunch! Coming back to the font, we see the curious word “Microtor” on the dial.
If one were holding an earlier Polerouter and comparing, they’d see the omission of this word. Furthermore, when flipping an older piece on its side versus the Jet, they’d also notice a striking difference: the thickness.
A Microtor: the lovely in-house Universal Geneve movement
As well known as Universal Geneve was for its complicated chronograph movements, the company did some excellent work on basic 3-hand movements. As mentioned, the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet states “Microtor” on the dial and the meaning of this is an automatic with a “micro” “rotor”. In fact, Universal Geneve didn’t invent the micro rotor when they introduced it in 1955. No, they missed being first by a year or so to the movement maker Buren, but they likely did make the micro rotor more famous. So, what’s the purpose of the micro rotor? Well, by making the rotor smaller, it no longer needs to lie on top of the movement. In fact, it can be placed “within” the surface at the same height as the main plate. This has the fantastic result of allowing a watch to be made very thin – as in under 5mm! Contrast this with the prior bumper automatic movements in Polerouters and the difference is substantial. In fact, manufacturers today still utilize micro rotors in order to make ultra thin watches. Furthermore, as you can read here, it was the micro rotor, in Buren form, that sits on top of the famous Calibre 11 used in the Breitling/Buren-Hamilton/Heuer watches that made a play as the first automatic chronographs. Coming back to the Universal Geneve, it’s fascinating stuff, horologically, to think that one can buy such an interesting in-house movement that is now nearing 60 years old! By the way, Universal Geneve kept improving its Microtor over time. The version found in this Jet is the cal. 215-9. It contains 28 jewels, runs at 18,000 bph and has an astounding 60-hour power reserve. I should also comment that it runs beautifully and can be hand wound via the fine, signed crown.
I can’t exactly recall why I decided to search for a Universal Geneve Polerouter, but it was about 6 months ago that it dawned on me that this would be a nice, and hopefully inexpensive, piece to add to my collection. I did the smart thing, as Robert-Jan recently pointed out in his watch-buying article, and asked questions and ultimately got some help. Help came in the form of Wayne Puckett who is a popular figure on various watch forums. Wayne also knows a good deal about several brands including UG. So, when the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet you see before you came up on eBay, Wayne sent me a note stating that this could be a sleeper due to some fairly dark, unclear photos. Well, from a price point, the watch closed at $235 and I only needed to wait a bit to see it. As you can see, aside from a dirty, scratched crystal, light dial spotting and minor case scratches, this watch is in great condition. Frankly, for the price, I’m very happy that I took the relatively low financial gamble.
The Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet is a big 35mm
On the wrist, the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet wears very nicely. I’ll spend a little time with the Polywatch to clean up the crystal, but the watch has done some nice duty with me at work. Naturally, it fits well under long sleeves and I like looking down at it knowing that I have one of the best watches, by one of the best brands from the decades that I’ve mentioned in this article…and all for less than $250! Plus, with those long lugs, it’s not to be feared by those who scoff at the 35mm diameter. I mentioned that straps were a slight issue on the UG. The watch came with a thin brown lizard strap that looks pretty nice, but because it’s thin, it shows some spring bar. I tried the thicker, more casual, ammo strap that you saw in last week’s Jardur article, but the 18mm tips started to wear at the edges of the strip.
In the end, I settled on an 18mm shell cordovan strap from Rover Haven (a feature coming soon) and it looks fantastic. It’s less formal than reptile, but probably works better form my day-to-day plans. Either way, this watch would work well with brown or black – or perhaps even grey.
You can afford a nice Universal
Polerouters are no secret as far as collectability. I got a bit lucky with this one – I didn’t mention that the sale lacked a photo of the original crown – because everything is there and it runs beautifully. I’d think for a decent stainless Jet like this, look to spend $450 -800 tops. Perhaps there are better prices to be had for gold-capped models, but I don’t see many of any metal on offer. Normal Polerouters seem to be heading to prices of over $1,000 now, so I think this makes the Jet a really nice value. Compare this to a lot of current automatic dress watches with outsourced movements and as long as the size works for you, a UG becomes a very enticing proposition. There’s no reason to really buy something that’s in awful condition because cosmetic parts are likely an issue, but mechanically, they can be serviced with relative ease. In my experience, eBay remains a decent place to look for a Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet.
We hope you enjoyed this week’s venture away from the normally traveled path of the chronograph. I think the Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet is a worthwhile piece that deserves a look due to its exciting – for a dress watch – looks and technically significant movement. Plus, it’s a nice way to get a credible watch from a brand that is about as hot as it gets from a vintage perspective. Like I said, you get a lot of nice bells and whistles in dress watches without the price tag. Perhaps spend it on a new suit to go with your new watch? Until next week…