Universal Geneve 884100/02 “Big Eye”

Universal Geneve 884100/02 "Big Eye"

Universal Geneve 884100/02 “Big Eye” Introduction
When I first saw the Universal Geneve Uni-Compax 884100, I had no love for it. The asymmetric register design was simply too much for my brain (which spends the rest of the day on nice neat Excel tables). Over time, I’ve grown to appreciate it far more.

The Universal Geneve 884100, otherwise known as the “Big Eye” in reference to the larger chronograph minute register, was produced from approximately 1964-1965 (judging by the Universal Geneve production tables available). With overall low production (some claim under 100, but I have never seen anything directly from Universal Geneve to support this figure), these pieces retained the same dial design (in white and black), case, movement and hands throughout their production period. This research focuses on the white-dial Universal Geneve 884100/02, for no reason other than I like the look more than the black dial. Maybe I’ll add the black-dial (Universal Geneve 884100/01) in one day…so many watches, so little free time.

The Universal Geneve 884100 features a 36.5mm steel case, registers at 3 and 9 o’clock for running seconds and 45-minute counter, respectively, with surrounding tachymeter scale (base 1000). Specific to the white dial 884100/02 features red crosshair both on the white dial and sunken black running seconds register, and red lines from the center of the sunken black minute counter to the numerals 15 and 30, with the area from 0 (marked 45) to 8 minutes shaded in grey. A manually wound Universal Geneve Caliber 125 (modified Valjoux 23) powers the reference.

One last note – if you or anyone else can convince the current Universal Geneve owners to sell me the company I would appreciate it (look for my kickstarter campaign if so). It is a total shame to have the brand languish like this.

Universal Geneve “Big Eye” Serial Number Project

Below is an aggregation all of the *white dial* Universal Geneve 884100/02 “Big Eye” pieces I have found. If you find others, please contact me with a link and/or images and serial number if available.

Ranges I have seen for the white dial Big Eye: 2370276 – 2380565, corresponding to roughly late 1964 – 1965. This range will increase as I receive more information on these pieces.

The range above is extremely limited due to few of these pieces available, and for many shown, most without visible caseback images, or otherwise without serial number provided.

The watches represented on each row in the table below are intended to be unique, though given serial numbers are often not shown for images, 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 Universal Geneve 884100/02 to add, please let me know.

Description of pieces are generally based upon public images/video. For some detail, I 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 register hands are black or blue. 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 “Big Eye” Dial

The Universal Geneve 884100 was manufactured with two different dial options, one primarily in white, the 884100/02 that I cover in this site, as well as the 884100/01, which is primarily black.

The Universal Geneve 884100/02 features:

  • asymmetric black registers (see below image for details)
  • thin red crosshair
  • black baton index markers for each hour, with exceptions:
    • double markers at 12 o’clock
    • no markers at 3 and 9 o’clock
    • cropped markers at 2 and 4 o’clock due to the larger minute counter
  • applied Universal Geneve logo at 12 o’clock below the two black index markers
  • ‘UNIVERSAL GENEVE’ text below applied logo, on two lines
  • ‘UNI-COMPAX’ text on the bottom half of the dial
  • short black 1/5 second marks, longer at each second
  • outer tachymeter scale, Base 1000 with black text and numerals
  • luminous baton marks between the index markers and the tachymeter scale
  • ‘SWISS T’ indication at 6 o’clock, underneath the number 120 within the tachymeter scale

Universal Geneve 884100/02 Dial

The Universal Geneve 884100/02 registers are primarily black. Features:

  • Running second register
    • thin red crosshair
    • numerals at 15, 30, 45 and 60 (red line runs through)
    • white marks each 5 seconds, with no marks for times with numerals
  • Minute counter (the “Big Eye”)
    • thin red lines splitting register into thirds at 15, 30 and 45
    • numerals at 15, 30 and 45 (red line runs through)
    • grey area up to 8 second mark
    • shorter white marks each second, with exception of the 5s and numerals
    • longer white marks each 5 seconds, with no marks for times with numerals
Universal Geneve “Big Eye” Hands

The Universal Geneve 884100/02 maintained was produced with the same set of hands throughout its short life.

