The design was what pulled me in. But there is more to the Polerouter than just the design. The more I read about the brand and the watch, the more I realize what a special watch I have. Here's my review.
For someone who isn't into vintage watches it may be somewhat difficult to understand Universal Genève. At the time of writing, if you go to their website (universal.ch) it is pretty much dormant. If you go back around 10 years, you can find some articles on the "revival" of Universal Genève without much success. If you go further back still, you can read about the company's troubles and seemingly never-ending transfers of ownership.
It only starts to make sense if you read about the company and their watches in around or prior to the 1960s. Back in the day Universal Genève was at the forefront of horology. One of the manifestations of this was the Polerouter itself. It was made to be used by the Scandinavian Airlines to combat magnetism when crossing the North Pole.
Let's start off with the design, which was what drew me in at first. It is one of the most recognisable designs not just from Universal Genève, but in the whole of the world of horology. It's no surprise that it was designed by Gerald Genta, who went on to design other easily recognisable watches, such as Patek Philippe's Nautilus, Audemars Piguet's Royal Oak, IWC's Ingenieur, and Omega's Pie Pan Constellation. (An interesting aside is that Gerald Genta did not only design watches for haute horology watchmakers; at one time he designed a digital watch for Timex, which was sold in the tens of millions)
It's easy to name-drop Gerald Genta and call it a day. But the Polerouter's design really is beautiful. The watch features a bullseye dial, polished rail track edge, dauphine hands and twisted lugs. There is a lot going on in terms of design but they all work together harmoniously.
The movement was another part of the watch that drew me in. While the Polerouter started its life with a bumper movement, it was later fitted with an automatic micro rotor movement, which they call "microtor". This particular model is fitted with Universal Genève cal. 218-2 movement. It's an improved version of the earlier cal. 215 family and has a power reserve of (when out of the factory half a century ago) 57 hours. This is truly astonishing even for today's standard, where the standard power reserve is around 38 hours. The movement beats at a slow and modest five beats per second.
Micro rotors are a thing of beauty. It really is a shame that see-through casebacks were not around in the 1960s. But micro rotors have another advantage: they combine the thinness of manual movements and the convenience of automatic movements.
Micro rotors are becoming a rarity in the horology world. Most of the makers using micro rotors are in the upper echelon of the horology world, including Patek Philippe, Roger Dubuis, Piaget, and A. Lange & Söhne, to name a few.
The example I have is in very good condition with all original parts (except strap and buckle) and a light patina on the dial and hands. Some may think that the crystal is aftermarket because the date magnification is round whereas the date aperture is a trapezoid. Interestingly, the Polerouter came with both a trapezoid and round date magnification. How do I know this?
First, this the crystal is signed with a small Universal Genève logo (similar to what Omega does with their crystals). It's very hard to see with the naked eye. But with a macro lens or macro clip-on lens (which is what I used), you can clearly see the Universal Genève shield logo.
Second, ads from the era also show the Polerouter with a trapezoid date aperture using a round date magnification. So while the crystal could have been made for other models, the ad shows that the crystal with the round date magnification was also used by the Polerouter.
A major drawback of a watch like this where the manufacturer is pretty much nonexistent is obviously sourcing parts. With vintage Omegas, for instance, if you can't source the parts you always have the option to send the watch back to Omega (with a hefty service charge of course). While expensive, at least that option is available. With Universal Genève, there is no such option.
The only way you can get parts is by buying donor watches, which could take months and even years of searching. And it obviously won't be cheap either. I've had a few experiences doing this.
My first experience was when I bought a "lemon" bumper Polerouter with a non-working movement and redialed dial. It took me a few months to find a donor movement to change broken parts; the watch is running fine now. But it's been around two years now and I have yet to find an original replacement dial for the watch.
On this particular watch, I once had an issue when the pallet fork broke. In this instance I was very lucky to find the replacement pallet fork from another collector. Even though it was not cheap, I knew it would be very hard to find a replacement pallet fork that would fit for a cheaper price, if at all. Thus, I bit the bullet.
But these experiences make me cherish my Polerouter even more. Even though I'm a firm believer that watches are meant to be worn, no matter how rare or expensive, I admit to babying my Polerouter a little bit now.
In closing, from the legendary brand behind the watch, the legendary designer, the historical significance of its conceptualization to the haute horology movement, I can say that I feel very lucky to own such a special piece.
Written by: Nikki Krisadtyo