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As the name suggests, Universal Genève was a company that was founded on a principle of universality. While a horology student, co-founder Ulysse Perret envisioned a future where his Swiss-made watches would have an appeal that far surpassed the bounds of the valley in which he lived. That dream was made manifest in 1894, when he founded a company with his friend and schoolmate Numa-Emile Descombes and named it Universal Watch.
It wasn’t until 1919, twenty-five years after the company's inception, that the company moved to Geneva and acquired the appellation Universal Genève. Despite this move, the company’s products never lost their universal appeal, particularly as the dawning of World War II meant that the manufacture would find a market in the military sector. Increased demand for wristwatches suited for combat prompted Universal to release specially-designed military chronographs like the Aero-Compax (dubbed “Aviator’s Compact Chronograph”), which were used by various militaries of the world, including the Netherlands.
Switzerland’s neutrality during World War II also ensured that Swiss goods were exported to international buyers with no basis on their country’s alliance, reputation, or political standing. In Europe, Universal Genève struck a deal with Hermès, creating a major sales hub for all Universal brand watches in Europe until the 1950s. Across the Atlantic, the Henry Stern Agency—the U.S. distributor for Patek Philippe—became an official Universal Genève importer for North America.
Universal Genève watches found their way onto the wrists of persons as varied and far-flung as the Royal Family of the Netherlands, President Harry S Truman, and even Hermann Göring, the second-in-command to Adolf Hitler. The night before Göring's scheduled execution, he presented his Universal Genève Compax to his guard during the Nuremberg Trials, Lt. Jack Wheelis. Though this gesture could be interpreted as a sign of the prisoner's gratitude for humane treatment, perhaps it's no coincidence that Göring would die, not by the hanging to which he had been sentenced, but by ingesting cyanide.
If the first half of the 20th century was marked by Universal’s emergence into a global market, then the 1950s and 1960s were when Universal sustained their reputation—sometimes even surpassing it. Luminaries like Nina Rindt and Eric Clapton proudly displayed their Universal Genève chronographs, which in recent years has incited a fervor for collectors as they race to acquire the “Nina” or “Clapton” Compaxes.
But the encroaching Quartz Crisis in the 1970s caused the wheels of Universal’s progress to grind to a shuddering halt. In this decade, the company decided to introduce a quartz movement and phase out automatics, which was met with derision in Europe. Universal instead attempted to focus their efforts on the Japanese market, where the innovation of quartz technology had originated.
After a number of tough years, Universal Genève was eventually purchased in 1989 by investment firm Stelux Holdings International; this later allowed the manufacture to release watches with automatic movements in them, and even a chronograph or two.
This model, the Compax 1950 (Reference 884.480), took for its inpsiration the acclaimed Compax of the 1960s. Its sharp, twisted lugs and bezel give it a silhouette that’s similar to the Omega Speedmaster. The dial, too, is familiar, with the "panda" color-way that characterized some of the more exotic dial versions of the "Nina Rindt."
In light of the Compax's popularity in recent years, this reissue—with its unflagging faithfulness to the original of the 1960s—poses a unique value proposition, tirelessly enjoyable in its own right.
Available exclusively at Marshall Pierce
Stainless steel case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown and pushers). Universal Genève Reference 884.480. Lemania Calibre 1873 manually-wound chronograph movement. Circa 1990s.
Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition with sharp bevels on the lugs and minor signs of use and wear in keeping with its age. Bezel is likewise in very good condition with crisp printing. Dial is in excellent condition with crisp printing. Universal Genève signed screw-down crown. Case back has some light signs of use and wear but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one NATO style nylon strap with gold tone hardware, not pictured.
Analog/Shift stands behind the authenticity of our products in perpetuity.
We back each Analog/Shift vintage timepiece with a one-year mechanical warranty from the date of purchase.
All of our watches include complementary insured shipping within the 50 states. We are happy to hand deliver your purchase in Manhattan or you may pick it up at our showroom.
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