This Universal Genève Space-Compax is undoubtedly one of the best looking vintage chronographs to appear on the blog so far.
(Click pictures to enlarge)
Founded as “Universal Watch” by Ulysse Georges Perret and Numa-Emile Descombes in 1894, the company only really established themselves as a watch manufacturer after the recruitment of Louis Edouard Berthoud as a co-manufacturer of complications in 1897. The company relocated from Le Locle to Geneva in 1919, and registered the name “Universal Genève” in 1937.
Universal Genève are recognised for their chronographs and are said to have produced the first ever chronograph wristwatch in 1917. The term “Compax” too, although often used to describe any chronograph with one or more subdials, can be attributed to Universal Genève as it was the cornerstone of their range.
The Compax range comprised five models, the most complicated being the Tri-Compax which featured running seconds, a 12 hour chronograph, perpetual calendar, and moon phase.
The other models were, in ascending order of complexity; the Uni-Compax (single minute-recording subdial), Compax (12 hr chronograph), Dato-Compax (12 hr chronograph and date subdial) and Aero-Compax (12 hr chronograph and second time zone subdial)
Another watch that UG are famous for is the Polerouter. First introduced in 1954 and designed by the legendary watch designer Gerald Genta, the Polerouter started life with a bumper automatic calibre, the 138SS, before being updated in 1955 with a calibre that UG has become renowned for, the cal. 215 ‘Microtor”. The micro-rotor design integrates the winding mechanism into the calibre resulting in a much thinner watch.
Though the majority of Polerouters manufactured during the 15 year production run were dress watches, two diver’s models were also produced, both branded “Polerouter Sub”; one featuring a super-compressor case with and internal bezel, and another similar in style to the chronograph in this post.
Despite an almost unbroken track record of success, the ‘wheels came off’ for UG as a company due to a number of ill judged management decisions. In the late 1960’s with electronic watches on the horizon, UG made the bold decision of going all-in and replaced the majority of the mechanical models in their line-up with electronic equivalents which were much cheaper to produce; initially with tuning fork calibres (the Unisonic range) and later with quartz calibres.
As UG was owned by the company at the forefront of electronic developments at the time, Bulova, the decision was not unsurprising but it proved disastrous for UG as their reputation for quality (often being cited as the “poor man’s Patek Philippe”) was very quickly lost.
The company did survive, but it never really recovered its reputation and consequently the vintage UG watches are now much more popular with collectors.
The subject of this post, the Space-Compax, was a later edition to the Compax range and despite the somewhat confusing ‘Space’ moniker, was designed primarily as a diver’s chronograph as it incorporated a rotating external bezel, a screw down crown, and rubber capped pushers for additional water resistance.
The model in this post is referred to as the second generation Space-Compax, the first having a different dial design featuring a much more prominent ’12’ marker and contrasting subdials.
Both versions were introduced in what was arguably the most interesting period of the Compax story, the 1960’s, when the whole range was redesigned, resulting in much bolder dial designs and more imposing hands. All the Compax models were revised accordingly, but the Uni-Compax in particular became a real eye-catcher.
(Picture: Paul Gavin at Heuerworld.com)
Inside the Space-Compax is a calibre that I’ve written about several times on the blog, the excellent Valjoux cal. 72, which just needed a regular service this time. From a cosmetic perspective the watch was in excellent condition too, the only negatives being slight deterioration of the lume in the subdial hands and a greasy residue covering the hands which just needed to be carefully removed.
Here’s the watch all finished up… another watch on my ever expanding wish list! 🙂
** Many thanks to Ben Molyneux for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **