Universal Genève Tri-Compax "Eric Clapton"
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Universal Genève Tri-Compax "Eric Clapton"

Eric Clapton's skill as a guitar player is absolutely legendary, and so is his taste in watches. Known for once owning a Patek Philippe platinum chronograph that sold at auction at Christie's for $12 million, it's not surprising to find that his love of watches runs deep. Photos snapped of the blues legend during his tenure with the band Cream show him wearing a distinctive and highly desirable chronograph.

We mean, of course, a Universal Genève Tri-Compax that's become so associated with him that collectors refer to it by name--his name, that is. 

But Universal Genève's history runs deep as well, and the "Clapton" Tri-Compax is only one (highly-recognizable) example of an excellent chronograph. 

Founded in Le Locle in 1894, Universal Genève 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. The Compax line of chronographs--first launched in the 1930s--quickly attracted the attention of some of Europe's elite. 

But the Tri-Compax is perhaps the most iconic variation of the Compax, which has gained a kind of reverential reputation that very few other chronographs have attained.

Debuting in the 1940s, 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 people like President Harry Truman. However, it's the later sports models of the Tri-Compax 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. It's powered by the Caliber 281, which ranks among the most important chronograph calibers, in that it was the first to feature a calendar complication. Aside from that milestone, the Reference 881101/01 was the first reference of Tri-Compax to feature an external tachymeter on the bezel, an addition which updated the old-fashioned case and made it look sharp and new. 

Our Clapton is among the earliest executions of the Reference 881101, and bears a first execution dial with red calendar and second hands. 

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