Today, we’ll take a look at a relatively nondescript Universal Genève Microtor dress watch. It’s worth a deeper look for several reasons, though. The condition, the case material, and the purpose for its existence all come together to create a lovely package. This is a lovely piece on its own, but why not explore the details?

My current infatuation with well-designed, simple vintage watches is leading me down some very different paths. Over the last six months, watches from brands such as Eterna, Cyma, and Movado have all entered my collection. This is still a new space for me to explore, and I’m having tons of fun! Our subject today is another example of my latest kick. The featured Universal Genève Microtor is such a satisfying watch for so many reasons, not least of all being its laughably low price of entry.

Universal Genève Microtor 9K gold

Vintage-watch cat nip

The Patek Philippe Calatrava 570 hooked me. Ever since purchasing it in mid-2023, I’ve enjoyed looking for simple, vintage three-hand dress watches with flowing lugs. The combination of a simple dial with this case style is like cat nip for me. Bring in a healthy size above 34mm along with decent condition, and I struggle to resist pulling the trigger when prices are reasonable. The Universal Genève Microtor you see here was not a planned purchase by any stretch, but it had me from the first moment I saw it.

Universal Genève Microtor 9K gold

A Universal Genève Microtor in 9K gold

Today’s Universal Genève Microtor is yet another no-model-name “dress watch” from the late 1950s (dating puts it to 1959) among a vast sea of other similarly designed watches. By the way, I put the term “dress watch” in quotation marks because, at that time, these were simply watches. The distinction with this piece is that it was a gold watch and, therefore, likely reserved for special occasions. Today, we refer to such pieces as “dress watches” because they tend to lack much in the way of water resistance and are traditionally paired with fancier clothing.

Irrespective of the nomenclature used to describe this Universal Genève Microtor, it’s beautifully designed. The size is right in the sweet spot for such a watch at 36mm by 42.5mm. The thickness afforded by the use of the Microtor movement is just 8.9mm including the domed acrylic crystal. Finally, an 18mm lug spacing keeps the design in proportion.

A perfectly designed dial

While I do enjoy a bit of patina now and again, another selling point of this Universal Genève Microtor was its nearly flawless dial. Watches from this period are notorious for water ingress, and, at best, there is resultant spotting. If spotting or general rot isn’t present, then redials are a common occurrence. This watch, however, must have lived a charmed life because it seems new. Universal Genève chose simple, applied gold stick indices, an applied logo, and minimal text. The brand name, “Automatic,” and “Swiss” are the only words on the dial. It’s difficult to see the drilled minute track around the outer edge, but that’s a lovely detail in the fashion of a Calatrava. Dauphine hands and a simple, needle-like central seconds hand complete the look.

Universal Genève Microtor 9K gold

A 9K gold case

Until now, I’ve purposely avoided discussion on the case material of this Universal Genève Microtor. Interestingly (or not!), it’s 9K gold. Openly, I had never heard of such an alloy aside from its modern use on the Omega Seamaster 300 Bronze Gold and the recent Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 3 model. It turns out that 9K gold, which is 37.5% gold, is a historically popular alloy in the UK. The USA, for example, sells 10K gold at the lower end, which is intriguing. Understandably, 9K gold is an entry-level alloy due to its lack of gold, and depending on the mixture, it can take on more of a bronze hue.

Detractors see it as a cash grab from jewelry makers who mark up the material due to its name despite it having less than 50% gold content. Proponents like the durability due to its lack of soft precious metal. What we can see here is that even at this low gold percentage, the watch has hallmarks on both sides of its case. Today, service anniversary watches like this Universal come up for sale all over the UK from brands such as Longines, Omega, Tudor, and others. They often have UK-made cases, which I find endearing. Some watches are quite small or heavily worn, but every so often, a lovely piece emerges at a great price.

Universal Genève Microtor 9K gold case back inscription

Celebrating 25 years of service

A popular use for 9K gold was for anniversary watches that were given to employees after many years of service. The old “gold watch” gift, which is sadly gone today, was a momentous occasion and seemed to be incredibly common in the UK. Indeed, the Universal Genève Microtor that I now own was a gift to a person named T.D. Allen in 1964 from B. Elliott & Co. Ltd. This company made drill presses, saws, and other metal-working machinery. I’ve done some research, and the company gave out many different 9K models from Universal Genève in its history.

The engraving on the back of the watch is something to behold. I’m usually neither here nor there about having someone else’s history written on the case back, but the quality of the inscription is lovely. Interestingly, the font for the employee’s name and the date of presentation is different from the primary engraving. I assume that many of the same watches were ordered with the engraving and the specific employee and date information was added at a later time. Also, while the watch does date to roughly 1959, we see that it wasn’t gifted until 1964.

The Microtor movement

The Universal Genève Microtor uses a snap-on case back, and on this watch, opening and refastening it comes with a satisfying click. This is the result of very little opening over its history. Once inside, we can see the glorious 28-jewel caliber 215 with its thick micro-rotor. Perhaps some more knowledgeable folks will chime in on the exact sub-reference of the movement to help determine its thickness. At a maximum, it’s just over 5mm thick. The finishing is certainly of a high grade and something we see on truly expensive watches today. As far as timekeeping, I’d say that this watch is fair overall. It gains a few minutes per day, which is in keeping with the other Universals I own that have a similar movement. As far as manual winding, it’s certainly not as enjoyable as a fine non-automatic movement, but there’s something special about a micro-rotor caliber.

Universal Genève Microtor 9K gold

Other details

I purchased this Universal Genève Microtor last year at the same show near London Heathrow Airport late where I found my Eterna 852 and the IWC 309. The seller of the IWC had this watch too. It was sitting in a small display case on a taupe leather strap. While the IWC caught my eye initially (finding one was my main aim), the Microtor was such a beauty that I had to take a closer look. I then saw that the watch came with its original box, certificate of guarantee, and a note card with the recipient’s name. It’s truly a time capsule!

A lovely watch on the wrist

A watch like this Universal Genève Microtor wears beautifully. The size is contemporary, and it works wonderfully under a sleeve. I pair it with just about everything, so it’s no longer serving only “Sunday best” duty. Also, after a chat with strap guru Balazs, I opted for a bolder strap color. Here, it’s on one of our own Baranil straps in Sky Blue, and I think it looks perfect.

Final thoughts on the Universal Genève Microtor

Today’s watch cost me around £1,000, which feels like an insane amount of value for any nearly unused vintage Universal Genève. The fact that it’s so attractive makes it even better. The original packaging, a nice story, and a wearable size were the collective icing on the cake. Before I depart, I’ll bring up Breitling’s recent acquisition of Universal Genève. No one truly knows what watches will emerge from this reintroduction, but I’d push heavily for a simple, no-nonsense dress watch like today’s example.

Watch specifications

Silver with applied indices
Case Material
9K gold
Case Dimensions
36mm (diameter) × 42.5mm (lug-to-lug) × 8.9mm (thickness)
Domed acrylic
Case Back
9K gold snap back
Universal Genève 215: automatic and hand winding, micro-rotor, 18,000vph frequency, 57-hour power reserve, 28 jewels
Leather with pin buckle
Time (hours, minutes, seconds)
Special Note(s)
Made in the late 1950s until the early 1960s