881101/01 ‘Clapton’ Universal Genève Tri-Compax

It is simply not possible for any mere mortal to out-cool Eric Clapton; eternally influential guitar genius, CBE, friend of all the rock greats, and, perhaps most relevant to today, a dedicated watch enthusiast. Clapton has not just been a watch collector since fame and fortune, no. Clapton has been a disciple of horology since the early days. In 1966 Hendrix and Clapton met for the first time. At that fortuitous London pub where the two were introduced, paparazzi followed. A handful of casual snaps emerged from that night, with one quite clearly showing the proud Tri-Compax on Clapton’s wrist. In following months he was seen wearing it so frequently that the reference became eponymous.


Although in period the watch was something of an obscure choice, it is today generally regarded as well ahead of its time. Clapton had been attracted by the same symmetric design and mechanic complication that has seen the Tri-Compax elevated to something of a collector’s icon. The charm here really lies in that unique understated 36mm look—the Evil Clapton Tri-Compax is piece any watch snob can spot from a mile away. The four symmetric reverse-panda subdials, unguarded crown flanked by round pushers, and bright blue chronograph hand lend an aesthetic like nothing else before or since.

Moreover, the watch worn to meet Hendrix was unequivocally a 881101/01, this. Rarer /03 and /04 exotic dials were also produced. It was powered by a (Martel ébauche) Universal calibre 281, also used by Zenith to lesser fame. It featured a full calendar, moonphase, and column-wheel chronograph (the Triple complication referenced by Tri-Compax). Clapton’s tastes in guitars, vehicles, and watches have always spoken to a craving for unique design and technical merit over outright opulence or luxury. It should be no surprise that, even nearly-sixty years ago when not an outrageously wealthy man, Clapton chose the best of Universal Genève.


This example is in strong overall shape. The case is full with sharp lugs. The Mk1 dial is originally finished and clear of any serious degradation, highly legible. Tritium has aged to a bizarre even yellow tone, not pumpkin or cream. The bezel has a few deep scratches but nothing horrific. All together a lovely Clapton. It comes from a well-regarded Spanish retailer.

Find this 881101/01 here from Vintage Watch Collective for 23000 EUR.

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