What would a return of the Universal Genève Polerouter look like? What would a return of the Universal Genève Polerouter look like?

What would a return of the Universal Genève Polerouter look like?

Adam Reeder

The Universal Genève Polerouter is one of those collector favourite designs of the mid-twentieth century. It also happens to have been designed by one of the most iconic watch designers of the time. A 23-year-old Gerald Genta conceived the watch as his first major project in Swiss watchmaking. It was launched in 1954 and made generous use of the Art Deco style that had been en vogue for the better part of the past three decades. With its concentric circles and industrial metal ring circling the minute track, the Polerouter dial was as stylish as it was legible.

With the recent purchase of Universal Genève by Breitling for $70 million, we should see the return of the brand very soon, reviving some of its classic pieces. One would hope the Polerouter would be one of those designs. The last classic mechanical Polerouter was released in 1969. With that in mind, why not envision what a return of the famed watch might look like? It’s time for a little make-believe.


universal geneve polerouter micro rotor

The original Polerouter designs fluctuated in size from the initial 35mm width to the final release sticking close to the original at 36mm. While smaller watches have slowly been creeping back into the modern market, this trend has only gone so far, with many seeming to settle around the 38mm mark. While there are plenty of new watches smaller than that, this has become the industry standard at the moment for many heritage models. In keeping with the original spirit of the Polerouter, it could be released in 37mm, but that could be a risk. One millimetre could be the difference between universal appeal (see what I did there?), and total failure, though I might be too skeptical.


universal geneve polerouter de luxe ref 10357 3

This is where the rubber meets the road. As a Genta-designed watch, the Polerouter would surely not stray far from the creator’s original design. After all, why release a heritage model if it doesn’t share the majority of its design DNA with the original? One would imagine the new Polerouter dial as a nearly one-to-one reproduction of the original, merely sized up for a modern wrist.

The best bet would be to release two variants initially to test the market waters. The first would probably be a white or black dial, with a silver-coloured outer ring and stainless steel case. The second might be a gold variant with a black dial and gold outer ring. These would offer both a more casual, and a dressier option. The dial would include the trademark crosshair pattern and small lume pips at each hour marker. The handset would consist of dauphine hands with lume and alternating brushed and polished sides – which brings up the issue of finishing.


Breitling Universal Geneve 06 Universal Geneve watchmakers working in the factory ca 1960s

The finishing on vintage Universal Genève watches was not to a haute horlogerie standard, as they were often considered the step below a complicated Patek Philippe. This is something that a brand reborn will need to address. Modern finishing techniques have become easier and cheaper, so it shouldn’t be difficult for a new Polerouter to display a bit more attention to detail than previous generations.

This may be the biggest question mark of the entire endeavour. What movements the Polerouter (or any relaunched Universal Genève) may choose will really depend on where they plan to position themselves in the market. Creating fully in-house movements for the rebirth, while an exciting prospect, may be a bridge too far when considering how doing so may drive up the per unit price of the watches.

Does that mean Universal is to position itself alongside brands like Longines? Longines makes ample use of ETA-based movements with varying levels of modification. But that would perhaps go against the historic pricing of the brand, as they were above an entry level brand such as Longines. One thing that would be great to see included in a relaunch would be a micro-rotor movement, perhaps working with Vaucher and a variant of the VMF 5401? This was something of a speciality for Universal Genève, and so to see these fan favourite calibres return in the modern era would certainly keep the passionate collectors happy.

It is also possible that we see a movement developed in collaboration with Kenissi, as Breitling has worked with them in the past. But they don’t have much of a specialty in micro-rotor movements, which feels like it would need to be included in a new Polerouter.

Speaking of price, that will be perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle that will determine whether the new Universal Genève will be a success or not. One would imagine that Universal Genève would instantly have a horde of watch geeks clamouring to pay almost anything for a new model. However, the brand will need to appeal to a broader audience if it’s to survive. I’m hoping that means mid-range, Rolex-like pricing for the Polerouter, though if the new management chooses to go the in-house route, I can easily see it treading into Jaeger-LeCoultre territory.

The odds

universal geneve polerouter

The moment it was announced that Breitling had acquired the Universal Genève name, hearts were a flutter at the prospect of the brand’s return. However, no formal announcement has been made to date regarding the fate of the beloved brand or its heritage catalogue. Nevertheless, Universal Genève fans rejoice! Breitling would not have shelled out $70 million to let the vaunted brand sit idly on a shelf for decades. The brand is likely to return with a heavy reliance on heritage, much like Breitling as of late. It’s unfathomable to think that the Polerouter wouldn’t be one of the biggest jewels in that crown. I know it may be difficult to quell the thought of slipping a shiny new 38mm Polerouter on your wrist, however, you’re not in this waiting game alone. We’re all pining for the rebirth of this watch, but I firmly believe it will come.