5 of our favourite Universal Genève references 5 of our favourite Universal Genève references

5 of our favourite Universal Genève references

Borna Bošnjak

In the wake of Breitling’s acquisition of sleeping giants Universal Genève, and as the resident T+T UG aficionado and oracle, I thought I’d take a look at some of my favourite references from the soon-to-be-revived brand. Picking only five, however, means that some amazing pieces would have to be omitted (like this cloisonné dial for the Saudi Arabian king or the well-known Clapton), so rather than choosing the best, if such a list could even objectively be made, I’m highlighting a mixture of fan-favourites and unexpected oddities.

White Shadow ref. 866142

universal geneve white shadow ref 866142 blue dial
Image courtesy of Analog:Shift

The White Shadow remains among the more accessible, distinct Universal Genève styles, with an incredible wealth of dial configurations and case shapes. You can go the classic tonneau route for a true-to-Genta-origins look, or opt for something like this – a rectangular, mosaic-dialled piece of ’70s weirdness. Though simple, its design is so well-considered and nothing seems out of place or unnecessary – from the rounded, stepped bezel and minimal pencil handset to the sunken-in crown and tiny lugs. Okay, maybe the detailed mosaic dial isn’t quite necessary, but you get my point. The funky dial is the centrepiece, and nothing detracts from it. If the mini mosaic isn’t quite funky enough, this micro-rotor powered White Shadow example also came with a blue quadrant dial.

Cairelli Split-Seconds ref. 22560

universal geneve a cairelli split seconds chronograph ref 22560
Image courtesy of The Watch Boutique

From a piece that many may consider as hailing after Universal Genève’s heyday, we go to a legendary watch that is the wet dream of UG and non-UG collectors alike. Produced in the 1950s on order from the Italian Air Force, the ref. 22560 uses a Valjoux 55 movement, adapted by the brand to display time in a military-friendly 24-hour format. The watch was sold by Roman supplier Cairelli that co-signed the dial, with the number of military and non-issued pieces numbering some 50 examples. It’s an ultra-rate, split-seconds, military-issued chronograph from the 1950s – what more do you need?

Tri-Compax ref. 12265

universal geneve tri compax ref 12265 wrist
Image courtesy of Wind Vintage

There is little I can add to the Tri-Compax conversation that hasn’t been said already. My favourite thing about them is just how aesthetically pleasing the entire package is. Yes, the dials are busy, but everything is legible, and on the index-only dials, nothing is cut off or obscured to sacrifice jamming in another indication. What’s even more impressive is that Universal Genève packed all of this into a 33mm case, and these solid gold examples may just be the best of the bunch. Still surprisingly affordable (in the realm of complicated vintage chronographs), it’s the only watch that properly captures the term “tri-compax”, referring to the number of complications it houses, rather than the sub-dial count. Anywhere they’re mentioned, you’re likely to see them called a baby Patek Philippe 1518, and that’s as good of a comparison as it gets in my book.

Film-Compax ref. 22522

universal geneve film compax ref 22522
Image courtesy of Phillips

If you thought the Cairelli is rare, I present the UG Film-Compax. With only eight known examples to have ever surfaced, many in less-than-ideal conditions, it offers a measuring scale seldom seen in watches. You’ll be all too familiar with tachymeters and pulsometers, but how about a scale that lets you measure the amount of film used in feet per second? Graduated for both 16mm and 35mm, the user can read the amount of filmed used from either the central chronograph seconds hand, or the minute totaliser at 3 o’clock. Not only is this an exceedingly rare model, the confusion is further exacerbated by the fact that not all ref. 22522s happen to be Film-Compax models – Sacha Davidoff and Mr. A broke down the history and minute details of this amazing watch better than I could in 150 words or so.


universal geneve polerouter

You can’t not have a Polerouter on this list. Admittedly, I may be more biased towards this watch than the average WIS, as I strongly believe that it is the most beautiful watch ever made. Fight me – though I suspect few will. As one of the first designs penned by the great Gérald Genta, sector dial, lyre lugs and micro-rotor movement make it a visual and technical delight, and that’s before you even get to the many variations.

universal geneve polerouter de luxe ref 10357 3
Image courtesy of MarktheTime

From the original SAS Polarouters and solid gold De Luxes to elusive Sub and mysterious NS, you can hardly go wrong with any single reference, but if I did have to pick one, it would be the 10357/3 with its black gilt dial and solid yellow gold case. Sans the minute markings before the gold rehaut and with lume-free dauphine hands, it’s the cleaner, dressed up version of the Polerouter I have the privilege of having sitting in my watch box.