Over the past few years, the name Universal Genève has found its way onto the tip of every vintage watch collector’s tongue, and it’s a hard one to shake off. Today’s market for Universal Genève watches is more spirited than ever, and sought-after variants have been known to sell remarkably quickly. Currently, the market for the Tri-Compax, Universal Genève’s most impressively complicated timepiece, has been thriving - a phenomenon that is supported by the promotion of these watches by earnest tastemakers within the watch community. In conjunction with the arrival of two fine examples of the Universal Genève Tri-Compax in Christie’s Watch Shop, we take a closer look at the history of this remarkable timepiece.
Universal Genève Tri-Compax, Ref. 22278/1, currently offered among a fine assortment of modern and vintage timepieces in Christie’s Watch Shop.
A storied history of excellence
Beginning in 1894, Universal Genève, or “Universal Watch” as it was known then, began producing a number of functionally-focused pocket watches for professional use, along with a host of beautifully crafted pieces designed for the most discerning enthusiasts of horology. With the increased interest in wristwatches within industry, the company then saw potential in the wider market, and released their first “Compur" chronographs in 1933. Some eleven years later, the brand would release the Tri-Compax in celebration of their 50th anniversary, as the new flagship model in their lineup. It would join an already well-established collection, including important pieces like the Polerouter and various other Compaxes. These timepieces were once retailed by the renowned Henri Stern Watch Agency in New York, and have graced the wrists of horological icons like Henry Graves Jr.’s direct descendants, and notable political figures like U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
When studying the movements used by Universal Genève in Tri-Compaxes, one will find that it comes down to three main calibers, with each essentially maintaining the same structure. In the earliest examples, we typically see the use of the 15 ligne Cal. 287, which would be used until roughly the late 1940’s, when it would be replaced by the slightly smaller Cal. 481. This caliber would again be phased out in the late 1950’s, with the even more compact Cal. 281. This mechanical progression helped make way for the introduction of new chronograph pusher styles, and the use of screw down casebacks that we see in later, sportier Tri-Compax models.
For those unaware of just what complications a Tri-Compax boasts, the three register chronograph is accompanied nicely by a moon phase indicator, date function, and apertures displaying the day of the week, and the month. Although Universal Genève prices are still climbing with the passing of each and every day, watches from other brands of this caliber, with a comparable degree of mechanical complexity, are now traded at substantially higher prices, making these complicated watches hard to ignore.
Visit Christie’s Watch Shop online to find fine examples of the Universal Genève Tri-Compax and other modern and vintage watches.
This piece was contributed by Isaac Wingold.