lot 03

Universal Genève

Chronograph Compur 30 RLM

This watch was featured at the "German-Speaking Watches" auction

Starting bid CHF 10 000
Hammer price CHF 22 000
Buy now price CHF 32 000
Total bids 23


CaseStainless steel case, screwed-in back, signed "RLM-Nav. 5537"
StrapBlack calf leather strap (not original)
DialBlack dial with luminous Arabic numerals, 60-second and 45-minute counters (with telephone markers), signed "Universal Genève"
MovementGold-plated hand-wound chronograph movement with column-wheel control & Breguet hairspring
Case No.805007

Condition report

Case:Good, signs of wear
Strap:Good, signs of wear
Dial:Good, slightly spotted, luminous material on hands reapplied
Movement:All functions working properly
Amplitude (Dial on top/Lift angle 52):Approx 270°
Accuracy (Dial on top):Approx + 10 sec/day


A highly rare and charismatic stainless steel chronograph wristwatch made for the German military in World War II, with corresponding engraving on the caseback. Produced in 1941–42 by the famous Swiss watch brand Universal Genève, founded in 1894. Сase made of ‘Enversteel’ stainless steel, diameter 38mm, solid-steel caseback with stamped case number and reference, marked inside by the Universal Genève emblem in a circle. Matte black dial, slightly recessed counters, gilt markings, sword-shaped hands with patinated luminous radium compound, stick-shaped counter hands, patinated luminous radium Arabic numerals. Caliber 386, hand-wound, with column-wheel control and Breguet hairspring. Functions – indication of time in hours and minutes, small seconds hand at 9 o’clock, chronograph with central seconds hand and 45-minute counter with telephone markers at 3 o’clock. Black leather strap, pin buckle.

Lot essay

Universal Genève, established in Le Locle, Switzerland, in 1894, rose to prominence in the first half of the 20th century as a manufacturer of reasonably priced wristwatches, primarily wrist-worn chronographs and watches with ‘small’ complications (mostly calendar watches). Recently, the auction market has seen an active growth in interest in the watches of this brand, and above all in wrist chronographs. Universal Genève’s chronographs have several valuable advantages. Universal Genève (known as Universal Watch until 1937) was, in 1917, one of the first producers to launch wrist chronographs, and also proved to be an innovator in the production of two-pusher chronographs. The brand also had movements of its own production, which is an undeniable advantage especially considering that even the best Swiss brands used the services of suppliers.

Universal Genève has been directly and actively involved in the classic design of technical and militaristic chronographs, some of which are quite rightly considered the best examples of the genre, including the present example. Its dial shows a thoughtfully-balanced design that isn’t perceived as overcrowded. The streamlined sword-shaped hands and Arabic numerals are in harmony with the technically-styled scales and markings.

The present watch undoubtedly stands out for its large-for-the-time case of an eye-catching design, with facets on the lugs and pump-shaped chronograph pushers. The characteristic shape of the caseback with 12 facets indicates the case was produced by C. R. Spillmann, who was a manufacturer of cases not only for Universal Genève, but also for Rolex, Zenith, and Doxa. The “Universal Genève” brand name on the dial and Universal Genève emblem in a circle marking on the inner side of the caseback correspond to the period 1937–1953, which is consistent with the 1941–1942 dating by the case number.

The present Compur 30 Ref. 22409 is a highly rare and collectible chronograph wristwatch made for the German military in World War II, with a matte black military-styled dial, most probably assigned to the Luftwaffe by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (abbreviated to RLM) for aerial navigation. The chronograph’s solid-steel caseback features a stamped case number and reference, as well as an engraved “RLM-Nav. 5537” military inscription.

The present example’s serial number, 805007, corresponds to the range between 8048xx and 8050xx, where the Universal Genève’s RLMs appear to be clustered.

The watch is equipped with Universal Genève’s proprietary manually-wound chronograph caliber 386, with a 45-minute counter at 3 o’clock and small seconds at 9 o’clock – typical for Compur models of the period. The caliber has a technical, industrial aesthetic in its most sophisticated version. The gilt and grained mainplate and bridges serve as a contrasting background to the straight-grinded steel components of the chronograph mechanism. The design of the chronograph mechanism and the peculiar shapes of the levers are characteristic only of Universal Genève’s calibers of the 281/285/381 families, which is undoubtedly valuable and attracts the attention of a collector who appreciates peculiar and proprietary calibers, especially since in this case originality was cultivated not for its own sake, but for functionality. The high level of technical performance of the caliber is also evidenced by the symmetrical arrangement of the large crown and chronograph pushers on the case ring.

Reasons to bid

The present Universal Genève ‘RLM-Nav.’ Compur 30 Chronograph Ref. 22409 watch is undoubtedly recognisable as a classical Universal Genève chronograph produced for military use. It features a technical military design, typical for the brand’s chronographs, with a sophisticated harmonious dial, correspondingly engraved caseback, and superb in-house chronograph caliber 386. That is why we unquestionably perceive the present lot as a high classic of the military genre. Among its undoubted advantages are the extremely attractive chronograph movement of technical and industrial aesthetics, and the watertight ‘Enversteel’ case made of early-grade stainless steel, manufactured by Universal Genève supplier, the C. R. Spillmann factory. Therefore, the present lot would appear to be a fine purchase for the collector looking for a charismatic Second World War military chronograph wristwatch, most probably assigned to the Luftwaffe by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (abbreviated RLM) for aerial navigation.