The aircrew who flew Helge Viking on the first commercial SAS Douglas DC-6B flight over the pole from Copenhagen to Los Angeles on November 15, 1954 were each presented with a commemorative Universal Geneve Polarouter watch in 1954 (Ref 1).
At the same time, the Leif Viking took off from Los Angeles and carried out the reverse journey, with the planes passing one another near the North Pole.
Commemorative letters were posted to celebrate the occasion, post marking the cities where the planes landed on the journey.
Also, at the same time, Carlsberg also produced a commemorative Polar Beer. The beer label is rare, and harder to find than the Universal GenevePolarouter watch, but one recently sold to a collector for USD 2. The watch is much more sought after, and more valuable.
SAS had been experimenting with a polar route since November 1952 and needed to develop reliable navigational aids capable of operating near the North Pole, including antimagnetic chronographs. Universal Geneve collaborated with SAS, and the Polarouter watch was developed in this period, some models of which were certified as chronometers.
This article deals with the initial calibre 138SS Polarouter, which was the forerunner of many models of Polerouter watches.
THE UNIVERSAL GENEVE POLAROUTER
The Universal Geneve Polarouter was partly designed by Gerald Genta at the age of 23. It is reminiscent of the Grand Seiko with double curved lugs, and the images in this article show the classic lines of the model.
It was powered by the caliber 138 SS movement.
The movement used in the early Polarouter and Polerouter models was the caliber 138 SS. It was introduced by Universal Genève in 1948, first as caliber 138 with a subsidiary second and then with a central second as caliber 138 SS. The caliber 138 SS measures 28.2 mm in diameter and 5.55 mm in thickness. Its balance makes 18,000 vibrations per hour. The self-winding weight oscillates 315 degrees between two springs acting as shock absorbers, the so-called bumpers. This mechanism only winds the mainspring during one motion, and this inefficiency meant the watch often needed hand winding. The caliber 138 SS has 17 jewels, a plain surface finish and is rhodium-plated. It is shock-proof and anti-magnetic. Despite the precision and reliability that was proven on duty for SAS, the movement was replaced by the Microtor movement after approximately one year of production, as this was a more efficient movement.
For an article on servicing the caliber 138SS see ref 2.
The name changed to Polerouter after a few months, and at the same time the screw in case back opening mechanism changed from 6 keys to a dodecagon.
The watch is 50m waterproof. The waterproof construction is achieved by a tension ring, and the tension ring variations are a feature of the many dial combinations.
The Polerouter was assembled in a case with a screw back, with the movement, the curved dial, the tension ring, and the crystal. There was plenty of opportunities to vary the combinations of dials and bezels. There were also three case types, stainless steel, 300 micron 18k gold cap, and 18k gold.
The dials came with or without cross hairs, and with or without chapter rings. The chapter rings were ticks, dots, or dots with lume at the 5-minute markers. The bezels had raised indexes at the 5-minute markers and were plain metal, fluted between the indexes, or with fluted indexes, or coloured with bakelite applied between the indexes. The hands were folded Dauphine, fluted Dauphine, Dauphine with triangular lumed inserts, or broad arrow.
Consequently, either during official production, or unofficial production, or in a watchmakers studio, the number of actual case, dial, hand and bezel combinations was huge.
The advertisement below shows some of the range of Polarouters.
The Stainless Steel cased Polarouters were the 20217 series, the 300-micron gold capped the 20214 series and the gold models the 10234 series, the 10234 models using different lugs on the case.
The first model was 20217-1, released in 1954.
The 20217 series were in stainless steel cases.
This dial is black, with cross hairs, and no chapter ring. The tension ring has raised broad index markers, with radial fluting between. The crown is either signed U or unsigned.
Original model Polarouter dial below.
The movement was the Caliber 138SS, the so-called bumper model. The bumper weight can be seen below between the two springs, and this can rotate about 315 degrees.
The case from the side with signed crown.
The advertisement for this model is below.
This model has a white dial with a radial fluted tension ring. The chapter ring has one tritium lume dot every 5 minutes. Fluted dauphine hands with central groove are fitted.
The model below is a Polarouter, with a 6 key case back.
The name then changed to Polerouter.
Now with dodecagon screwback case.
The model above has a chapter ring with minute tick marks, but no lume dots at the 5 minute markers.
Below is a unique dial with Polerouter above Automatic.
This model is all stainless, with a white dial and no chapter ring. Narrow indices are used at 1, 2, 4, 5 7, 8, 10 and 11 o’clock. Broader indices at 3, 6 and 9 and double index at 12 o’clock. Dial signed Polarouter.
The dial changed later to Polerouter, as below, with broader more uniform index markers.
