Affordable Vintage: Universal Geneve Polerouter Sub

There are tons of amazing and unique vintage divers out there, but the 1968 Universal Geneve Polerouter Sub took it to another level of coolness. Universal Geneve is a storied Swiss brand with a long history of amazing watches. They are primarily known for the numerous Compax chronograph models (the ever-so-popular so called ‘Nina Rindt’ chrono being just one of them) and iconic Polerouter dress watches designed by the one and only Gerald Genta. However, vintage collectors know that the Polerouter Sub line of divers are not only rare and desirable, but impossibly cool too. While the Polerouter dress watches first came out in 1954, the Polerouter Sub first appeared in 1961 and ran through about 1968, the year this example is from.

There are two main versions of the Sub. The rarest is the dual crown Super Compressor, which is extremely valuable and really quite difficult to find. Sadly, there are counterfeits that were made, but they are easily recognizable by the widespread pitting seen on the cases. Then there are the single crown models, of which there are several variations consisting of differing dial/hand combos, bezel colors and materials, and some variations in the shape of the crowns, as well as symmetrical and asymmetrical case shapes. The model presented here today is reference number 869120-02, in an asymmetrical stainless steel case that is 40mm wide by 48mm long with a 20mm lug width. The case is thicker on the crown side, so the sides form a crown guard. The subsequently recessed crown is a nice fat one that is nearly 7mm wide with a flat top that is signed with the Universal Geneve “U” logo, and screws down for water resistance. Other single crown variants can have domed crowns or a more truncated cone shape. The case finish is straight brushed, with nice sharp edges.


There are several different bezel variations found on the Subs, some are simple solid flat aluminum, while my favorite are the ones with an acrylic insert (no surprise there!). This model has a fire engine red acrylic bezel with luminous GMT style number 1 through 11, with a lume triangle at 12. It is bi-directional with a light ratchet. Like many of the other divers with acrylic bezels, there are 3-D hashmarks inside the insert, giving the bezel real depth and beauty. Sadly these are somewhat delicate, and are often found with cracks or damage from the acrylic lifting up from the metal base. I have seen another model with a blue acrylic insert, which is really sweet. However, the majority of models seem to have the simpler solid aluminum bidirectional friction bezels with elapsed time markers and a luminous dot at 12.


Now, what really makes this Polerouter Sub special is the dial and handset. The flat black dial has bold luminous baton style hour markers that are accentuated with a white enamel looking paint half-border in the shape of a squared off “C”. Kind of hard to describe, but that’s what the pictures are for ;-). The markers are quite unique and really stand out, and would’ve made for good visibility underwater. The dial is signed with the “U” logo under the twelve in red, and “Universal Geneve” in white below that, with the iconic “Polerouter Sub” logo below that.

The “U” in Sub is stylized as a trident with arrowed tips, which, while tiny, is still wicked cool. There is a thin red horizontal line dividing the dial into upper and lower halves, and it’s signed simply “Automatic” above the 6, and “Swiss-T” below. There is a date window at 3, framed in thin white paint and formed in the UG trademark trapezoid shape.


The hands are oversized long trapezoid shaped. The hour hand is painted white, and the minute hand a nice bright orange, both with large lume filled centers. A thin orange second hand completes the set. The acrylic crystal is domed, with a trapezoid shaped internal date magnifier and is signed in the middle of the underside with a tiny UG “U” logo. All of this leads to a unique look that is as functional as it is striking. On the subject of the crystal, keep in mind that while suitable replacements can be found, sourcing a genuine signed crystal with the trapezoid date magnifier is nigh impossible. You will see in the pictures that my crystal has some crazing and some other marks, making it harder to get good pictures. While this bugs me to no end, I’d much rather keep the original signed crystal with correct magnifier…warts and all.

Yes, the case, bezel, dial and hands are gorgeous on this Polerouter Sub, but open up the case back and the movement is work of art in itself. It is powered by the famous Micorotor self-winding movement pioneered by Universal Geneve (parallel to Buren developing the same style), where the oscillating rotor weight is small and incorporated into the movement rather than a lager one sitting atop the movement. The golden colored rotor coupled with the nicely finished steel plates give this movement a unique and really stunning look. The movement beats at 18k bph and has a whopping power reserve of 57 hours! I timed mine and at 47 years old it still ticked away for about 55 hours on a full wind.


I know these were offered on a really nice bracelet with fitted end links, but sadly many examples today are not found with them. They can be found for sale occasionally, but are usually very expensive. I’m not sure if they came standard or if a rubber strap was an option. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to source a bracelet for less than an arm and a leg, and so I have a vintage big hole Tropic strap mounted, which I think complements it quite nicely. The Polerouter Subs have seen a pretty substantial increase in popularity and in turn a substantial increase in price. Since these don’t come up for sale often, the price can be erratic. I’ve seen them go from anywhere between $1500 for a low grade example to over $3500 for a nice one on the bracelet. These may be on the pricier side of “affordable vintage”, but they are definitely worth the effort and money.

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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.