The Curious Case of the Universal Genève Polerouter Sub Super Compressor

Share this story:

Collecting vintage watches is not for the faint of heart. More often than not, the complete history and details of vintage catalogues are lost to the ravages of time. What is generally known is usually cobbled together from fragmented manufacturer archives, online sleuthing and impassioned collectors comparing gathered knowledge. Just consider how ubiquitous Rolex is as a brand today, and then consider how much we don’t yet know about some of Rolex’s vintage production. And what we do know—well, it can fit textbooks. So just imagine how much there is left to learn with regard to lesser-known brands.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the single-crown Universal Genève Polerouter Sub. It’s a beautiful piece and despite its many variations, it’s a relatively straightforward watch as far as what the collector community knows about it. It is, however, not the first Polerouter Sub. No, the first generation Universal Genève Polerouter Sub was actually a 42mm dual-crown Super Compressor (I’ll be calling it the “PSSC” for brevity’s sake), and it’s one of the most coveted Super Compressors one can get. And unlike its older brother, the PSSC is also a very controversial watch, but more on that later.

UGPOlerouterSubSC-4

Advertisement

The PSSC is generally classified into two distinct variants: the first execution, and the second execution. Both are housed in a dual-crown case; both have broad, flat steel hands; and both have black dials with an internal rotating timing bezel. The first execution is recognized by tiny lume dots on each of the larger white painted hour markers, while the second execution has hour markers fully covered with lume. The other notable difference has to do with the shape of the lugs. The first has gently curved and tapered lugs, while the second features angled lugs with a prominent bevel. There are some other subtler differences between the two, but these are the major ones.

UniversalGenevePolerouterSub-2executions
Second execution left; first execution right. Photo credit: omegaforums

So, what is the controversy surrounding the PSSC, you might ask? The gist of it is that while most first generation variants are believed to be legitimate, the known majority of second execution pieces are considered to be fake, apparently perpetrated by an individual out of Australia with a reputation for counterfeiting watches.

The second execution models that are known fakes have several telltale signs that are quite easy to spot once you know what they are. The most significant indicator is the case itself. Those definitely known to be fake are made out of what is quite obviously a very low quality steel. The cases tend to have an unusually dull, grayish tone, and are often severely pitted. These are definitely ones to avoid.

UGPOlerouterSubSC-fake-3
An Australian fake. Note the color of the metal and the heavy pitting.

The crowns are another thing to take note of. They’re sometimes made of a lighter metal than that of the case, and the ends are too flat when compared to a set of legitimate Super Compressor crosshatched crowns. Another indicator, and this is a curious one, is that several fakes have surfaced featuring US Ordinance military engravings along the case back. These are definite forgeries.

Advertisement

The second indicator is the dial. Now, this bit is contentious because the dials are rather well made, but there are some curious anomalies that lead me to question their authenticity. First, note the issue in the kerning of the word “Genève.” There is a notable gap between the “è” and the ‘ve,’ so the word looks like “Genè ve.” If this is in fact legitimate, it would make it quite an uncharacteristic QC slip from the brand. Also note the lack of serif on the font of the second execution dial.

UniversalGenevePolerouterSub-Gene_ve Dial
Questionable “Genè ve” dial sans serif.

Another suspect detail found across most second execution dials is the fully lume-covered hour markers. While that might not be a red flag on its own, this feature is almost always on the “Genè ve” dials. I have also noticed that the lume has a strange aged appearance where it’s more of an orange/brown hue. It’s hard to say conclusively that these dials are forgeries, but there is enough there to certainly question them.

There have been some PSSCs housed in bevel-lugged cases made of seemingly higher quality metal without any pitting. These are a bit of an anomaly, and there are some who believe them to be the real deal. That said, most of the examples I’ve noted had the dubious “Genè ve” dials, though this pairing has consequently led some to believe that the “Genè ve” dials may be genuine, too. Others have speculated that these may be chrome-plated cases disguised to appear genuine.

