Some might not know it yet, but each year, vintage Universal Geneve watches come closer to becoming the “next big thing” in vintage watch collecting. As four and five digit reference Rolex prices soar, there’s still room to snag plenty of cool Universal Geneve watches to add to your collection. Arguably, the king vintage Universal Geneve is the Cairelli Split-Seconds chronograph. Developed and manufactured in the ’50s, this purpose built tool watch was created for Italian Air Force navigators.
Immediately, we see that this watch was, in many ways, ahead of its time and this is apparent considering the massive 44mm case diameter. This watch was designed to be highly legible and easy to use in a pinch, hence the larger size. Another charming feature is the 24 hour dial layout, which exhibits the watch’s military roots and separates it visually from its civilian counterpart, the Rolex ref. 4113. These traits make it extremely collectible and the example we had a chance to handle had a clean, crisp dial that showcased the bold Arabic numerals beautifully.
Inside is the 17 jewel Valjoux 55, the same movement powering the Rolex ref. 4113, which sold in excess of $1 million at a Christie’s auction back in 2011. The blued hands are also a stunning feature and compliment the open dial space without negatively affecting legibility. There are two registers for the chronograph complication and no additional chronograph scale, which is an interesting choice that results in an even cleaner look. Really, there’s nothing quite like it even if you compare it to the Rolex ref. 4113.
Aside from the highly-complex nature of split second chronographs, the added rarity of the Universal Genève Cairelli Split-Seconds just makes it that much more intriguing. Pair that with true military heritage and you have one of the most collectible vintage watches of all time. And while most collectors will probably turn this into a safe queen, the larger size makes it very wearable by today’s standards, an issue that really stumps the charm for other vintage watches.
It will be interesting to witness just how popular the vintage Universal Geneve collecting trend gets. There’s certainly room for growth and watches like the Universal Genève Cairelli Split-Second Chronograph really show off how special the brand really is.