The Universal Genève Polerouter Gets the Reference Treatment in a Gorgeous New Book Covering the Enormous Breadth of the Collection

Over the last several years, something has happened to the humble Universal Geneve Polerouter. This watch, once a go-to recommendation for collector’s looking to get their feet wet in the world of vintage, has risen in stature, value, and overall name recognition as the watch market has expanded. As with any niche hobby that, over time, approaches the mainstream, hidden gems become less hidden. The Polerouter, while not a household name like the Speedmaster or Submariner, is not nearly as under the radar as it used to be. 

While those of us who have been around this stuff for years might mourn the availability of great examples of the Polerouter on the cheap, it’s hard not to be happy that people are discovering and appreciating the watch. As a gateway to the hobby, and vintage specifically, it’s a collection that could lead a curious collector down any number of paths, each one rewarding in a different way. That’s because there are so many ways to approach the Polerouter: as a creation from the mind of the biggest name in the history of watch design, as an elegant sports watch that helped set a template for some of the most popular watches of the current era, and as an uncommon mechanical triumph. And, of course, it’s still a relatively accessible piece of a key part of watch history, and a great representation of Universal Geneve, a brand that exists today as a time capsule. 


Perhaps one of the clearest signals that the Polerouter has crossed a threshold of sorts in terms of its appreciation is the launch of a beautiful new book dedicated entirely to its history. Like books devoted to other iconic watches, The Polerouter, by Andrew Willis and Mattia Mazzucchi, serves as both a reference to collectors and an introduction to the curious, with a great deal of real scholarship behind it, not to mention beautiful photography and archival materials. More than anything, its existence is a tribute to a watch that has been admired by many over the years. 

The Polerouter famously gets its name from the world of aviation, and is a watch that was initially conceived to commemorate the Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS) polar flights from New York/Los Angeles directly to Europe. The route, taking passengers roughly over the North Pole, cut down on total flight time and makes the Polerouter a fundamental relic of the glory days of air travel. The “Polarouter,” as it was initially known when introduced in 1954, was closely tied to the SAS and the book features many great photos of early examples of the watch bearing the airline’s seal on the dial. There’s also, as you’d expect, plenty of marketing material that heralds the arrival of “civil air travel in the arctic,” and otherwise highlighting the work of the SAS. 

From the early Polarouters, Willis and Mazzucchi move on to examining later examples of the Polerouter, broken down largely by movement type. The Polerouter famously transitioned from using early automatic “bumper” movements to automatic calibers powered by a micro-rotor early in its history, and the book contains extensive information on the calibers used, using original schematics from the time, often accompanied by French and German annotations. It’s not necessary to be bilingual, however, to grasp that Universal Geneve was interested in highlighting the watch’s thinness during this period, touting it as the “thinnest self winding watch in the world” and the caliber as the “the greatest technical advance in thirty years.”

Something that becomes clear as you move through the book is the absolutely enormous variety of watches that were made under the Polerouter banner. Each of us probably has a definitive Polerouter that comes to mind when the watch is mentioned, but no matter what that watch actually is, there are dozens of variants and alternatives out there to discover, and this book does a fantastic job of putting a spotlight on some references that are truly rare. A personal favorite section of the book for me is the chapter dedicated to the Polerouter De Luxe references, a subcollection of dressier Polerouters in solid gold. Willis and Mazzucchi highlight a number of apparently unique Polerouters made for customers in the Middle East, with enamel dials featuring portraits and maps. Seeing these extremely rare (and ultra formal) examples of the Polerouter alongside far sportier references like the Polerouter Sub help us understand that the Polerouter was almost a brand within a brand at Universal Geneve. The obvious comparison to watches in the current landscape would be to Omega’s Seamaster, which in certain guises is an elegant, dressy watch that can be worn easily with a suit, and in others is a pure dive tool. But they all say “Seamaster” on the dial, just as these watches all say “Polerouter.” 

The Polerouter is now available to purchase via a dedicated website right here. And if the Polerouter is a new discovery for you, be sure to check out our own coverage of the watch over the years, starting here and continuing here and here.

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.