In the 1920s, the USA government made the political decision to tax imported wristwatches, in order to try to advantage their own local watchmaking industry. A number of iterations resulted in the implementation of a three-tiered taxation system on imported wristwatch movements: 17 jewels and lower; 18 to 23 jewels; and 24 jewels and higher. There was also a heavier tax on high-grade watch case metals, such as 18K gold, as well as a further increased taxation for any “imported” wristwatches.
During the 1950s-1970s when the jewel-counts of Swiss watch movements began to increase, and the American market became a greater focus for sales, this created a dilemma for the Swiss brands. Their higher-grade movements were often 28 jewels or more, and were also often provided in high grade 18 karat gold cases. Added to this potential high taxation was the extra “imported wristwatch” tax, which would greatly affect their competitiveness in the US market.
Many Swiss watch brands therefore decided to send 17-jewel “unadjusted” movements to the USA, and have them assembled and cased locally in lower-grade case materials. This allowed them to provide a cheaper and more price-competitive option, comparable to their local competition.
UG Polerouters were of course being marketed to the USA during this period. As a result, we often see some unusual Polerouters come up for sale in the USA, either in 10K or 14K gold-filled cases, with 17- or 23-jewel versions of movements that are usually 28 jewels. In fact, UG even assigned specific codes to low-jewelled microtor movements for the US-market, often adding a 7 at the end of the movement code (e.g. 215 became 215-07, 218-2 became 218-27, etc. – more information here). Furthermore, we often see some US-market examples that are completely UG signed, but have no equivalent “normal” polerouter reference number. They are often very similar in appearance to Swiss-made Polerouters, but just… not quite the same.
So, how can we identify a US-market Polerouter?
US-market movements were usually 17-jewel versions of the famous UG microtors, e.g. 215-07, 215-17, 215-27, 215-97, 218-27, or 17-jewel 69 or 1-69 calibers. They were also marked with US import code of Universal Geneve “HON” around the balance cock (or “HOX” for earlier models with 138SS calibers). The microtor itself also often has “6 Additional Jewels Swiss” stamped on it around the base. The first two images below illustrate the differences between a US-market caliber 69 movement (right) and a non-US market caliber 69 (left). The images underneath are examples of US-market caliber 215-07 and 215-97, followed by commonly seen US-market microtor with “6 Additional Jewels Swiss” stamped.
Dials were mostly identical, but sometimes there was text missing, or additional text, such as “23 jewels” (17 + 6 additional). In some cases, “28 jewels” is also present, when using a fully-jewelled microtor movement.
Steel, 10K, 14K, and 18K cases often were missing the UG reference number, and replaced with another, usually 5-digits. The case material was usually stamped on the outside of the caseback, and there was also usually a different UG logo inside a rectangle or oval, on the inside of the caseback. For the gold cases, the Swiss hallmarks were of course missing.
Summary and Collectability
Not all polerouters sold in the USA were “US-market”. We still see many Swiss-made Polerouters, some even with original papers that were delivered and sold in the USA. However, an assumption might be that these were the more expensive, “fancy” option to its cheaper US-market equivalent. One must also keep in mind that parts could have been replaced or swapped numerous times over the last 65+ years, so it is best to assess a Polerouter holistically, with as much information as possible.
At the time of writing this article, no real pattern has emerged as yet for collectability preference of US vs Swiss Polerouters – issues such as condition and originality seem to take preference over this.