Universal Geneve 881101/01 “Eric Clapton”

Universal Geneve 881101/01 “Eric Clapton”

Universal Geneve 881101/01 “Eric Clapton” Introduction
The Universal Geneve Tri-Compax 881101/01 was produced from 1963 until 1967 (caveat: I believe…). Otherwise known as the “Eric Clapton”, as Slowhand regularly wore the watch during the 1960s, the 881101/01 is powered by the Calibre 281, features a white dial with black registers, and three complications (“Tri”): chronograph, moonphase and calendar (date, and apertures for day of the week and month). Depending on date of production, there are differences in hand colors and logo on the crown. I will not be touching upon the 881101/02, which is known as the, yes, “Evil Clapton”, and features a black dial with white registers, among other differentiating features.
Eric Clapton and his Universal Geneve Tri-Compax 881101/01
Eric Clapton and his Universal Geneve Universal Geneve Tri-Compax 881101/01
Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Brochures and Advertisements

While I am sure there are a number of brochures and ads for the Universal Geneve Clapton, to date I have seen only one. If you have others, please contact me.

So far I have only seen one brochure that has included the Universal Geneve 881101/01 (thanks to @Mazoue on Omega Forums), see below.

This brochure translates roughly into the below (those who are better German-English speakers than I am, please let me know where I’m going wrong…I’m sure I am butchering the translation!):

Front page of brochure:

UG Clapon German Brochure Cover
Cover pages of the German brochure for the Universal Geneve 881101/01

The most common applications of Compax chronographs

Universal-Geneve produces various luxury chronographs based on the “Compax”, which, depending on their specific functions, realize the full range of checks and calculations: speed, distances, athletic events, rallies, parking times, duration of filming, radio broadcasts, industrial times, human or machine performance, departure or landing maneuvers, etc.

Like the COMPAX, it measures short-term operations accurate from 1/5th of a second up to a total of 12 hours.

Living with the «Chrono»!

The “normal” clock has, in the age of rockets, lost interest among the lovers of precision instruments.

The “Chrono” is significantly more than a clock: it is an active clock that performs calculations and answers questions. The chronograph is a fascinating and elegant instrument. For you individually, it registers every time period during each activity.

Universal has designed an unrivaled range of chronographs. Only the most famous among them are listed here. Your watch shop will show you the model that suits your personal needs. Because there are no limits to the complexity of possible operations! Just as there are no limits to the simplicity of the operations, some basic exercises are enough for you to learn all calculations and necessary controls related to your profession, studies or pleasure!

Interior [excluding Space-Compax and Aero-Compax text]:

UG Clapon German Brochure Interior
Interior of the German brochure for the Universal Geneve 881101/01

The most important functions of the chronograph

By depressing the pusher (A), the large center second hand is set in motion. Depressing it again brings it to a standstill. Once again puts it back in motion from the point where it was stopped.

Revolutions of the dial (1 revolution = 1 minute) are added on the small dial (right) up to a maximum of 30 (or 45) minutes. Periods of 30 (or 45) minutes are in turn added on the (lower) dial for a total of 12 hours.

After checking the time, as soon as the large center second hand stops, all is required is to press the pusher (B) to reset the hands of all counters to zero.

Using the pusher (A), the large center second hand can be set in motion, brought to a standstill, and set in motion again as needed; this will allow the user to stop his observations for a while and resume them without having to reset the different payers to zero.

The COMPAX

The COMPAX is a basic chronograph equipped with a tachometer, i.e. a scale that allows you to measure the speed of a vehicle.

Due to the draw of the chronograph and the stopping of this second hand a kilometer – or one mile – further, the speed per hour, measured in basic units, can be read on the ring.

For example, the COMPAX allows you to check the accuracy of the speedometer of your vehicle.

In practice, the COMPAX provides the greatest and most useful value from speeds between 60 and 500 km/h.

The TRI-COMPAX

The TRI-COMPAX is a calendar chronograph equipped with a speedometer.
It works like the COMPAX.

