‘Big Eye’ 884100/02 Universal Genève Uni-Compax
Asymmetry exposes flaws. I have a vivid memory from my early years in design school of a professor stating, ‘If you’re going to make it asymmetric, the proportions have to absolutely perfect. Anything less and it will seem accidental.’ History would indicate that Universal Genève got the proportions, and indeed the balance of the dial asymmetry, just right in this ‘Big Eye’. Universal got it so right that a few brands, who will remain unnamed, Uni-Raced to turn on their photocopiers since. The Uni-Compax isn’t exactly easy to come by, in production between just 1963 and 1965, most estimate the quantity of genuine original dial examples somewhere under one hundred.
Universal developed a reputation in WWII and after for dependable complication. No surprise Henri Stern’s agency retailed them in period, even Hermes wanted to ‘collab’ (really, Google UG Pour Hermes). Many cult watches are simply shells of hype, Universal really aren’t. By the early 60s, Universal had established themselves as quality. The Big Eye incorporates a layer of scarcity only because it was produced at the end of a legendary run, cut short by the quartz crisis. In those three years, this ref. 884100 was made in /001 in reverse panda and this /02 panda dial. One is almost always a capstone to a collection that includes a Nina and Clapton. Particularly on this Gay Frères bracelet. Most vintage Daytona owners have a few other four/five digit tool watches in the safe. It’s the same here.
What I really enjoy about the Big Eye, though, as most Universal, is that any person wearing one is an undeniable enthusiast. I have never once met someone wearing a vintage Universal, whether Polerouter, Nina, or Aero-Compax, who wasn’t someone that simply loved watches. They don’t attract any peacocking, there’s no one cross-shopping vintage Daytonas. You buy a Big Eye to impress only yourself. And yet, this has always been every bit the watch a 6265 is, only 36mm. And because Universal did not survive the quartz crisis, the brand only attracts those who pay close attention to watchmaking history; there is a melancholy romance about the fallen great brand. The star that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
This 884100/02 shows wear and patina commensurate with age. Its case has seen a light polish, nothing overly aggressive. Sadly, though, the caseback serial/ref engraving is no longer. The dial is clear of any major damage, but does have some light spotting around the upper crosshair intersection. The printed text is all very well-preserved and I love the applied UG logo. The handset tritium is cream and beautiful, the dial’s is a little bit darker and burned in but appears still present. It comes from a well-regarded Florida retailer.