Dials tropicalise and this model has a chapter ring with ticks.
Then with a revised chapter ring, with dots at the 5 minute markers, and ticks elsewhere. Some models had one dot at 12, and others 2 dots at 12 and dodecagon sided case back.
Below is a single dot model.
This had an engraved duodecadon back
A later model with 2 dots at 12 on the chapter ring.
Dodecagon case back, now without model and serial number, marked SWISS and with the Universal Geneve logo.
Radial fluting on tension ring, dial slightly tropicalised. Tritium dots at 5 minute markers on chapter ring, tick marks between. Polarouter model below with narrow indices away from the crosshairs. The advertisement above refers to black center, radium dots and grey marker ring.
This then changed to Polerouter, with thicker index markers on tension ring and open dots on the dial, and dodecagon screw back.
Now thicker index markers on tension ring and Polerouter on dial with closed dots.
Now with 2 dots at 12 on the chapter ring.
Triangular lumed hands, and dodecagon case back.
A unique black dialed SAS version numbered 20217-4 is shown below. This has no ticks on the dial, similar to the 20217-6 model, and reads UNIVERSAL GENEVE AUTOMATIC similar to the 10234-1 Deluxe model.
The 10234-1 Deluxe model had a range of unique dials.
A broad arrow version with radial fluting and rectangular tick marks on the chapter ring was also produced, case back numbered 20217-4
There was also a 20217-5 SAS version, without the cross hairs.
The watch below is on the original Universal Genève bracelet by Nevado
A 20217-5 model which had a Cal 138 SS bumper movement is shown below.
This is marked Automatic in cursive and does not have Polerouter on the dial.
UNIVERSAL GENEVE POLAROUTER 20217-6
As mentioned in the introduction, the SAS aircrew were excited to be given Universal Geneve Polarouter watches to commemorate their journey. This model again has a tension ring with narrow markings at 5 minutes, wider at 3, 6 , 9 and 12 o’clock. Dauphine hands. Domed crown, not marked.
Below is a gold Universal Geneve Polarouter Deluxe version with the SAS logo applied as discussed in the 10234-1 section below.
This model has a stainless steel dial, and tick marks on the chapter ring. Dodecagon case back.
The advertisement above reads polished steel center and marker ring.
POLAROUTER 20217-8 BROAD ARROW
Broad arrow hands with lume (Luminova? or nitebrite?) on hands and between indices on tension ring are a feature of this model. The chapter ring has just tick marks, and the dial has cross hairs.
Below is a later version with dodecagon back, and radial fluting rather than tritium lume on the tension ring. The lume was applied over the radial fluting.
The 20214 models are gold cap 300 micron stainless steel, selling originally for USD150. The grooves in the tension ring run uniquely in a circular pattern in the 20214-1 model. Folded Dauphine hands.
A 20214-2 model with a Universal Geneve Polarouter dial, also marked GOBBI MILANO. The tension ring is not grooved.
Another later case 20214-2 marked Polerouter with narrower indices and radial grooves in the tension ring. The advertisement above reads golden center and marker ring.
This model is in 300-micron gold cap and with a chapter ring with open dots at the 5-minute markers, and one dot at 12. Crossed dial. Radial grooves in tension ring, and thin indices. Dauphine hands with central spine. Below is an early Polarouter model, with a thick crown.
The case is marked with the Universal logo, WATERPROOF with a 6 key screw.
Below is a later Polerouter model with a narrow crown, and wider index markers.
Below is a yet later version with dodecagon case back and WATERPROOF and Universal Geneve logo only, no serial number or model number. 2 dots on chapter ring at 12.
Below is a silver faced pink gold model, 20214-4 with dodecadon case back. This has 2 dots at 12 on the chapter ring.
The gold capped version of 20217-5 with white face, solid lume dots and two dots at 12 on the chapter ring. This dial signed Polarouter, and also signed Chantilly Joyeros.
The gold-capped version of 20217-5 with argente dial, solid dots and 2 dots at 12 on the chapter ring.
14K yellow gold-filled case with steel screw-down back, champagne and bronze dial, yellow gold Dauphine hands and sweep second hand. Painted tension ring between indexes.
17 Jewel bumper automatic movement
POLEROUTER 20214-11 BROAD ARROW
POLEROUTER 20214-13 BROAD ARROW
A broad arrow version case number 20214-13, with lumed tension ring, and tick marks on dial.
Broad arrow hands with triangular lume, and radial fluted tension ring between indexes.
Lume missing from the broad arrow hands below.
The advertisement above reads golden center and nitelite marker ring.
This is an all-gold chronometre Polerouter.
Movement stamped 2106, and no marking “unadjusted” on movement.
Chapter ring has uniform dots.
