To say that Gerald Genta was a prolific designer is an understatement. Sure, he’s best known for defining sports luxe in watch design with the Royal Oak, Nautilus, Ingenieur SL, the list goes on, but there are a huge number of subtler creations on his resume. In fact, one of the legendary designer’s finest pieces came long before he became synonymous with octagons and visible screws – the Universal Geneve Polerouter. A model that has found new life in the form of the Van Brauge Fifty Three.
You might not know it to look at the brand today, but back in the 1950s, Universal Geneve was one of the biggest players in the watch world. Regular contributor Ken Kessler has previously lauded the extra-terrestrial merits of the phenomenal Space- Compax, but 1954’s Polerouter is a classic in the truest sense, albeit just as adventurous.
Designed to be flown across the magnetic high point of the North Pole, it was at once a stripped back tool watch and an elegant, semi-dress piece, defined by its minute track and crosshair dial. It’s as timeless a timepiece as has ever emerged from Genta’s scribbles; not bad given he was in his early 20s at the time. So where is it now?
It’s strange in this era of archival raids and re-issues of anything tangentially acquainted with Genta that the Polerouter’s not seen the light of day. It’s something that bugged British watchmaker Max Van Brauge enough that he reached out to the modern Universal Geneve. After getting no response, he took it upon himself to pay tribute to the iconic watch. The result is the superb Van Brauge Fifty Three.
This isn’t Van Brauge’s first foray into the past. From Hemmingway to Brooklands racetrack to the architecture of Paris and New York, the brand has scoured the past for stories to bring watches to life on the wrist. The Polerouter might be a bit more modern than their usual wheelhouse of the 1940s, but aesthetically it fits into their wider portfolio perfectly – and the Fifty Three is handsome as all hell.
It has that signature engraved minute track as the original watch and the same crosshair dial, both definitive elements of the Genta design. In fact, one of the few elements that isn’t faithful is the date window, which has been moved to six o’clock rather than three o’clock. Inauthentic it may be, but that small change brings additional balance to the design. We’re not blasphemously saying you can improve on Genta, but it’s a nice change.
The Fifty Three is available in three different versions. The Polerouter’s tool watch origins are amped up in the steel version; its innate elegance in the full gold, and between the two a bi-colour version with a steel case and gold bezel. That last is our personal favourite, with its gorgeous, model- appropriate gold indexes.
Of course, anyone can re-create a sought after vintage model, but doing so with any semblance of accessibility is another matter entirely. Which is why it’s so impressive that the Van Brauge Fifty Three is priced at £3,160. The Fifty Three is the closest thing you can currently get to the original Universal Geneve Polerouter without hunting for a true vintage piece. And hey, even if that aesthetic heritage is just words to you, there’s no denying that the Fifty Three is a good-looking, solidly built watch in and of itself. After all, you don’t need Gerald Genta’s name to build an iconic watch. But it does help.
More details at Van Brauge.