Universal Genève Tri-Compax Moonphase
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Universal Genève Tri-Compax Moonphase

Why We Love It

The term 'Grail' in wristwatch collecting suggests a stature of rarity, excellence, historical significance, and an emotional 'X-Factor' that blurs the lines between reason and heart. Most of the time, however, the word is overused and applied simply to expensive watches that are hard to get new at retail. This is not one of those times.

The Universal Genève Tri-Compax line is one of the most desirable series of complicated vintage models ever made. Debuting before the Second World War, the Tri-Compax combines high-end manufacture with outstanding designs that evolved with the times, and offers the wearer chronograph, calendar, and moonphase functionality. While brands such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin may take the prize for the most expensive calendar chronographs, the mid-century offerings from Universal are absolutely mouth-watering.

The piece we have offered here is a Reference 881101/03, dating from the 1960s. It combines the signature HF twisted lug case design popularized by watches such as the Omega Speedmaster and Universal Genève 'Nina Rindt' chronographs with a complete calendar moonphase movement in the form of the Calibre .281. 

Sized at approximately 36mm, it sports an exceedingly rare and stunning navy sunburst dial with contrasting white subsidiary registers and an outer tachymètre bezel. Depending on lighting conditions the dial comes off as radiant blue to light grey, and offers a visual feast. Furthermore, there is a three-dimensionality to this reference that isn't as identifiable on others, with recessed sub-registers, day & month indicators, and moonphase, alongside raised luminous indices and a raised inner chapter ring with blue markings. Add on an acrylic crystal, correct Gay Freres multi-link bracelet with signed clasp, and a perfect level of patination, and you've got yourself a genuine, bonafide grail watch.

Values on this reference have begun to climb - but reach out to us, you might be surprised what you can take this example home for. It comes from the personal collection of our Founder, and he's got a wedding to pay for!

The Story

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.

Details

SKU: AS03090

AVAILABLE EXCLUSIVELY AT WATCHES OF SWITZERLAND SOHO

Stainless steel twisted lug case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown). Universal Genève Reference 881101/03. Calibre 281 Manual Winding Calendar Chronograph Movement. Circa 1960s.

Overall Condition: The case is in great condition overall, showing light wear consistent with age and use. Caseback engravings have been obscured by wear. Luminous blue sunburst 'Panda' dial is in very good condition throughout, showing light signs of patination and minor wear from age. Luminous handset shows matching patina. Signed crown.

Includes one 19mm Gay Freres stainless steel multi-link bracelet dated 1-69 with 'UP' end links and signed clasp.

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We back each Analog/Shift vintage timepiece with a one-year mechanical warranty from the date of purchase.

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