Timepiece Chronicle

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Reference Guide: Universal Geneve Tri-Compax - 1950 to 1959

Reference Guide: Universal Geneve Tri-Compax - 1950 to 1959

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/1. Photo courtesy of analog/shift.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/1. Photo courtesy of analog/shift.

Back in August of 2016, I published my first reference guide for the Universal Geneve Tri-Compax which covered the years 1944 to 1949. You should go check it out to see how much watch designs can change from decade to decade, it's a great read (If I do say so myself).

Earlier today, I uploaded two images that I think are invaluable for any collector looking to buy a Tri-Compax. The 'Fabrication Dates' of Universal Geneve watches dated 1930 to 1967 is available elsewhere but I wanted to make sure readers of Timepiece Chronicle could find it here as well. The 'Reference guide breakdown' explains the meaning behind the numbers found on the back of watches from 1930 to 1967. Click here to be taken to the two images.

This article is way overdue so I'm very pleased to have finally published it online. There are fewer Tri-Compax released in the 1950s but it's quite the task to track these watches down, confirm their production date and then find the differences between each model. (Also add in the fact that I'm always writing the reference numbers down wrong).

What makes things even harder is that the 1950s was a huge period of transition for Universal Geneve's design.

Over the course of the decade, Universal moved away from rectangular pushers and snap-on case backs to circular pushers and screw-down case backs. This happened at seemingly random points throughout the decade, making the Fabrication Dates sheet even more crucial.

One design constant in the 1950s was the use of drilled lugs. The lugs seen in the Tri-Compax from the 1940s were more decorative and often quite thin. The 1950s Tri-Compax lugs are thicker and all that I've seen have the drilled lugs. Drilled lugs are small holes that run through the end of the lug that allow quicker access to the spring bars.

This is by no means a complete guide and I will continue to add to this guide (and the 1940s one) as I find and confirm new watches. If you have any more Tri-Compax references, please email me at info@timepiecechronicle.com.

Like before, these watches are arranged in ascending order of reference number, not by production date.

Ref. 12285

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 12285. Photo courtesy of Matthew Bain.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 12285. Photo courtesy of Matthew Bain.

This Ref. 12285 dates to between 1949 and 1951. The pushers on the left hand side of the case are far more flush than most from the 1940s. This watch case is 18kt gold ( Denoted by the first digit of the reference number) and is one of the largest sizes at 37.5mm.

Whilst models from the 1940s had a cartoon smiling moon, more recent models like this have a solid gold disc instead. The applied arabic numerals and dart hour markers are stunning, as are the gold dauphine hands. This Tri-Compax, and many from the 1950s, lacks a blue tachymeter scale that was seen on most of the Tri-Compax from the 1940s.

Unlike older model, the register is numbered in five minute intervals but it has the long hash marks at 3,6 and 9. These hash marks are un-numbered, unlike certain Tri-Compax from the 1940s

Ref. 12296

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 12296. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 12296. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

This gorgeous 18kt pink gold Tri-Compax dates from between 1949 and 1951. Universal Geneve usually produced 100,000 watches a year but it took them three years to make watches marked 1,400,000 and 1,500,000. This watch has design hallmarks of the earlier style including the blue tachymeter, more delicate hands and a minute chronograph register split 3 minute intervals. It has very similar hour markers to the Ref. 12285 although these are in rose gold and the darts are thinner. The chronograph register is separated into 3 minute intervals and has numbered hash marks at 3,6 and 9. Inside the watch is the Caliber 481.

I've very rarely seen Tri-Compax on a bracelet and the lot description at Sotheby's only says that the case, dial and movement are signed, not the bracelet. I would guess that as the color of the case and bracelet aren't perfect that it was purchased at a later date.

Ref. 22297/1

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/1. Photo courtesy of analog/shift.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/1. Photo courtesy of analog/shift.

This Tri-Compax is really interesting. At some point in production in the early 1950s, Universal Geneve changed the location, arrangement and size of the reference and serial numbers. Before the text was small with the serial number stamped above the reference, now the text is larger and the reference number is now above the case number.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/1. Photo courtesy of analog/shift.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/1. Photo courtesy of analog/shift.

This watch dates to somewhere between 1952 to 1955. Given the high serial number (1,633,225) and the inclusion of a screw-on case back and circular pushers, I would wager this is a later piece, potentially 1954 or 1955. The polished 34mm case has some very short lugs compared to earlier pieces. The steel alpha hands have a thick channel for lume, as do the thick dart hour markers. Inside the watch is the Caliber 281.