Main hour, minute hands and chronograph seconds hands are all blued steel, with baton shaped (not tapered) tritium lume. These hands may appear black in images, however this is simply due to lighting/angles, they are all blued.

The thick baton register hands, both running seconds and minute counter, are steel (not blued or painted, so silver in color), and also with baton shaped lume. In images you may see these hands appear black or white, but in all cases they are steel without additional color.

Universal Geneve 884100/02 Dial

Universal Geneve “Big Eye” Case

Universal Geneve 884100 has a 36.mm stainless steel case, 20mm lug width, and what I think of as “normal” lug shape. Given the Universal Geneve Caliber 125 is based on the Valjoux 23, we see the pusher at 2 o’clock slightly closer to the crown than the pusher at 4 o’clock.

Universal Geneve 884100 Case

There are few of these pieces known, and just a couple where I have seen the engraving on the caseback and inside caseback.

Universal Geneve 884100/02 Caseback

There is no symbol on the caseback, only etching at bottom, centered:
followed by the 7-digit case number.
There are no ‘ marks in between thousands/millions, as we see in some other Universal Geneve pieces of this period.
A number of pieces appear to be lacking any etching on the caseback, likely due to polishing.

Universal Geneve 884100 Reference and Serial

The inside of the case has a circular polish with stamping horizontally centered:
[Universal Geneve logo]
SWISS (in larger and slightly different font)

It is common to see the text not centered vertically, and also not parallel to the UG symbol or other text.

Universal Geneve 884100 Inside Caseback

Bezel is plain steel with no markings.

Universal Geneve “Big Eye” Crown and Pushers

Regarding the Universal Geneve 884100 crown, again with few examples seen, I believe the shield logo to be correct. We also see unsigned crowns, though the majority of this small set are signed. When signed, they all have the Universal Geneve shield, as opposed to the solitary “U” seen on other references of the period.

Universal Geneve 884100 Crown and Pushers

Universal Geneve “Big Eye” Movement

The Universal Geneve 884100/02 is powered by a Universal Geneve Caliber 125, which is a modified Valjoux 23 (VZ). The Valjoux 23 was workhorse manufactured from 1914 to 1974, manually-wound with 18,000 vpm and a 48 hour power reserve, with the characteristic of the pusher at 2 o’clock being slightly closer to the crown than the pusher at 4 o’clock. I believe this caliber was exclusive to the Universal Geneve Uni-Compax line (as with everything on this site…please do let me know if this isn’t accurate).

There are few Universal Geneve 884100/02 seen in total, and just a handful with movement images.
Of movement images seen, all are stamped on the distinctive U-shaped chronograph bridge:

At the edge of the train wheel bridge is stamped:

I have not seen any pieces with import codes stamped on the movement, though with so few movements seen, this isn’t surprising. I don’t believe it would be unusual to see some of the pieces (known or unknown) with codes.

One difference seen is in the movement plate stamp. Some have 23 and the Valjoux symbol (“R”), and others have these machined off entirely (see below), seemingly so Universal Geneve could market this as a Caliber 125, as opposed to a the modified Valjoux 23 that it is. Based on serial numbers, though few, I have not yet been able to establish a pattern of when the Valjoux stamping was removed.

UG 884100/02 Movements, with and without stamping

Universal Geneve “Big Eye” Price Trends

Very few Universal Geneve 884100 come available, and with far fewer of the 884100/02 white dial than the 884100/01 black dial. Condition (and marketing) are of course price drivers, and we can see poor examples ranging from under $10K USD to auction, to asking prices of up to $40K from known dealers.

You may use the filters in the table at bottom to view data for a subset of case numbers, and this will filter the price trends chart as well.

Please contact me if you know of any other pieces, have serial numbers to contribute, or corrections.

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

[chart in process]

Again, selecting filters from the table below will in turn adjust the above chart.

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

Universal Geneve Copy from Massena LAB

Call it what you will…a copy, reissue, rip-off, remake, reinvention, resurrection, fake, reinterpretation, homage, relaunch, or a release inspired “in the style of…”, I was surprised by the release of the Massena LAB Uni-Racer.