The calendar consists of the date hand and the windows for displaying the days of the week, the months and the phases of the moon.

Of course, this calendar works automatically. You only have to change the months yourself by hand and set the date hand five times a year (in the months with less than 31 days).

When the clock has stopped and it has to be brought “a jour” again, it suffices to turn the hour and minute hands off past midnight so that the following day of the week appears. Each new change can be achieved by repositioning the hands for four hours and then spinning them again until past midnight.

(A detailed instruction manual will be given with each watch.)

I have not found any advertisements for the Universal Geneve 881101/01, though I am sure they are around. Please contact me if you have any, or know of links which display them.

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Serial Number Project

Below is an aggregation all of the Universal Geneve 881101/01 (aka “Eric Clapton”) pieces I have located. If you find others, please contact me with a link and/or images and serial number if available. I am not including the “Evil Clapton” (881101/02) in my research.

I have found the following Clapton serial number ranges, though obviously limited in number, and many are posted online without caseback images or serial number provided (or, at times, they are polished/worn off). I have seen reference to comments that these serials were easily worn off, but just as often it appears from images that the caseback has been polished completely.
Ranges I have seen for the Universal Geneve 881101/01 “Eric Clapton”: 2335140 – 2555878 . Others referenced in 233xxxx range, but I have not seen them in person or images.

If you believe the Universal Geneve production dates from Universal Watch Geneve by Pietro Sala, the range for the Universal Geneve 881101/01 in this project is 1963 – 1967.

The watches represented on each row in the table below are intended to be unique, though given serial numbers are often not shown, the same watch may appear multiple times. I do my best to use visual cues to pair the same watch posted at different times. When the serial number can’t be established, I give the timepiece a unique ID (based on any part that is known, plus a related date posted).

If you see any duplicates, errors, have serial numbers to include, or know of other Claptons to add, please drop me a note.

Caveats:
Description of pieces are generally based upon public images/video. For some detail, we do not have images and have to rely on text descriptions from the individual posting the timepiece. Some elements are often difficult to determine from pictures, including color of hands, for example if the chrono seconds hand is black or blue, and crown logo, rounded or pointed. If I have a 50-50 guess, I leave the detail as “unknown.”

As with the rest of this Website, the following table, and data contained therein, is subject to Alpha Hands LLC Terms and Conditions

The above table, and data contained therein, is subject to Alpha Hands LLC Terms and Conditions

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Dial

With the “Eric Clapton”, we do not have multiple dials, as we see with the “Nina Rindt“. The Universal Geneve 881101/01 came with only a single dial design. As with the Nina, I am focused here solely on the Universal Geneve 881101/01 “Eric Clapton”, as opposed to the “Evil Clapton” (881101/02, which can be identified by its black dial and white registers).

The dial of the Universal Geneve 881101/01

The dial is primarily white, with any print in black, including dial text (UNIVERSAL GENEVE, TRI-COMPAX, SWISS T), and hour/minute/second and 1/5 second marks.

The details of the three registers for running seconds, minutes and hours are the same as with the Nina Rindt, with all black with white numerals and marks. The running seconds at 9 o’clock has numerals (no marks) at 20, 40 and 60, and marks each of the other 5 second times. The 30-minute register at 3 o’clock has numerals (no marks) at 10, 20 and 30, with marks only at each remaining minute, with shorter marks for most minutes, a slightly longer mark at 5, and the longest marks at 3, 6 and 9 minutes. The 12-hour register at 6 o’clock has numerals (no marks) at 3, 6, 9 and 12, with marks on all other hours.

Clapton registers
Universal Geneve 881101/01 registers

There are two obvious difference between the Clapton and the Nina:
1. register at 12 o’clock, which includes a moonphase with surrounding date, and
2. to the left and right of the moonphase register are rectangular apertures that show discs with abbreviations for the day of the week (left window) and month (right window). The month aperture (between 1 and 2 o’clock marks) is slightly smaller in size than the day aperture (appearing between 10 and 11 o’clock marks).

