Railrouter Universal Geneve

Railrouter Universal Geneve


In the late 1950s, US and Canadian railways started to make the transition from pocket watches to wrist watches.

Until then, wrist watches were deemed too irregular for railroad use, primarily because of the oscillation variance which could be introduced to a mechanical balance wheel through normal rotational wrist motion, particularly on a rattling train. Pocket watches were not exposed to such rotational motion in normal use and tended to have better regulation.

But design improvements led to wrist watches such as the Omega Railmaster,  the Girard Perregaux Railtimer and the model with the classic name, the Railrouter.



The collision between two trains in Kipton, Ohio in 1891, caused the death of the engineers on both trains and nine train crew.  A 4-minute error by a watch carried by an engineer on one train caused the “Great Kipton Train Wreck”.  This meant both trains were on the same rail line, instead of one train waiting in a siding until the other passed.

Alarmed by the accident, railroad officials commissioned Webb C. Ball, a jeweller and watchmaker who was then managing the local standard time to investigate the accident and establish a system for reliable railroad operation.

The saying “On the Ball” relates to his subsequent manufacturing of pocket watches by upgrading movements provided by others and then marketing these accurate pocket watches.

Kipton memorial

In 1893 Ball established a set of “Railroad Approved” standards applicable to the watches used by railroad workers.   The RR symbol was applied to such watches.

Standardization was put in place throughout the USA and “Railroad Time” became the standard. Watch companies such as Howard, Waltham, Elgin, Hamilton, Hampden and Vacheron & Constantin worked with Mr Ball and his new company, the Ball Watch Company, providing him with movements that he then standardized and upgraded to Railroad Standards and that bore the name of Ball Watch Company on the outside.

The Ball Watch Company is still among the top dozen manufacturers worldwide in terms of certificates received from the C.O.S.C. (Controle Suisse des Chronometers).

Ball watch movement: Universal Geneve Railrouter


The RR specifications ensured that a railroad worker could check the time correctly in an instant in the field.

Compared to other watches, railroad watches required higher air tightness, greater durability against vibration, and superior overall reliability. They had to withstand the high temperatures and constant vibrations the engineers were exposed to when stoking the locomotive boilers with coal. The accuracy specification, deviation by no more than 30 seconds per week, was very strict for the day.

Waltham Railroad Pocket watch

Waltham, Elgin, and Hamilton successfully made the railroad pocket watches to meet these strict standards in America, and Longines and Zenith joined the market in Switzerland, as well.

Each manufacturer used a big detached balance and wind-up hair spring to achieve high precision, as well as a dual roller table called the “double roller” to control the oscillation angle of the impulse pin.  All of the watches were also equipped with a fast/slow regulator to allow time adjustment by the second.

American watch companies evolved in later decades, basing their technologies on the high precision and reliability of pocket watches learned from the manufacture of railroad watches.

Waltham’s watch was selected as a standard railroad watch in many countries by dint of its high reliability. The Japanese Ministry of railroads (later the Japanese National railroads) adopted it as a standard railroad watch in 1897 and continued using it until Seikosha’s railroad watch, the “Seikosha,” superseded it in 1929.

Hamilton also produced a famously accurate railroad watch called the Broadway Limited.  The Hamilton company was formed in part to produce high-quality railroad watches.  The Broadway Limited was first produced in 1893 and quickly gained popularity among employees of the US railroads due to its high level of timekeeping accuracy.

By 1923, just over half of Hamilton’s pocket watch production comprised Railroad Grade watches, consisting of 17 jewels and 42-hour mainsprings.

The American Expeditionary Forces in WWI embraced the timepiece and adopted it as their official watch, and it was adapted to become a wrist watch, one being worn by General Pershing.

The watch was also employed by Admiral Byrd on his polar expeditions, as well as Auguste Picard on his pioneering balloon ascents in the 1930s.

Broadway: Universal Geneve Railrouter

The Hamilton Broadway Limited with a Montgomery dial.

Hamilton ad: Universal Geneve Railrouter


cp advert: Universal Geneve Railrouter

The CP Rail General Operating Instructions were specific about watch accuracy, and hence, specified approved watch models, and maintenance procedures.

