Speed Demon: The Universal Geneve 'Evil Nina' Compax
Initially introduced in 1935, the Universal Geneve Compax has seen many iterations over the years and gradually it became one of the coolest looking sports watches from the 1960's. It wasn't until 2006 however that a certain Universal was given it's celebrity name when someone on Chronocentric posted a picture of Finnish model Nina Rindt wearing a panda dialed chronograph. After some guessing and research it was discovered to be a Universal Geneve Compax Ref. 885103/03 and the name has stuck with the watch ever since.
Nina and her Formula 1 driver husband Jochen had some of strongest watch game of any power couple. Photos of Nina show that she could pull off California girl denim chic just as well as a flat cap and leather jacket and her elegantly androgynous style worked wonderfully with the Compax. She is probably the only person, other than Robert Redford, who is able to wear a watch on leather bund and make it look good. Jochen was no slouch either and was frequently seen wearing a Heuer Autavia Ref. 2446M on a Gay Freres 'beads-of-rice' bracelet.
Like many other race car drivers of the period, including Jochen's idol Wolfgang von Trips, Jochen's career was tragically cut short. During the 1970 Italian Grand Prix, a faulty brake shaft caused him to lose control whilst cornering and he collided with a poorly installed crash barrier, the impact killing him instantly. Jochen remains to this day the only Formula 1 driver to have won the World Drivers' Championship posthumously with Nina collecting his trophy at the end of the season.
Powered by the legendary Valjoux 72 hand-wound movement, the Compax is a fantastic example of sixties design. Large thick black hands stand out in contrast to the creamy dial with white uniform rectangular hands balancing against the dark registers nicely. The lugs are perhaps my favorite part of this watch, they twist outwards in such a seductive way that betrays the Compax's dress watch roots.
When the black dialed version of the Compax started to gain popularity it was imaginatively dubbed "Evil Nina". It is this evil watch that is the first lot at today's Christies auction and what a way to start it off! There are more expensive, more complicated and more beautiful watches on sale but as a symbol of the changing tastes in the market there perhaps is no better example than the UG Compax.
Long gone are the days when Universal Geneve 'Nina Rindt' Compax were considered a budget buy. Just five years ago they were considered cheaper alternatives to more recognizable classics like the Omega Speedmaster and Rolex Daytona but now their prices are climbing ever higher and higher. In 2013 it was still an $8000 watch but in the last three years there have been sales of Nina Rindts for $19,000, $22,000 and $23,000. In just a few minutes an Evil Nina will be the first lot at Christies and whilst the estimate is between $8,000 and $12,000, I fully expect this to go for over $20,000. (Update: This watch ended up selling for $9000 + buyers premium. So I was completely wrong at my guess! That bidder certainly got a great deal on that watch).
Not only is the watch in near perfect condition with the case and brilliant curved lugs all unpolished, it has the applied steel logo and thin blued register hands that are the hallmarks of an early model. This is backed up by the extract from the Universal Geneve archives that dates this model to 1965. The chronograph registers are all engine turned with a gorgeous LP like groove running around them. Whilst the bezel has several scratches from years of use, it has the "Dot over 90" feature that matches that of certain Speedmasters. It is strange how little, some might say inconsequential, details like a dot over a digit can affect the price of a watch.
What makes the sale of the Compax even more delicious (and makes me all the more envious as well) is that the current owner found the watch in a thrift store. For $2.99. Whilst it's no Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, it's still one hell of a find. The best I can do I can usually muster are broken Casios and several sad looking Timex but I still hold out hope.
For more information about the Universal Geneve 'Evil Nina" Compax for sale at Christies, click here.
- analog/shift: Universal Geneva Compax
- Chronocentric: Nina Rindt w. Chronograph
- Bloomberg: Monday Morning Find: Universal Geneve 'Evil Nina' Chrongraph
- Christies : Sale 12160, Lot 1: Universal Geneve, A Fine Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch
- Fratello Watches: Heuer Autavia 2446 'Jochen Rindt"
- Hodinkee: Found Tropical Universal Geneve Nina Rindt Compax Chronograph
- Man's Fine Life: Watch Collectors Notebook - The 'Nina Rindt' Compax and how markets are made for vintage watches today
- Petrolicious:How Jochen Rindt's Chronograph Became a Racing Icon
- Timepiece Chronicle: Lost to Time Universal Geneve
- Wikipedia: Jochen Rindt