Universal Genève Cabriolet
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Universal Genève Cabriolet

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of watches. Although the industry’s insular nature lends a certain air of mystery to each brand’s proceedings, it’s happened several times in horological history that several different brands have—independently—come up with the same idea.

For example, reversible watches.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is probably the first one that springs to mind. From its romantic, almost whimsical origin story (a watch designed for polo!) to its current status as the flagship of JLC’s catalog, the Reverso has become nothing short of an icon. But it is neither the first—nor the only—reversible watch to exist.

Cartier released the Tank Basculante in 1933, two years after the Reverso was minted. With its distinctive swinging frame, it resembles a seesaw, hence its name—from the French bascule. Another reversible watch is the Hamilton Otis, which actually used the same case design—penned by Alfred Chauvot—as the Reverso.

And yet neither the Basculante nor the Otis is as old as this watch: the Universal Genève Cabriolet.

The idea of a reversible watch or clock is not a new one. In 1914, a watchmaker named Louis van Bemmel registered a patent for a reversible clock. Although the case of van Bemmel’s design was round, the notion of a clock whose case could be flipped over had taken root.

Fourteen years later, Universal Genève would apply that concept to a watch: the Cabriolet—three years before the Reverso was created. Like the later and arguably more famous Reverso, the Cabriolet featured a smaller rectangular case that rested in a larger outer frame. A screw at 6 o’clock allows the wearer to pop out the inner case, rotate it, and then snap it back into place.

The idea was revolutionary, and should have enjoyed great success, but the problems posed by a too-large balance spring saw that the Cabriolet was not long for this world. A few years after being introduced, it was discontinued. Upon the introduction of the Reverso, the Cabriolet was eclipsed, not to see the light of day until it 2008, when it was reissued in a limited run for the manufacture’s centennial.

While the name of the Cabriolet’s designer has sadly been lost to time, one must acknowledge his ingenuity. And although it may seem like too much of a coincidence that it and the Reverso were created so close in time to each other, no evidence of creative cross-pollination exists. We must, therefore, chalk it up to chance.

Surviving examples of the 1920s original are rarely seen, and are often in rough shape. We count ourselves fortunate indeed to have found one in such excellent cosmetic condition. Treated to a recent mechanical overhaul, this is a rare example of a historically significant watch from a well-known manufacturer.

Details

SKU: AS02262

Stainless steel case is approximately 24mm X 43mm. Circa 1920s.

Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition overall, showing moderate signs of use and wear. Dial is in very good condition showing some signs of age, including patina throughout. Unsigned crown.

Includes one 18mm Topps steel brick link bracelet.

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