Investigating the Polerouter Sub 20369/1

We dive into the serial numbers and reveal the different executions of this highly collectible reference.

Investigating the Polerouter Sub 20369/1

The first reference of the Universal Geneve Polerouter Sub (20369/1) is instantly recognisable. A deep black dial, and a rotating black inner dive ring, inside a big steel case with two big crowns that stick out at 2 and 4 o’clock, and rated waterproof to 200 m. I could really be describing any EPSA style dive watch from the 1960’s, but the Polerouter Sub somehow manages to stand out from the pack in a very elegant way.

For decades the 20369/1 has been highly collectible, but in the last few years some doubts have been cast over the model and how to assess one. Differences in dials, missing text, strange lume patterns, and a huge amount of fakes that appeared on the market has put some question marks over what a correct/original Polerouter Sub 20369/1 should look like. Fortunately we can now start to clear up some of these question marks. 

We decided to dive deeper into the serial numbers, by building up a database of over 50 examples. As is usually the case, some clear patterns  emerged for the different dials, crowns, and movements that were used.

The 3 executions of the Polerouter Sub 20369/1

Most importantly, this database revealed there were at least 3 distinct executions of the Polerouter Sub 20369/1. The serial numbers clearly group into different batch sizes, which correlate with at least 3 sets of characteristics:

  1. 203xxxx serials;
  2. 206xxxx serials; and
  3. 211xxxx, 222-223xxxx, and 228xxxx serials.

The first and earliest group of serials  of the 20369/1 are the 203xxxx serials (above left). They mainly stand out from the later pieces in that they are strangely all missing any Polerouter Sub text on the dial. Furthermore, they also stand out in that the hour markers are completely covered in radium lume, including the top marker triangle on the rotating dive ring. They have two thin matched crowns, both with a cross-hatched pattern on the surface. These are typically powered by the caliber 215 Microtor, though a few instances of caliber 215-9 seem to be scattered throughout. As yet there is no clear pattern to this (they do not seem to be related to serial numbers), so it remains to be seen whether these movements are replacements or original.

The second group that appear in serial order are the 206xxxx serials (above middle). These are the first pieces that appear with “Polerouter Sub” text on the dial. The full lume hour markers have been reduced to painted markers, with a small lume dot inside each. The dive ring now also has lume on the minute markers from 0-20, and only the outline of the top triangular marker is lumed. Both crowns are still cross-hatched, and the movements are still 215 calibers.

The third group (above right) encompasses a few different serial ranges, including the 211xxxx serials, 222-223xxxx serials, and 228xxxx serials. Though the dials and lume patterns remain essentially unchanged from the previous execution, these serials had the top cross-hatched crown replaced by a much larger crown, which also had the UG shield logo on it. The dive ring remains unchanged from the 206 serials, where lume appears on the minute markers from 0-20, and the outline of the top triangular marker. The 215 from the previous serials has now been replaced by the upgraded 218-9 caliber microtor, which correlates well with other Polerouters around these serial ranges. Early into the 223xxxx serial range also saw a change from “SWISS” to “SWISS T” marked dials, which presumably coincides with the watch industry’s replacement of radium with tritium luminous material.

In addition to the database of Polerouter Subs, the above three groupings have some further evidence to support them. A number of vintage advertisements and catalogues from the 1960s, show all 3 types appearing chronologically within different publications:

To summarise, here are the main points that separate the above three executions:

NomenclatureSerial rangeSub TextHour MarkersDive ringCrownsMovement
First execution203xxxxNoFull lumeFull lume triangleboth crosshatched, unsigned215
Second execution206xxxxYesDot LumeOutline lume triangle Markers 0 to 20both crosshatched, unsigned215
Third execution211xxxx
YesDot LumeOutline lume triangle Markers 0 to 201x thin crosshatched, unsigned;
1x thick, signed

US-Market Polerouter Subs.

The above groupings should be considered the “norm” for the swiss-cased 20369/1 Polerouter Sub, but as with many Polerouter models, US-market pieces also exist (read more about US-market Polerouters here). These still carry over the same characteristics as the three executions listed above, but with a few extra details that help to identify them, such as the “Stainless Steel Swiss” text on the outside of the caseback, and low-jewelled movements (215-07 or 218-97) with HON import marks on the balance, as below.

Fake Polerouter Subs.

No article about the Polerouter Sub 20369/1 can be considered complete without a discussion of the infamous Australian Fakes.

The 20369/1 is one of the most common (if not the only) Polerouter that has been faked in a significant quantity. The initial discovery all seems to have been kicked off way back in 2010, by a post on WatchProSite by Nixen_Bixen. Eventually these fakes were traced back to a single source in Australia, with help from Eric Wind and LouS. To reiterate the findings, the telltale signs are found throughout the watch: in the case; the movement; the dial; and the crowns.

The fake cases typically have any combination of a dull surface finish, acid pitting, bevelled lugs, and matching large hatched crowns (at least double the thickness of the originals). They were made from a poor quality metal, so are often heavily polished to try and rectify the poor finish, and none of the fake examples identified so far have any reference or serial numbers. Again unlike the originals, many of the fakes also have HF stamped inside the caseback, and quite a few have some added fake military engravings on the outside of the caseback.

An unusual thing about these fakes is that they typically have genuine UG Microtor calibers inside. However, they are most often a combination of mismatched parts, mismatched condition, and incorrect caliber numbers. Read more in the Polerouter Buyers Guide about assessing Polerouter movements. The correct movement calibers are listed above, and any major deviation from that should be considered a red flag to check the watch over more carefully.

The original dials for these were one of the simplest “tell”s, though as time has gone on, some of them seem to have been replaced with other types of reprinted Polerouter Sub dials. The main features were the incorrect and non-serif fonts, as well as the characteristic gap between GENE VE. To quote one of the original investigators, LouS:

“Does it not strike you that there quite a few quality control issues with these subs? Do you find it odd that UG went from precise and exact in the 1st execution of this model, so a little slipshod in the 2nd, and then back to precise and exact in the later models of teh (sic) Polerouter sub. ?”

Wise words to remember, whenever anyone starts down the path of UG quality control…

The crowns are the final major tell to recognise one of these fakes. Though they do somewhat resemble the cross-hatched crowns found on the 1st execution 203xxxx serials, they are at least twice as thick as the originals. This is the type of crown that is usually found on various EPSA cased divers from the same period, from dive watch brands including Jaeger LeCoultre, Hamilton, Benrus, and Wittnauer, amongst others.

So many of these fakes seem to have been distributed, that at one time they seemed to vastly outnumber the original pieces that were on the market. Occasionally they still pop up on eBay and Chrono24, but thanks to plenty of open forum discussion by collectors its not so often anymore.

One thing is still indisputable, that they pale in comparison to an original reference 20369/1, no matter whether its a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd execution.

Collectors Note: Matching Polerouter dials with movement calibers

Collectors Note: “Undesignated” dials

How to spot a repainted Polerouter dial