Surprised because I didn’t expect Massena LAB, having been denied the Uni-Compax trademark, to release a “copy” (I’ll go with that term) of the Universal Geneve 884100 Uni-Compax “Big Eye” given the comments at Massena’s HSNY lecture and what I understood (incorrectly) to be positioning of the “LAB”. I appreciate the attention to detail in the Uni-Racer – the Massena LAB logo in the center of the acrylic crystal, blued hands, the brushing, all harkening back to the good old days of UG. I love the design of the original Big Eye, but I don’t think one can claim that there is any lab work or creativity here. Different case size, new logo, new crown, new name. This isn’t anything innovative, though it is in line with Massena LAB’s business model.

Massena LAB Uni-Racer (L) and original Universal Geneve Uni-Compax (R)

There has been ample discussion on the boards whether the Massena LAB Uni-Racer should be called “one of [the] favorite new watches of 2020” (of course, that comment is from HODINKEE…which, um, coincidentally is the only retail partner of the watch), or simply is an overpriced rip-off.

Whichever you want to call it, best to listen to how William Massena himself positions the Uni-Racer in OT: The Podcast – William Massena (Massena Lab) reimagining icons, Hodinkee collabs, Rolex OPs. And, just to be clear up front, he is straightforward in saying that “it is not [his] original design”. While he says he is “redoing a watch” and refers to the Uni-Racer as an “homage”, Massena at the same time notes that it was “inspired by” the Uni-Compax, which was a good target “not to reissue, not to do a homage, but to do a collab with myself” given that he felt the original was too small (37mm) and of course for the original, not too expensive. Conflicting marketing messages…probably still working out the GTM kinks.

It probably is useful to put this “homage” (?) in the context of others, perhaps the most relevant being the Gevril Tribeca. Massena characterizes the differences as the quantity of pieces produced (the Gevril made in larger quantities) and “the idea [with the Uni-Racer] is not to copy [Universal Geneve], and not even to do a homage…” Which, I have to confess, I do not understand, as the design outputs relative to the originals seems the same to me. And a copy is, literally, “a thing made to be similar or identical to another.” The main difference between release of the two, I believe, is that the Tribeca was modeled after a watch no longer made from a company (Rolex) still actively producing watches.

Rolex Daytona 6239 and Gevril Tribeca

Massena was not able to acquire the rights to the “Uni-Compax” name, thus the “Uni-Racer” name. It’s not an original watch, and the $3,500 price tag is considered high by many, with the use of the Sellita 510M called out as one reason (you can read a bit on Sellita v ETA, though limited to SW200 discussion and from number of years ago…this just to highlight movement differences). I don’t know the costs, but Massena called the Uni-Racer an “experiment to see how well I can make a watch. …If I had the resources of a big watch company, I could make it for half the price. And I would.” [1] This watch will appeal to collectors that know the original Big Eye and are fine with a good-looking modern copy they can wear without worry (or that allows them a Big Eye look that is not otherwise affordable), but I expect the Uni-Racer will have difficulty competing more broadly with the options under $5,000 to those with tighter budgets.

I find it incredibly disappointing that the current Universal Geneve, owned by the Hong Kong-based holding company Stelux, decided not to engage with Massena on this piece. Doing so would have lent greater credibility to the watch than a separate brand releasing the watch, which is akin to, say, Dan Henry pieces, which is available at a much more aggressive price point (say $250), or a Steinhart. Related, it is shameful that Stelux isn’t doing anything with their ownership of Universal Geneve other than let it gather dust. Stelux should go all-in with Universal Geneve and re-release pieces from their incredible catalog (see Universal Geneve by Pietro Sala).

But don’t be surprised if you see other remakes from Massena. He is “going to do more in this vein. There will perhaps more Universal inspiration because I love it, but maybe not so literal in concept.” [1] And he is looking more broadly than just Universal Geneva, nothing that if the manufacturer will work with him, Massena will work with them. If they don’t, he will remake pieces regardless. [2]

The Massena LAB Uni-Racer is limited to 200 pieces in each of white (based on the 84100/02) and black (884100/01) dial. Released October 20, 2020, development, took “a bit over 2 years”.

[1] Massena Lab Just Released an Homage to a Cult-Classic Chronograph, Esquire, October 20, 2020
[2] William Massena (Massena Lab) reimagining icons, Hodinkee collabs, Rolex OPs, OT Podcast