POLAROUTER 10234-1 DE-LUXE
The 10234 series are all gold models with square, curved lugs. Radially fluted indices. 18k gold. A gold dial was featured in the 10234-1 model. This model did not have a chapter ring or indices on the dial, just having the indices on the tension ring.
The model above has no cross hairs, and the model below does not have Polerouter Deluxe imprinted on the dial.
The chronometre wristwatch below was made around 1955. This watch is very rare as a chronometer. The gold dial shows gold hands. Watch case and crown are made of 18K gold. The watch has an original, black leather strap with a gold plated pin buckle. The watch case number is B10234-1; the movement number is 2548.
Sometimes these were not marked Chronometre on the dial.
The 138SS movement for the chronometres was stamped with the chronometere number, and UNADJUSTED was not used.
The advertising referred to the chronometre certificate.
Above 3 images courtesy Omega Forums user: Bill Sohne
Below is model 10234 1TL, produced in 1958. This is a rare model with a gold bracelet in shape of a belt with buckle (special patent). This has a solid case, polished, screwed-down case back, and straight concave lugs. Two-tone pink gold in two parts (special patent) bearing the effigy of King Faysal of Saudi Arabia, with fluted indexes on a polished outer ring. Dauphine pink gold hands.
In April 1958, the Minister of Finance of Saudi Arabia, Mr Srurl El Sabban, visited the Universal Genève stand at the “Foire de Bâle” and subsequently ordered approximately 50 examples of this watch bearing the effigy of King Faysal. This model represents Universal Genève’s most advanced technology at the time, embodying 3 patented innovations.
The 10234-1 commemorative SAS version below is a Universal Geneve Polarouter and thought to be one of 3 in existence.
Enamel dial models 10234-1 were also produced, such as the Enamel Cloisonnè “Le Coq De France” dial.
And one featuring the Arabian Gulf.
A very similar watch with an engraved tension ring is shown below.
This is stamped 10232-1 as shown below, and predates the Polerouter as a 1952 model.
UNIVERSAL GENEVE POLAROUTER 10234-2 DE-LUXE
This model had an 18K gold case, and triangular index markers on the dial at 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes.
It featured a 6 notch screw in case back with only model 10234-2 and the serial number.
It had a beige or white dial, with and without crosshairs. Early model with Universal Geneve Polarouter on dial below.
Below is a version with crosshairs. The tension ring had radially ribbed indices.
UNIVERSAL GENEVE POLAROUTER 10234-3 DE-LUXE
This was an 18K pink gold version, marked inside case. 6 notch screw in case back with only model 10234-3 and serial number. Black, now often tropicalised dial, but white dials perhaps existed.
Below is the gold version, 18k gold with the tropicalised dial. The dial has cross hairs, and triangular fluted indices at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock. There is no applied U logo. The lugs are square sided but curved. The tension ring has radially fluted indices.
A black dial in good condition below.
Below, a dial stamped FRECCERO, but other dual stamped dials existed, e.g. Joyeria Milos, Au Diademe Zurich and LE TRIANON HABANA.
POLEROUTER 10234-21 DE-LUXE
Black dial, with applied logo, but no markers at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock.
Personal engraving on 10234-21 screw in case back.
HPC UNIVERSAL GENEVE POLEROUTER
A rare gold cased HPC chronometer version is shown below. The lugs of this model are unique. The case is by A. Gerlach, three-body, solid, polished and brushed, concave lugs, screw-down case back. Model number 100105, usually fitted with a Cal 138C movement.
Although not a bumper model, the 27601-6 model is included below for interest. The design similarities to the models above are obvious. The watch is 21mm diameter with 9mm lug width.
A gold cap model was also produced. Both had radial fluting on the tension ring.
The view from the side.
Cal.2365 movement was used, with 25 Jewels.
The Universal Geneve Polerouter with the 138SS bumper movement was only produced for about 1 year. Hence the models are relatively rare, as about 2500 units only were produced. In addition to the relationship with SAS, some customised production for other clients was also carried out. Bearing this in mind we have the following recommendations.
Almost any of the Gerald Genta influenced watches are desirable, but perhaps something with the Universal Geneve Polarouter on the dial indicates the early intent of this watch. The early Polarouters often have narrow indices on the tension ring away from the cross hairs.
A broad arrow version would be the keeper. These are rare and currently, fetch several thousand dollars. Below is a later version with lume on the hands but radial fluting on the tension ring.
Although not a Gerald Genta influenced design, the grail would be the gold SAS Polarouter issued as a commemorative piece for the SAS commencement flight from Copenhagen to and from Los Angeles. This is close to a unique watch, and the price would be USD 10,000 plus.