January 30, 2015
Universal Geneve. Stainless Steel Triple Calendar Chronograph with Moon Phase
Case No: 11xxxxx
Movement No. 22xxxx
Cal. 481 gold-plated mechanical movement, 17 jewels, silvered matte dial, luminous Arabic numerals, luminous hands, outer tachometer scale in blue, four subsidiary dials for constant seconds, 12 hour register, 30 minute register, and date combine with moon phase, two apertures for day and month in French, circular stainless steel case, two rectangular chronograph buttons in the band, snap on case back, case, dial, and movement signed.
Universal Geneve has a long history of producing complicated wristwatches. Their first wristwatch chronograph dates to 1927, and built up a brand reputation based on the success of the chronographs that would follow. In the 1930’s, Universal Geneve produced their first two-button chronograph, and would build on this movement to add an independent seconds measurement (the Aero-Compax model), a date display (the Dato-Compax model), specialized functions (the Medico-Compax), and finally the days, date, months, and tachometer scale (the Tri-Compax).
The Tri-Compax model was produced from the 1940’s through the 1960’s, with varying dial designs and case sizes. Unlike many of its counterparts manufactured by other fine watch companies, the Universal Geneve Tri-Compax offered to their clients a model that was produced in several sizes, ranging from 33mm up to 37.5mm. Early model’s from the 1940’s and into the 1950’s often featured a dial with printed Bauhaus-style numerals, and blued steel hands. A few variations could be found with applied hour markers, and some with hour and minute hands in gold to match the case in the event the watch was cased in a precious metal. The subsidiary dial for date featured a red hand. Models from the 1940’s were characterized by a moon with a face, while later models of the 1950’s and 1960’s did not. Often, as is the case with the present watch, the moon phase dial has aged from a blue background to a brownish shade.
The Tri-Compax used three different calibers – UG 481, 287, and 281. Caliber 281 was the smallest (12.5 lignes), and most often used in the 1960’s models that were waterproof, but it was used occasionally in 1940’s models with smaller cases. Early models with this caliber did not have the shock protection found in later models, and were gold plated, while later models were nickel-plated. Caliber 481 (14.5 lignes) was used in mid-size cases, those between 34.5 and 36mm, and caliber 287 (15 lignes) was used in the largest size cases, those between 37 and 39mm.
The most notable changes to the Tri-Compax model occurred in the 1960’s, with the use of a water-resistant-type case with a screw back, as opposed to the early models with snap on case backs. These water-resistant cases had round pushers (early models had square-shaped pushers), and were often fitted with the smaller caliber UG 281 movement. Starting in the 1960’s, the caliber 281 also featured a number of technical enhancements, one of which improved the quick setting of the moon phase, month, and date. The dials were also no longer produced with radioactive material, as indicated by the letter “T” next to the “Swiss”.
During its production run, the Universal Geneve Tri-Compax enjoyed much success and was known for a high level of quality in design and construction. The Henry Stern Watch Agency was the exclusive distributor of Patek Philippe watches, and only distributed one other brand - Univeral Geneve, with the movements being stamped “HOX” for US Importation. In France, Universal Geneve watches were distributed through Hermes, with some dials bearing the retailer’s signature.
Known for their unique design, technical innovation, and range of case size, the Universal Geneve was often advertised as “the last word in watchmaking – a masterpiece of craftsmanship and precision”. As true then as it is now, these triple-calendar chronograph watches with moon phases are some of the most interesting complicated vintage watches one can collect today. The present watch is a fine specimen, with sharp case facets and crisp numbers on the case back, gold-plated caliber 481 movement, and beautifully aged dial.