The Universal Genève Polerouter is a watch that has a pioneering backstory and it seems that its appeal is enduring. In fact in recent years, the interest in this evergreen watch has exploded, and vintage watch enthusiasts continue to drive up prices. So what is it about the Polerouter style that has gained such a passionate fan-base?
Well, for starters, it’s a watch that Gerald Gentacut his teeth on. Yes, approximately 20 years prior to designing the icons for which he is better known, such as the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, at just 23 years old, Genta was designing for Swiss brand Universal Genève. The Polarouter, later to become the Polerouter proved to be a runaway success for the brand and set Genta well on the path to later reaching god-like status amongst the watch industry.
The Polerouter’s credible high-flying pedigree
First released on 15 November 1954, the Universal Genève Polarouter was billed as a shock-resistant and anti-magnetic watch, chosen as the official timepiece of Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) and worn by all flight captains. SAS is a commercial airline founded in 1946 and still operating today. In 1954 the airline pioneered a new polar route from Europe to America via Greenland, via the polar region; hence the ‘Polarouter’ monika was born!
An early Polarouter from Universal Genève, ref: 20217-1 - Image Credit: @byitscover1
SAS later cemented their status amongst the airline industry (and by association, the Polerouter watch) by pushing the boundaries again by setting a new route which would have pilots flying over the North Pole itself. This route would significantly cut travel time from Europe to the Far East, shaving a massive 22 hours off, bringing it down from 52 hours to just 30 hours.
It’s unsurprising therefore that Universal Genève’s marketing and advertising for the Polarouter heavily relied on this airborne connection, with the watch being advertised as ‘first over the pole’ and ‘pilot-tested around the globe’. This was a great marketing ploy long before Omega’s moon watch was even conceived and surely contributed hugely to the watch’s success.
Whilst the Polarouter originally adorned the wrists of the SAS pilots, it wasn’t long before the standard model was released to consumers eager to buy into the golden age of flight and the glamour of international travel.
First introduced as the Polarouter in 1954, Universal Genève decided to remarket the watch as the Polerouter in 1955, allegedly to make pronunciation easier for Americans.
Universal Genève Polarouter - the early references
With production runs of the original Polarouter being very short, it’s fairly easy to summarise the early models. They were approx. 35mm in diameter, and initially featured the caliber 1388 SS ‘bumper’ movement, a fairly rudimental design and not really very attractive. It was quickly upgraded to the famous micro-rotor movement, the caliber 215 which had an impressive 60-hours power reserve.
Date and non-date versions were available and there was a choice of four dial colours – black, gold, silver or white – all of which featured dauphine hands. Gold capped versions were also offered. Other differences in these very early Polarouter models were very minor, such how much of the dial text the crosshair lines cut through and a technical change in the way the plexiglass was fitted.
These very early Polarouter examples are hard to come by and it’s safe to say that collectors love them. Prices, even for examples in relatively poor condition, are likely to be only heading in one direction!
The evolution from Polarouter to PolerouterMove the clock forward to 1955 and, sensing that they were losing out on sales to what was potentially their biggest market, the USA, Universal Genève rebranded the watch by simply changing one letter. Yes, it was to become the Polerouter! Allegedly Americans were having problems with pronouncing Polarouter.
An early Universal Genève Polerouter Date, circa 1965 - Image Credit: @byitscover1
The ‘new’ Polerouter started out by using the upgraded micro-brand rotor movement, the caliber 215 which had far superior finishing to the 'bumper' movement and was technologically more advanced. Again, date and non-date versions were available.
From here on in, this is where things get complicated for the collector. Literally hundreds of variants were made and there is no comprehensive record of every model every produced, although universalgenevepolerouter.comhas certainly had a good crack at it.
To summarise though, throughout the Polerouter’s existence Universal Genève used different case materials (stainless steel or 18ct yellow gold, rose gold or white gold), a multitude of different handsets and dial text/crosshairs, and several movement variants including the ‘bumper’, the 215 and the 218. They also tried different case shapes, although by far the most ubiquitous was the one with Bombe lugs. Diameters for the standard Polerouters ranged from 33.5mm to 35.5mm.