Employees were required to purchase their own approved watches from, and to have them serviced regularly by, an approved Watch Inspector.

The General Operating Instructions listed the personnel requiring a Railway Grade Watch, together with the purpose.

“The aim and purpose of using approved watches is to ensure efficiency and safety. Correct time is of the utmost importance where the movement of trains is involved. The closest co-operation of all concerned is therefore important.”

“Every conductor, locomotive engineer, trainman, pilot, foreman, snow plow foreman and such other employees as the company may direct, shall, when on duty, use a railway approved watch and shall;
(i) be responsible to ensure that it is kept in proper working condition so that it does not reflect a variation of more than thirty seconds in a twenty-four hour period;
(ii) set it to reflect the correct time if it reflects a variation of more than thirty seconds;
(iii) not regulate its movement. “

The General Operating Instructions specified Railway Grade Watches

“Watch movements and cases used in service must be of the approved standard in effect at date of entry. All watches entering service must be of the antimagnetic type, fitted with 24 hour dial, waterproof, shockproof with stainless steel screw-back case and equipped with tension ring crystal. Cases with gold plating on stainless steel and stainless steel with gold top are permissible.

Employees operating in two time zones must have their railway grade watch equipped with double hour hands, one red and one black to reflect both time zones.”

An example of such double hour hands was the Universal Geneve Railrouter, but the watch with 0 at 12 o’clock was probably used on CNR, not CPR.  These double hour hands are sometimes called “Pacific hands”.

Railrouter 2 hands: Universal Geneve Railrouter

Image Internet Horology Club 185 user: Larry Buchan

In 1969 CPR listed the wrist watches below as the only Approved Wrist Watches, together with a list of Approved Pocket Watches :

“Bulova Accutron “Railroad Approved” 21014 and 28014
Girard Perregaux 307 HF (17 jewels)
Longines Railroad 280 (17 jewels)
Universal Geneve Railrouter Chronometer (17 jewels)”

These watches are described below, in turn.


The Accutron was nearly immune to vibration effects, and easily surpassed the Railroad certification requirements.  Because of the Accutron tuning fork’s extremely stable oscillations, an Accutron could be regulated to within +/-2 seconds per day or less, double the accuracy of a modern Chronograph grade ETA mechanical movement.

accutron ad: Universal Geneve Railrouter


Bulova advert: Universal Geneve Railrouter
The Railroad Approved 21024 model is shown below.
Accutron 21024 bulova
A differently dialed model with Pacific hour hands is also shown.


The Girard Perregaux Railtimer also came in various models, and a 12 o’clock model with is shown below.  They were all signed High Frequency.

GP railtimer

The 307 HF – 0 dial is shown below with 0 at 12 o’clock as required by CN Railway specifications.

gp railtimer

Image courtesy of WatchTalkForums user: scottw44

girard perregeaux HF 207

Image courtesy of WatchTalkForums user: scottw44


The Longines RR280 often called the Canadian to distinguish it from the American Longines T905. It was the only model with an arrow sweep second hand and a dual time “Pacific hands” version with square lugs is shown below.

longines rr 280

Below is the Ref 7816 version with pencil hands.

A dial with 0  at 12 o’clock is shown below.  Normally the RR280 had thin pencil hands but on this model dauphine hand sets were used, and have been copied in the recent Longines RR888 homage watch.

RR 280 Longines


Image courtesy: matthewbaininc.com

The RR280 movement is shown below.  The RR280 was a modified version of the regular Longines caliber 280. It had an additional hacking feature, a swan-neck regulator for fine adjustment and it was regulated in 5 positions.

rr280 movement




The Universal Geneve Railrouter Chronometre is shown below with the twisted lug case of the original Polerouter.  Early dials had just UNIVERSAL GENEVE beneath the 12 o’clock position, without a logo.  All the Railrouter models carried thin syringe minute hands and spade hour hands, both with long pointers. The watch had a manual-winding RR chronometer Universal Genève movement calibre 1205 with hack seconds feature.

The calibre was a development of the UG 263( http://www.ranfft.de/cgi-bin/bidfun-…&Universal_263 ) with the stop seconds work added, to meet railways requirements. The dimensions were 35mm diameter and 45mm lug to lug.

