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The Universal Geneve Polerouter

Upon sparking conversations concerning pilot’s watches, the first name to be uttered will almost always be that of Rolex’s GMT Master. After pushing the discussion a little further, and IWC’s famed Big Pilot will surely come up, but those who really want to stand out and educate their peers on a thing or two will make mention of one less obvious contender within the category. Much to the surprise of many newer collectors, the rich history of the Universal Geneve Polerouter’s origins lie in Scandinavian skyfaring. In recent years the buzz surrounding the celebrated timepiece has focused on its increasingly famed designer. However, as is the case with many of our favorite timepieces, the history of the watch itself makes the Polerouter all the more compelling.

While the story of the watch itself begins in 1954, it would only be appropriate to start with the pioneering air travel routes which directly resulted in its existence. Beginning in 1952, the Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) first began to fly DC-6B commercial aircraft across trans-arctic routes, and in just two years’ time, they’d soon introduce the first flight to travel over the geographical North Pole with their Copenhagen to Los Angeles route. By taking the road less traveled, so to speak, the SAS was able to cut down total flight times by as much as 14 hours, positioning themselves as a force to be reckoned with amongst the ranks of commercial airlines.

Naturally, the SAS wished to commemorate their breakthrough with a timepiece, but not just any would do, as the extreme magnetic fields which characteristic the Poles were known to hinder the accuracy of both navigation and timekeeping instruments. With this in mind, the airline approached its official supplier of watches, Universal Geneve, who was more than eager to tackle the task at hand. The result of their efforts was the first chapter in the Polerouter’s history, which interestingly enough wasn’t known as the Polerouter.

Polerouter advertisement This AD was published in the German SAS timetable of 1957
SAS crew members Inspecting and adjusting their SAS co-branded Polarouters
Universal Genève 'SAS' POLAROUTER, REF 20217-6 (Image Sothebys) LOT SOLD. 12,500 CHF (Sothebys: IMPORTANT WATCHES AUCTION 13 NOVEMBER 2018)

Designed by a then 24-year-old Gerald Genta, who’d famously go on to make a name for himself within the world of integrated bracelet watches like Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, the watch first emerged under the not too distant name of Polarouter. Examples of the watch in its original form featured the SAS logo on its dial and were awarded to members of the inaugural flight’s crew upon touching down for the first time in Los Angeles. Though only a couple hundred of these are believed to have been produced, the model would go on to enjoy a successful multiple decade production runs in the years to follow, as the official watch of SAS pilots and crew members.

 

Gerald Genta (1931-2011)

Apart from their anti-magnetic properties, the original Polarouters and later Polerouters were lauded for their good looks and high-grade calibers. Similar to later Omega Speedmasters, the Polerouter in its most common forms features twisted style lugs but was set apart from other watches thanks to the engine turned interior bezel which marks five-minute segments.

"What Is On My Wrist" Craft + Tailored

In the Craft + Tailored YouTube series “What Is On My Wrist”  C+T’s very own Cameron Barr discusses the Universal Geneve Polerouter and provides a brief historical overview of the “Polearouter” & “Polerouter” reference range. Be sure to check out this episode many others by checking out the C+T YouTube channel. Be sure to like comment and subscribe for the latest updates from the team here at Craft + Tailored

Beneath the case backs of the earliest offerings, one could find the Cal. 138 SS bumper movement, but perhaps more notable are the later Cal. 215 micro-rotor movements which would later power the watch in 1955. All it takes is a single glance to know that these aren’t your average tool-watch workhorse calibers, but instead true works of horological art.

In the years to come, the Polerouter name would extend past its aeronautical roots to address the dive watch market, but in the eyes of purists, it’ll always be a true pilot’s watch. While it might lack certain complications that have earned others cachet, its timeless style simply can’t be argued with, especially when considering the accessible prices they still trade at in today’s market. For the perfect combination of value, historical significance, striking aesthetics, and mechanical sophistication. The Polerouter really can’t be beaten.

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