The abbreviations appear in both black (~75% of pieces) and red text, with black text up through 2.471m (and one outlier at 2.555m), and red thereafter. Discs are in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Of those seen, English is by far the most common (approximately 75% of pieces), with the black pieces more common then the red (approximately 75% of English discs). Though a small sample set, we see English on nearly all later serials (2.555+).

UG Clapton Language Discs
The language discs available for the Universal Geneve 881101/01

There are luminous plots on the dial, which are at the outside end of most hour marks (1 – 11) as circles. At 12 o’clock there are two circular lume plots, side by side above and centered horizontally over the moonphase register.

While we do see a few examples of dials that not have lume (serials unknown, unfortunately), the dials are still marked SWISS T, which indicates that the dial contains tritium lume. I believe these dials were most likely cleaned (one of the examples seems reasonably likely to have been cleaned, the others are more difficult to tell from images).

UG 881101/01 no lume example

There is no Universal Geneve logo on the dial, either applied or printed.

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Main Hands

The Universal Geneve Clapton used one set of main (hour and minute) hands and then multiple types of chronograph seconds hand, specific to certain Clapton serial numbers.

Unlike Universal Geneve Nina main hands, all Claptons have silver hour and minute hands, with luminous material (see bottom of this FAQ for comment on non-lume hands).

Both combinations of hands have the same length for each type of hand. The hour hand extends nearly to the inside end of the hour mark, with a slight gap. The minute hand will extend to between the end second/minute marks.

The chronograph second hand tip extends all the way to the 1/5 second marks (regardless of type). The tail should extend into the registers for the standard style tails (tail should end about midway down the 12 numeral on the hour register when chrono hand is at 0), and for the pointed tail should end at the bottom of the 12 numeral.

Main hands found on the Universal Geneve 881101/01 Tri-Compax

Early hands: seen up to 2.43 serials
This early set of main hands is silver, with lume, for both the hour and minute, and a blued chrono seconds hand, without lume.

Later hands: seen from 2.43 serials and later
Later hour and minute hands are silver with lume, but are paired with a red chrono seconds hand, without lume.
I have seen a few of pieces with a pointed end on the red chronograph hand, which leads me to believe these may be original to the watch. Unfortunately I have little information on some of the serials, but the ones in the database do not cluster around a particular period.

While we do see a few examples with hands that not have lume and a matching dial with no lume, these dials are still marked SWISS T, which should indicate that the dial contains tritium lume. It is not a piece I would personally collect, as my working assumption is that those watches have cleaned dials with incorrect hands. Perhaps more information will surface in the future and we can more definitively say one way or the other.

Clapton No Lume Hands
Universal Geneve 881101/01 example

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Register Hands

The Universal Geneve 881101/01 “Clapton” used one set register hands throughout production.

All four hands are thin and white, with no luminous material, and have flat ends. The end of each hand will extend all the way to the outer edge of the numerals/marks of the register. The center posts are more exposed on the hour and date/moonphase registers.

Clapton registers
Universal Geneve 881101/01 register hands

We do see one example with red register hands for the date and hour registers, but these are not consistent with all other examples. In addition, that specific watch features an incorrect moonphase disc. That watch I set aside as having incorrect hands and moonphase.

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Bezel

The Universal Geneve 881101/01 came with a tachymetre bezel across its full production, graduated from 60 to 500 units. I have not seen any UG Clapton with a different unit scale.

UG Clapton Tachy Bezel
The Tachymetre bezel found on the UG 881101/01

I have seen one example of a Nina with a pulsations bezel. This piece indicates 881101/01 on the caseback. As it is the only Nina seen with a pulsations bezel, it is difficult to say that it is original to the watch. The owner as of mid-2019 is at least the second owner of the watch, having purchased it from a private individual in 1967. I don’t have any reason to doubt that it may be original to the watch, other than it is the only one I have seen to date. Pulsations bezels are, in any event, not seen as commonly as we do on the Universal Geneve 885105.