UniversalGenevePolerouterSub-dial_case
Seemingly higher-quality beveled case with a second execution dial.

What’s really interesting about the known fakes—and what contributed to many first believing they were real—is that they all featured genuine Universal Genève micro rotor movements. However, some have aptly noted that most of these movements show a lot of surface scratches, possibly from having spent most of their lives outside of a watch. This makes sense. Often times the production dates on the movement model don’t jive with the era the fake watches were supposed to be from. So while you do have a legitimate movement, it’s not necessarily correct to that specific watch.

Now that we know what a fake PSSC looks like, let’s talk about the real deal. The first execution examples are quite rare and almost never pop up for sale, and when they do they command huge prices nearly on par with the Longines Super Compressor.

UGPOlerouterSubSC-1The dial features a Rolex Sub-like layout with an upside-down triangle at 12, bars at three, six, and nine, and circles for the rest of the hours. These are printed in white, with little lume plots at the outer edge of each marker. This is the quirkiest detail on the dial, and to be perfectly honest when I first saw this I thought it was some wacky relume job. But this is how these dials left the UG factory, and they’re quite unique. Also, “Genève” is printed with the correct spacing.

The hour and minute hands are broad, flat steel with pointed tips and lume-filled channels going down the middle, and the second hand is a simple steel needle. I’ve seen some examples of the first execution with dauphine style hands. Some believe these to be issued watches for the Polish Navy, but that’s a detail I have been unable to verify.

Advertisement

The internal bezel is black with a triangle at 12, silver numbers at intervals of ten, and minute hash marks for the first twenty minutes. I believe that these were originally painted with lume from the triangle down to the marker at 20. I’ve seen examples both with and without lume, the latter likely a result of the tritum having worn off. The lume job on the bezels is a little shaky looking, but it’s likely due to the age of these watches. Perhaps the lume migrated over the years? Hard to tell for sure—just another mystery with this model!

UniversalGenevePolerouterSub-dialcaselume
Photo credit: Nilomis via watchprosite

The crowns are the classic Super Compressor style with crosshatch ends. There appears to be some variation here too. Some have matching crowns at two and four, and others feature a larger crown at two and a smaller on at four. It’s difficult to tell if they’re original or not, but these may just be slightly earlier production runs of the PSSC.

So, what’s the bottom line? The Universal Genève Polerouter Sub Super Compressor is a rare and incredibly cool vintage diver, without question. What is in question, however, is the legitimacy of the second execution models. It’s hard to say anything conclusively, but there’s enough there to give me pause. If you come across a watch with a “Genè ve” dial, a pitted case, or military engravings on the back, probably best to walk away.

If anything, the convoluted narrative surrounding the Universal PSSC best epitomizes the world of vintage watch collecting. As I noted at the start of this piece, it’s often impossible to deal in absolutes. While some may find this uncertainty both frustrating and intimidating, for me it’s a big part of why I love collecting vintage watches.

Big thanks to the gang over at omegaforums for their lively discussion. Their investigative passion made this piece possible.

Christoph (Instagram’s @vintagediver) is a long time collector and lover of all things vintage, starting with comic books when he was a kid (he still collects them). His passion for watches began in 1997 when he was gifted a family heirloom vintage Omega Genève by his step-father. That started him on the watch collecting path—buying and selling vintage watches of all sorts, with a special appreciation for vintage dive watches and Seiko.
vintagediver
Categories:
  • Jimmy Margulies

    Great piece! As a vintage enthusiast, I always appreciate learning something new…which I definitely did here.

    • @vintagediver

      Thanks, glad you like it!

Article / Vintage

Affordable Vintage: Universal Geneve Polerouter Sub

By
There are tons of amazing and unique vintage divers out …
Article / Vintage

A Brief History of the Universal Geneve Polerouter

By
When it comes to watch design, there is perhaps no …