Universal Geneve Tri-Compax "Eric Clapton"

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax "Eric Clapton"

Universal Genève, the once obscure Swiss manufacture known only to the most illuminated watch aficionados is now the stuff of collecting legend. Founded in Le Locle in 1894, the brand established itself from its earliest days as a manufacturer of in-house movements of exceptional quality. The acquisition of movement designer and complications expert Louis Eduoard Berthoud in 1897 ensured Universal Genève's supremacy in the development of complicated watches into the 20th Century.

By the 1930s, Universal Genève recognized a need for chronograph wristwatches for military and motorsport applications, and answered that need with the introduction of the Compur in 1933 and the Aero Compax in 1936. It is with these chronographs that Universal Genève excelled and pushed into the public view. Their Compax line of chronographs--which spawned such variations as the Medico and Uni-Compax models, among others--quickly attracted the attention of some of Europe's elite, including the Dutch royal family, who granted a royal warrant to Universal Genève in 1939 to supply chronographs to the Dutch military. 

Perhaps the most iconic variation of the Compax, which has gained a kind of reverential reputation that very few other chronographs have attained, is the Tri-Compax. Debuting in the 1950s, the Tri-Compax features a full calendar--day, date, month--and a moon-phase complication in addition to the registers requisite of chronographs. On paper, a dial with so much information on it may come across, initially, as being unnecessarily busy, but the beauty of the Tri-Compax is how aesthetically pleasing and legible a watch it is. The registers are perfectly balanced on the dial, among the dart hour indices surmounted by luminescent hour plots. It's truly one of the most advanced chronograph wristwatches of the era, and certainly one of the highest quality, deserving of the reputation it's gained over the past few years.

Many early Tri-Compaxes came in gold or were gold plated, and attracted the appreciation of such august personages as President Harry Truman. However, it's the later sports models of the Tri-Compax--like their "Nina Rindt" Compax cousins--with their handsome and sturdy steel cases and distinctive "panda" dials that have entered the pantheon of horological icons. One such Tri-Compax, the reference 881101/01, is often referred to by the name of the famous person who wore it: none other than celebrated guitarist (and watch aficionado) Eric Clapton.

The "Eric Clapton" Tri-Compax was introduced in 1967. Powered by the Caliber 281, which was first introduced in the 1930s, ranks among the most important chronograph calibers, in that it was the first to feature a calendar complication. Produced by ébauche manufacturer Martel, the Caliber 281 was also used by Zenith and saw three decades of inclusion in some of the most iconic models of chronograph, not least among them being the "Eric Clapton" Tri-Compax.

Our Clapton is among the earliest executions of the Reference 881101, and bears a "Mark I" dial with a blued steel central chronograph hand, which in later versions would be red. This alone makes it distinctive and attractive, but our chronograph is also accompanied by the full compliment of box, papers, and hang tag, and comes on a genuine Universal Geneve branded leather strap with stainless steel buckle. In this complete condition, it is a excellent example of an early execution of this iconic chronograph, and we are certain it ranks among the finest on offer today. 


Stainless steel case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown). Reference 881101/01. Universal Genève Calibre 281 Movement. Circa 1967.

Overall Condition: The stainless steel case is in excellent condition with sharp bevels and only the slightest wear marks visible. Light oxidation is visible on the pump pushers. Tachymetre bezel bear very minor flaking, but is in otherwise very good condition. Panda dial is in superb condition with crisp printing and no major blemishes or signs of discoloration. Luminescent elements on the hour plots have aged to a fine even patina that is matched by that on the hands. Signed crown; unsigned case back shows some light tool marks.

Includes one black 19mm lizard Universal Genève strap with signed steel buckle and two 19mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle.

Also includes original box, papers, and hang tag.

SKU: AS01478

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