Ref. 22297/2

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/2 . Photo courtesy of Watches of Knightsbridge

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/2 . Photo courtesy of Watches of Knightsbridge

Like the Ref. 12296, it is unclear exactly which year this Tri-Compax was produced. Serial numbers 1,600,000 to 1,700,000 were produced from 1952 to 1955 and this watch has a serial number of 1,666,228. Inside is the Caliber 281. This is one of the small mid-size cases, measuring 34mm. These smaller cases seem to be the ones with more pronounced calendar pushers on the left hand side. This watch still has the older style Universal Geneve Logo, a gear inside of the large, wide shield, engraved on the interior side of the case back.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/2 interior caseback . Photo courtesy of Watches of Knightsbridge

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/2 interior caseback . Photo courtesy of Watches of Knightsbridge

Like the Ref. 12285, this watch has a chronograph minute register split into intervals of 5 minutes yet it still keeps the unnumbered hash marks at 3,6,9. 

Something I haven't seen much before is the extreme cutaway digits at 3 and 9 (The 22297/1 had no such cutaways). These were printed on whilst the fat dart markers at the remaining hours were applied. There is no tachymeter around the edge of the dial. This particular watch appears to have meant for the French market as the day aperture reads JEU, an abbreviation of jeudi or Thursday in French.

The design variation (As denoted by the suffix of 2 after the reference number) seems to be the yellow gold dart markers and alpha hands along with the Arabic numerals cutaways at 3 & 9.

Ref. 22297/3

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/3. Photo courtesy of Antiquorum.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22297/3. Photo courtesy of Antiquorum.

This Tri-Compax has a 35mm steel case and is powered by the Caliber 281. The third variation on the Ref. 2297 has thin, faceted rectangular hour markers instead of the fat lume filled darts seen on the /1 and /2.  This piece also has thick steel dauphine hands rather than the alpha hands seen on previous versions. This watch has circular pushers and the screw-on case back. 

Whilst the seller's description of this watch states it was made in the 1960s, the Fabrication date of the serial number, 1,803,186,  places it in 1956.  Judging from the picture, I think I can make out a large U on the side of the crown. If that is the case then the crown is a later service replacement as that logo wasn't used until the late 1950s/early 1960s. 

 

Ref. 222100/1

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

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

If I'm totally honest, I'm not sure if this watch should belong in this article or the one about the 1960s. It's bears many similarities to pieces from the 1960s but its serial number (2,0XX,XXX) places right at the beginning of 1959.

The twisted lugs, also known as bombay lugs, are exquisite and are seen on the famous Universal Geneve Compax 'Evil Nina' Compax chronograph. At 36mm, you could consider this watch the perfect chronograph calendar size, especially with a design as excellent as this.

There are no external scales on the watch, only small minute markers and lume pips. The brushed silver dial is beautiful and accentuates the sunken registers which have their own circular finishing. The chronograph minute register is still split into five minute intervals and still has the hash markers at 3,6 and 9 but they are much smaller. The steel dauphine hands are thick and have a thin strip of lume in the middle of them. The faceted rectangular hour markers will be seen frequently in Tri-Compax from the 1960s.

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

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

Inside the watch is the Universal Geneve Caliber 281. On the inside face of the case back, there is the new Universal Geneve logo, with a large U inside a shield replacing the gear seen on earlier designs.

Ref. 522100/1

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 522100/1. Photo courtesy of Mathew Bain

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 522100/1. Photo courtesy of Mathew Bain

This Tri-Compax has a brushed 14kt gold case and measures 35mm. The seller blurred out the serial number so anything past the first two digits, 2 & 0, are unclear. Like the Ref. 22297/2, this watch as some design cues from both the 1950s and 1960s (circular pushers and screw-on case back) yet its serial number places it in early 1959.

The rectangular hour markers are more rounded than on the Ref. 222100/1 and are almost pill shaped. The date indicator hand on this piece appears to have been replaced at some point, as all nearly all Tri-Compax from this period have bright red hands.

Ref. 522101

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 522101. Photo courtesy of Matthew Bain.

Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 522101. Photo courtesy of Matthew Bain.

This Tri-Compax has a 14kt gold case, measures 36mm and has calendar pushers are slightly pronounced . The reason for this variation continues to baffle me, especially as Universal had three calendar chronograph movements at differing sizes.

Whilst this watch has the more modern circular pushers, the case back is still the circular push on seen in earlier models. It's fascinating to see how much Universal Geneve experimented with the design of these cases through the production of the Tri-Compax. Like later pieces seen in the 1960s, this watch has twisted/bombay lugs which in yellow gold look spectacular. The faceted rectangular hour markers are stunning, as are the thick yellow gold dauphine hands.

The one major point of difference about this watch is the chronograph hour register. The font does not match any other Tri-Compax dial I've seen and at some point it may have been re-printed, though I cannot be certain (It is worth noting that the original description of the watch states that the dial is original). The base of the number 4 blurs into the square dot beneath it and the lower curve of the 3 looks way off.

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