UG Railrouter chronometre


The 1205 movement above is numbered 9388

1205-0 MODEL

The 565100 Gold Plated 1205-0 model is shown below, with a dial commencing at 0 at 12 o’clock as required by CN Railways.  This is possibly a later model in the Universal Geneve Railrouter series, as the markers 12 to 23 are in black, and the Cal 65 movement is used instead of the cal 1205 movement.


ug Rail router gold
Image courtesy of WatchTalkForums : scottw44

The Calibre 65 movement is shown below.

RR 65 movement

Image courtesy of WatchTalkForums: scottw44

The listing for the watch above by A Trebor’s Vintage Watches reads :

Universal Geneve Railway Wristwatch RR.1205-0 with military style 24-hour dial in a gold filled case with scrolling lugs and with stainless steel screw back. The high contrast of black numerals on a porcelain white background and red sweep seconds hand make it very easy to see the time. Movement is a high quality 17 jewels manual wind, cal 65, adjusted to five positions and with hack feature for precision setting to meet railway standards. The watch is signed Universal Geneve on the dial, movement, inside case and has a winding crown with the company logo. The watch was found in perfect working condition but as the last service dated is unknown it is currently being cleaned by our watchmaker.
Measures 35mm across (not including crown) x 44mm (lug to lug). The distance between lugs (bracelet width) is 18mm.

Another gold dial model is shown below, with a black sweep second hand.

1205-0 gold Railrouter

A later Stainless Steel version now with the U symbol above Universal Geneve, and a black sweep second hand.rr1205-0 ug

This has a cal 65 movement and is model number 865100


865100 model with dial labelled RAILROUTER 1205 in NOS condition is shown below.

1205 railrouter

Image courtesy Mentawatches

The Calibre 65 movement is shown below.

1205 railrouter

The Universal Geneve Railrouter 1205 movement is shown below, marked 9266.

1205 movement railrouter: Universal Geneve Railrouter


This has the cal 1205 movement, and a model with the U logo is shown below. This also has black hands.
railrouter: Universal Geneve Railrouter
The 1205 movement.
1205 movement: Universal Geneve Railrouter


A story from a new employee inducted into CNR 1964 is reproduced below:

“…. my watch comparison ceremony wasn’t what I had dreamed of, having watched railroaders check their pocket watches since my earliest memories.  No…., CN had decided a few months before I hired on that all new ‘hires’ would not be allowed to use the old standard pocket watches, but must convert to new, “approved” wrist watches!  The Bulova Accutron and the Universal Geneve were the only two choices.

The Accutron emitted a high pitched whine, 24-7, and the Geneva couldn’t keep time with a turtle!  Only those who had already been qualified to work using a pocket watch could continue to use them.  The beautiful, gold pocket watches were gone for me.  I would never be able to re-enact that age-old tradition of reaching down, and finding the gold chain slung between the clasp and the gold watch and, gently lifting my treasure from my pocket, let it slides effortlessly into the palm of my hand where it would lay, softly ticking it’s warm song of our mutual love of railroading, and giving me the exact time of day.”

Obviously the pocket watch was preferred to the noisy Bolova and the slow Railrouter.



The 1205 type dial was used by Canadian Pacific Railways.

1205 railrouter UG: Universal Geneve Railrouter



The – 0 type dial can be seen on RR watches from several manufacturers and was used by Canadian National Railway, together with all black numerals 0 to 23.

Railrouter Universal Geneve 0 Dial: Universal Geneve Railrouter

Image courtesy Omega Forum user: MattF



Any 1205 model would be the keeper, as they are rare.   Either the 1205 calibre or the 65 calibre would be desirable.

Railrouter 1205 UG: Universal Geneve Railrouter

The cal 1205 movement number 9206 is shown below.

1205 railrouter 1205 movement: Universal Geneve Railrouter

Image courtesy: orologi e passioni


The grail watch would be the Universal Geneve Railrouter Chronometre, a CPR Approved Watch, in a gold case, with box and papers, and the cal 1205 movement.   Expect to pay several thousand dollars for such a rare example.

ug railrouter chronometre: Universal Geneve Railrouter

railrouter chronometre: Universal Geneve Railrouter