UG Clapton with Pulsations Bezel
The Pulsations bezel seen on a single UG 881101/01

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Crown

As with the Universal Geneve 885103/02 Nina, with the 881101/01 Clapton we find multiple crown styles across its production.

The early version looks like a “shield”, with pointed bottom of the shield, and U within the shield. This version appears up to a 2.47m serial. We do see a single piece in the 2.55m range, so it is possible that there was a crossover period in 2.55m.

In the second design the “U” stands on its own. This version appears from 2.55m and later.

UG Clapton Crowns
The crowns commonly found on the Universal Geneve 881101/01

As mentioned with the Universal Geneve 885103/02 Nina Rindt, I have seen discussion around the “fat” Universal logo. This logo is also referenced on Omegaforums via Universal Watch Geneve by Pietro Sala, as in the period for the Clapton (1960s), in between the shield and U-only logos.

However, I believe this is not correct, and rather the design is a later logo (not the 1960 period shown), and is not original to Claptons. As an example, we see the U-only logo on the early Golden and White Shadows with serial numbers in the 2.6 – 2.9 serial range (examples such as 2.6 and 2.97). We then see the “fat” logo on pieces with serials in the later 3.0-3.5m serial range. I only see one Clapton featuring this “fat” logo.

Of course, we also see replacement crowns with either no logo or alternative designs. These are not original to the 881101/01.

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Caseback

The exterior caseback of the Universal Geneve 881101/01 is flat. Stamping/engraving comes in one of three designs, at the top of the caseback and centered horizontally:
1.
STAINLESS STEEL
SWISS
2.
SWISS
STAINLESS STEEL
3.
No engraving/stamping

Curiously, the text does not seem to be consistent to a range of serial numbers. In many images it can be difficult to see the stamping, due to how shallow it is.

At the bottom of all Universal Geneve 881101/01 casebacks should appear, horizontally aligned,
881101/01
[serial number]

Serial numbers from 2.55 onwards should appear with the ‘ mark to designate breaks for millions and thousands, such as 2’555’xxx. Prior to this there was no mark, as in 243xxxx.

These is a very wide range in stamping/etching appearance for the reference and serial number. Some I believe were likely etched later and are not original to the watch, and perhaps the same for some stamping.

Please excuse the poor photos…will add better ones as I get more examples.

UG Clapton Casebacks
Example stamping on casebacks of Universal Geneve 881101/01

The inside of all casebacks is stamped with, horizontally aligned: the Universal Geneve shield logo (near the top), space through the center of the back, then ‘STAINLESS STEEL’ (in contrast to the ‘ACIER INOXYDABLE’ see on the Nina Rindt), ‘SWISS’, and finally the Huguenin Freres logo.

UG Clapton Inside Caseback
Inside caseback of the Universal Geneve 881101/01

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Movement

The Universal Geneve 881101 is powered by the Caliber 281, first produced in 1933/34 by Martel. This is both the first caliber to use pushers at 2 and 4 o’clock (est 1933/34), and the first full calendar chronograph that has four subdials (1942 the first with date, then adding the full calendar and moonphase in Tri-Compax in 1944).

The 281 features specifications including a Breguet hairspring, 17 jewels, running at 18,000 vph (vibrations per hour), and a power reserve of 36 hours.

Within the Clapton we see a single stamping design on the chronograph bridge:
on the branch for the chronograph/center wheel jewel: UNIVERSAL GENEVE
on the branch for the minute register wheel:
SEVENTEEN
17 JEWELS
UNADJUSTED

and then SWISS just below the screw.

UG Clapton Movement
The Caliber 281 found in the Universal Geneve 881101

The only import code seen is HON, indicating U.S. Importer A. Hirsch. Not all pieces with English Day/Month discs have the HON stamp, but all movements I have seen with an HON stamp use English Day/Month discs.

