Timepiece Chronicle

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Reference Guide: Universal Geneve Tri-Compax - 1960 to 1969

Reference Guide: Universal Geneve Tri-Compax - 1960 to 1969

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/03. Photo courtesy of Phillip's.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/03. Photo courtesy of Phillip's.

The 1950s were a period of design transition for the Tri-Compax. Over the course of the decade, they evolved from dress watches to more sportier designs. In the 1960s, the design motifs remain the same through (for the most part) but the reference numbers change. Universal Geneve had used a five digit reference number system since the 1930s with each number corresponding to a different aspect of the watch (case material, type of movement, base plate size and visual design) but they switched to a six digit system in the 1960s. 

Bafflingly, this new system does not follow the rules set out by the five digit system. Now a watch with a steel case could have a reference number start with a 2 or an 8. Perhaps there is logic to this numbering system but I need to research more Universal Geneve watches outside of the Tri-Compax family to find it. 

As with the 1940s and 1950s guides, these watches are arranged by their reference number in ascending order, not their production date.

Ref. 222100/1

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. Ref. 222100/1. Photo courtesy of Christies

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. Ref. 222100/1. Photo courtesy of Christies

This Ref. 222100/1 has a beautiful brushed silver dial with chronograph registers with an engine-turned finish. The steel case is 35mm and it has those beautiful twisted/bombay lugs that are prevalent in Tri-Compax from this era. This watch is  powered by the Caliber 281 and it appears to have been intended for the French market.

Interestingly enough, this watch was available with a Gay Freres bracelet, as are other Tri-Compax from the 1960s. I've seen Tri-Compax on bracelets before but these have mostly been after-market bracelets purchased by owners and were not included with the watch at sale. It seems that as the Tri-Compax became more sporty in design, Universal Geneve approached Gay Freres to manufacture bracelets for the watch. 

Last week I included a Ref. 222100/1 in my Reference Guide for Tri-Compax from the 1950s. I'm including this piece here from Christies because its serial number lists it as being produced in the 1963. This is an example of what is so exciting (and at at the same time confusing) about vintage watches. Everything is possible when it comes to production years, dial configurations and movements, you just have to keep looking. 

Ref. 481101/03

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 481101/03. Photo courtesy of Antiquorum

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 481101/03. Photo courtesy of Antiquorum

This Tri-Compax Ref. 481101/03 dates to 1965/1965 yet it has design elements from earlier watches. Many Tri-Compax from the 1940s had an internal tachymeter scale on the dial but this design trend stopped during the 1950s. This watch has one, as well as the more traditional longer hash marks on the chronograph minute register.

This watch, as with many from the 1960s, has the Caliber 281 inside of it. 

Antiquorums lot description said this was 14kt gold however the reference guide I've been using says that this watch should have a gilded case (The first digit of the reference would have to be 5 for it to be 14kt). It's possible that there is an error in the description and it's always worth keeping that in mind when shopping for vintage watches. 

Ref. 881101/01

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/01. Photo courtesy of Watches of Knightsbridge

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/01. Photo courtesy of Watches of Knightsbridge

This is the first Tri-Compax that I've seen to have an external tachymeter bezel. Even though the case and dial design is very similar to watches from the 1950s, the inclusion of the bezel makes this watch look radically different. Much like the change in design on the Rolex Daytona from black to stainless steel bezel, this change totally alters the way the watch looks. 

The same twisted/bombay lugs are present, as are the circular pushers and screw-on case back, but this is the first Tri-Compax to have a panda dial. Throughout their twenty years of production, all Tri-Compax had sub-dials that were the same color (or every so slightly off) as the main dial.  The unnumbered hash marks on the minute register remain the same as from the 1950s however the hour register has been redesigned. Instead of individual hours marked by numbers, it now reads in 3 hour intervals with short dashes in between. 

The steel dauphine hands are similar to those found on the Ref. 22297/3 but the ends are flattened, rather than pointed. The central chronograph hand is fire tempered blued steel but there are versions with a bright red hand. Like all the Ref. 881101's, this watch is powered by the Caliber 281.

Eric Clapton and his Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/01.

Eric Clapton and his Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/01.

Of course, I have to remember to talk about the nickname for this watch, the Eric Clapton. Why Eric Clapton? Well because the legendary guitarist liked to wear one whilst performing.

Ref. 881101/02

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/02. Photo courtesy of analog/shift

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/02. Photo courtesy of analog/shift

The Ref. 881101/02 is practically identical to the /01 with the exception of the reverse panda dial. It has the same hands, sub dial design, bezel and case. Like the /03, the /02 also came on a Gay Freres signed bracelet. 

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/02 on a bracelet. Photo courtesy of Christies.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/02 on a bracelet. Photo courtesy of Christies.

Ref. 881101/03

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/03. Photo courtesy of Phillip's.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 881101/03. Photo courtesy of Phillip's.

This is one of, if not the, rarest Universal Geneve Tri-Compax from the 1960s. This is the third variation of the Ref. 881101 and this example from Philips is in exquisite condition.

The differences from /01 and /02 are the dial, hands, hour markers, the chapter ring and potentially the bracelet.

The /03 has a metallic blue dial and is one of the only Tri-Compax that I've found to have such a colored dial. Whilst the hands have similar size and shape to those seen on other references, they are bright white instead of the usual stainless steel. The small, squat hour markers are applied and are very different to the printed rectangular markers seen on /01 and /02. It also has a white chapter ring around the dial that is calibrated to 1/5th of a second with thicker blue markers every five minutes. The stainless steel bracelet is not signed Universal Geneve, but is instead signed by Gay Freres. 

This watch was made in 1968 and uses the Caliber 281.

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