The Universal Genève Polerouter with micro rotor and black dial - Image Credit: @byitscover1
As the Polerouter was manufactured for a couple of decades, buyers have plenty to choose from, although prices have certainly crept up in recent years. This is probably due to combination of factors. Firstly, the price of vintage watches generally is at an all-time high. Secondly, collectors began to appreciate that they were perhaps undervalued in comparison to other better-known watches of similar ilk. Finally, it’s still a relatively affordable way to get onboard the Genta bandwagon!
Prices on Chrono24 range from around £800 to around £3-5k for the best precious metal ones, with most examples selling for between £1k and 2k.
Beside the rarity value in the bumper models, it’s undeniable that the later micro-rotor movement is more sophisticated and advanced, with a 60-hour power reserve and considerably better finishing.
Although there are hundreds of unique references, the design language for the most part stays consistent, with an elegant, simple dial and typical 50s style.
One of the most distinctive features of many Polerouters is the distinctive fluted chapter ring, broken only by the indices at the hour markers. A double width 12 o’clock marker makes it easy to orientate, and the crosshair dial markings are present on most versions. Date versions feature a three o’clock date window with a trapezoid shape, sometime with a cyclops, sometimes without.
The majority of Polerouters featured twisted or ‘Bombe’ lugs similar to the Omega Speedmaster, but there are exceptions to the rule such as ref: 869113 feature straight lugs.
The Universal Genève Polerouter's distinctive bombe lugs - Image Credit: @byitscover1
Polerouter date and non-date versions are the most popular references within the family of Polerouters. However, such was the success of the Polerouter that UG released many other variants including the Polerouter Jet, Polerouter Deluxe, Polerouter Geneve, Polerouter Day/Date and even a Polerouter Sub.
An example of a Universal Genève Polerouter DeLuxe in 18ct gold - Image Credit: @byitscover1
The downsides to owning a Polerouter
Of course, whilst the design of the Polerouter endures, many watch enthusiasts are, quite rightly, cautious about buying vintage watches. Sometime this is as a result of lack of knowledge and confidence, but often it’s more likely to be because of concerns over delicate, reliability and cost of ownership…
…Enter the G-01 Arctic Edition, Geckota’s take on the Polerouter
The stunning Geckota G-01 Arctic Editions - Image Credit: Geckota
Take one look at the dial and you can immediately see that the Arctic Edition features a stunning golden fluted chapter ring that lovers of the original Polerouter will appreciate. Although in our own twist on it, the chapter ring on the G-01 Arctic Edition is actually recessed on a dial layer beneath the main dial. The trapezoid-shaped hour markers too pay homage to the 50s watches but unlike the Polerouter, they extend inwards of the chapter ring and are applied which helps bring added depth to the dial.
The hour markers at 12, 3, 6 and 9 are longer than the other hour markers and lead into the crosshair design, a feature of the original Polerouter.
The Geckota G-01 Arctic Edition in Red - Image Credit: Geckota
The crosshair design cue splits the dial into quadrants and helps brings balance to the face. All in all, the G-01 Arctic Edition is the perfect modern take on the retro cool of 50s/60s that will take you back to the golden era of flight and even the glamour of hollywood.
Vintage inspired style, but with modern materials and technologyBut whilst the vibe of the G-01 Arctic Edition might be retro, the manufacturing of it is anything but!
Our new G-01 Arctic Edition is fitted with the accurate and ultra-reliable Seiko NH35 automatic movement, so you won’t have any of the issues that fill would-be vintage watch collectors with dread. And of course, it’s a joy to watch the seconds tick away thanks to the lovely smooth sweep of the seconds hand, something synonymous with premium mechanical watches.
The Geckota G-01 Arctic Edition in Blue - Image Credit: Geckota
The 316L stainless steel case combines brushed and polished finishes and is a modern 42mm diameter, but with a manageable 45mm lug to lug length and 12mm thickness. The Arctic’s drilled lugs also help make strap changes easier.
The Arctic Editions feature stunning sunburst fumé dials which darken towards the outside edge and add extra dynamism to an already beautiful watch. You can choose from either scintillating red with gold accents or arctic blue with gold accents. This is a certainly a watch that comes to life when the light catches it.
The Geckota G-01 Arctic Edition in Red - Image Credit: Geckota
The G-01 also features a curved sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating, which is tough, scratch resistant and adds to the sense of luxury.
It even has 200m water resistance, thanks to a screw down crown, so you can be confident in wearing it for any occasion, from the office to the beach or even snorkelling with an appropriate strap change!
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