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Bracelet and Strap

Of the Universal Geneve 881101/01 watches found with straps or bracelets, I have found several possible original straps, and about a dozen with period-correct, if not original, bracelets.

Bracelets
While they are of the correct date, and may be branded as Universal Geneve (produced by either Gay Freres or JB Champion), none of the bracelets found on Universal Geneve 881101/01 are original to the watch, based on discussion with owners of pieces with bracelets in the Universal Geneve 881101/01 serial number database. The bracelet that gets the most press is the Gay Freres “double-grain beads of rice” bracelet. The other, from JB Champion, is made up of smaller “links” throughout.

I have seen only one Universal Geneve brochure showing the 881101/01 on a bracelet. I have not found any other source information (from Universal Geneve via advertisements, marketing material or otherwise) that otherwise shows or references the Universal Geneve 881101/01 delivered on a bracelet, but presumably it was an option. If you have any advertisements or other internal material, please contact me (thanks!).

Bracelets used on the Clapton take UW endlinks and are 19mm. I have seen one with UP endlinks, which were not specific to the watch, but will fit…just not as well as the UW endlinks.

If you are interested in adding a bracelet to your Universal Geneve 881101/01, look for one with an appropriate date stamp of course logo (avoiding the “thick” U logo from a later period).

[images to be added]

Straps
Two of the found Universal Geneve 881101/01 are the original strap, which is black leather, with UNIVERSAL GENEVE text and logo in gold print on the lighter backing. The logo sits in between the text and the lug end of the strap.

The buckle is the “pointed” U, with text ACIER INOX and SWISS and DEPOSE (shorthand for ‘registered design’).

As with bracelets, look for the buckle logo to match the period of the watch.

UG Clapton Strap and Buckle
Original strap and buckle for the Universal Geneve 881101/01

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Functions and Use

The Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” functions in the same manner as other chronographs of the period.

It is manually wound, so you’ll need to wind the crown clockwise to wind the mainspring and power the watch, until you feel resistance. As the Clapton is not an automatic watch, it can be overwound, so do not continue winding once it once you feel that tension.

To set the time, pull the crown slightly away from the case, and then turn clockwise.

There are two pushers, on the same side of the case as the crown, to operate and reset the chronograph. The top button will start and stop the chronograph (you do not need to reset the chronograph if you wish to start the chronograph again), and the lower button will reset all chronograph hands to 0. When the chronograph is running, the center chronograph seconds hand will continuously move, the minute register hand as 3 o’clock will advance each minute (so the register hand will always be on one of the minute marks), and the hour register hand at 6 o’clock will continuously advance.

The fuctions of the Universal Geneve 881101/01

Universal Geneve “Eric Clapton” Box and Papers

Few Universal Geneve 881101/01 are shown with box, and fewer still with any original papers.

Boxes
Most boxes found with the Universal Geneve 881101/01 have later Universal Geneve logos. It is possible these boxes were provided at the time of first sale if the watch was not purchased for a period, but I would assume they are not original to the watch. I believe that boxes were selected based on whatever inventory was at the retailer at time of sale, rather than paired with a specific watch.

There are two boxes found that are the box original to the watch in my option.

1. The first is a rectangular red box with rounded edges, a cream-colored interior lid with red print for U in a square logo and ‘UNIVERSAL GENEVE’. ‘UNIVERSAL’ appears in gold text on the lid of the box.

2. The other is the more common that we see on other Universal Geneve’s of the period, which is a flat, square design. This box is red on the hinged lid with U within a square logo in gold, black for the bottom half of the box with ‘UNIVERSAL GENEVE’ in gold print. The interior lid is cream-colored with logo featuring the U within a square in gold, and ‘UNIVERSAL GENVEVE’ and ‘le couturier de la montre’ text in red.

UG Clapton Boxes
Boxes used for the Universal Geneve 881101/01

Papers
Stay tuned…