Feb 07, 2014

FOUND: Tropical Universal Genève "Nina Rindt" Compax Chronograph

When a friend contacted us last week to tell us...

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When a friend contacted us last week to tell us he'd found this watch, we knew immediately that we had to share it with all of you. After stumbling upon this rare Universal Genève chronograph online, it took a series of phone calls to Japan, multiple translators, and a few weeks to get the watch to New York. Called the "Nina Rindt" by collectors, this panda dial Compax chronograph combines the best traits of 1960s chronographs with some of the slightly quirky details that make UGs so interesting. That it's going tropical only makes this more appealing.

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This is a classic story of how putting in a little work can result in amazing finds. One evening, while searching the web for photos of this chronograph, our friend Bill stumbled upon this watch for sale. You can see the original listing here, and you'll notice that this watch was in Japan (Kobe, specifically). Although the photos aren't perfect, it's was clear to Bill that the watch was pretty good quality and worth pursuing. The listing was a few months old, but he called the store anyway. Someone answered, but immediately said "No English!" and hung up the phone. Things were about to get complicated.

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Bill's mother is Korean and contacted some family in Korea, finding a cousin who speaks Korean and Japanese. Bill doesn't speak Korean, so he had to go through his mother, to the cousin, and finally to the shop staff in Japan. Three languages, four people, and one really great Compax. Definitely worth the trouble.

After a few other logistical issues (shipping, payment, etc.) the watch arrived in New York and finally made its way to HODINKEE HQ. What you're looking at here is a Universal Genève Compax chronograph that is known as the Nina Rindt because it was famously worn by the model through the 60s and 70s. Nina was the wife of racecar driver Jochen Rindt, who was a friend of Jackie Stewart and the only driver to ever posthumously win the Formula One World Drivers' Championship, after a fatal crash prior to the 1970 Italian Grand Prix. You can see her here wearing the watch on a massive leather cuff at the track. I'll admit, the watch looks much better on her than it does on me.

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The case is between 36mm and 37mm and has the same twisted lugs that you'll find on other UGs. Otherwise, the styling is very much in line with other racing chronographs of the era, like the Daytona, for example. There are stick markers (printed, not applied), lume at the tips, a triple subdial layout, and the tachy bezel.

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The tachymeter bezel here is metal with a printed metal insert, instead of the plexi insert you'd find on the black bezel Daytona. The pushers are your basic pump pushers and the crown is signed with the large "U." This crown in particular still has very sharp knurling, something that often wears off over the years. 

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The dial on this example is unbelievable. The ground is a lightly grained cream color with ink black printed markers and minutes/seconds track around the edge. The tritium lume plots are all intact and have a yellowish-green tint. Both the "Universal Genève" and "Compax" signatures are clean and legible. The subdials are what really make this watch though. They're circular grained and set into the dial slightly. While they were black when the watch was originally made, they have gone "tropical" turning a mostly even brown color. 

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Inside the Compax is the legendary Valjoux 72 movement, again a similarity between this watch and the early Rolex Daytonas. It's a high quality column wheel chronograph movement and the pushers are crisp and easy to activate. Just a reminder – you'd be surprised how many people forget this – the Valjoux 72 is a manually wound movement, and the crown here is large enough to make winding easy.

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To some readers, 36mm will sound small for a sports watch, but the size is perfect for a watch like this. It fits nicely under a cuff and worn on a leather strap (like one of our own here) it can do double-duty as a sport watch and dressier office-appropriate watch. I've had it in the office for three days and have found myself swapping it out for whatever else is on my wrist when I arrive in the morning.

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It's worth noting at this point the value that a watch like this presents. You're getting a great movement, a well appointed dial and case, and really great style, all for a reasonable price. There are a few different dial styles for this era of Compax chronograph, and they all come in around a few thousand dollars – a tropical Rolex Daytona 6241 (also with pump pushers and black bezel) will set you back about $40,000 by comparison. Sure, it's not the same watch, and we're not trying to suggest that it is, but this is a heck of a watch for the money.

Thank you again to Bill for sharing this watch with us, and if you want to see more of what Bill has strapped to his wrist, check him out on Instagram at billfactor.

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tagged universal geneve