Wednesday, 23 December 2009



To shortcut the flights from Europe to California (USA) by some thousand kilometers, the airline SAS (Scandinavian Airline System) opened new routes over the North Pole in the Ninteen-Fifties. All crews on these flights had to take part in a special training at the "SAS's Arctic Flight School". The swiss watch manufacturerer Universal Genève provided the crews with automatic precision wrist-watches that are resistent against the strong magnetic field of the polar region. They became the offical chronometers of SAS.

SAS logo with the national flags of Danmark, Norway and Sweden

SAS' Douglas DC 6-B "Leif Viking"

On the 15th November 1954 at 19:18 local time the "Helge Viking" (OY-KMI) took off in Copenhagen for the first commercial flight over the North Pole (flight number SK 931). Final destination was Los Angeles (USA). The plane was a Douglas DC-6 B with a wing span of 35.8 m equipped with four 2500 hp Pratt & Whitney propeller engines (18-cylinder twin row radial piston). The maximum cruising speed of this aircraft is 507 km/h. The range is 7600 km with a service ceiling of 25,000 ft. The long-range aircrafts used by SAS had a capacity of 50 to 75 passengers.

Capt. Povl Jensen and his crew, incl. the chief pilot and the chief navigator of SAS, flew via Söndre Strömsfjord (Greenland) to Winnipeg (Canada) where a scheduled crew-change took place. Above the Canadian tundra they met the sister plane "Leif Viking" (LN-LMP) that was on its way from Los Angeles to Copenhagen on the same route. From Winnipeg Capt. Mikal Aschim and his crew continued the flight to Los Angeles, where they arrived on the 16th November at 22:20 (with a delay of just 3 minutes). The total travelling time was 27 h 15 min and the time airborne was 24 h 25 min. On board of the plane were the three Prime Ministers of the Scandinavian countries: Hans Hedtoft (Danmark), Tage Erlander (Sweden) and Oscar Torp (Norway) as well as a group of prominent journalists.The inauguration of the polar route was the biggest single aviation event in Scandinavia. In Copenhagen more than 10.000 spectators joined the ceremony for the departing plane and, roughly 24 hours later, the ceremonial welcome greeting for the arriving plane.

Arrival in Copenhagen on16th November 1954

German newspaper of 16th/17th November 1954 with a first article "live" from the inaugural polar flight of SAS

Following this exploit, Universal Genève introduced a watch with the name "Polarouter" in fall 1954. It was created and designed by one of the most admired watchmakers of the 20th century, Gerald Genta. He later created the "Royal Oak" for Audemars Piguet and the "Nautilus" for Patek Philippe. The Polarouter was, like the models worn by the SAS crews, supplied with the automatic calibre 138 SS with a pendular mass oscillating between two shock absorber. Very soon the watch was renamed to "Polerouter" and then fitted with the famous calibre 215 "Microtor" with a rotating mass incorporated in the movement. Several other Polerouter models followed over the next twelve years. In addition to the classic case with "Bombe" lugs and an inner index ring (Polerouter, Polerouter de luxe, Polerouter Date) new models with different casing-design and dials have been introduced (Polerouter Jet, Polerouter Super, Polerouter Genève, Polerouter Compact, Polerourer "NS", Polerouter III, Polerouter Sub).

In the 1950's and 60's Universal Genève was the official "timer" on all Royal Viking flights of SAS. This fact was advertised by both parties. The symbolic globe with a flag at the North Pole and the sketched polar-route (see last figure of this page) was modified by Universal Genève an engraved in the steel backs of every "classical" Microtor-Polerouter. In addition the versions delivered to the SAS-Crews were decorated with the SAS logo printed on the dial. Most Polerouter models were available in steel, 18 k yellow and pink gold or with 300 µm gold cap; always provided with a screwed back. A Polerouter had always the status of a high-quality luxurious watch. In the late 1950's a steel Polerouter costs as much as a Rolex Explorer. A Polerouter Date in 18 k gold with a gold bracelet had nearly the same price as a Volkswagen Beetle. After the introduction of the Polerouter Electric in 1963, at the end of the 1980's an unsuccessful attempt was made to revive the name Polerouter with a tasteless Quartz watch. In 1990 a Quartz Polerouter Sport Chrono was introduced. Since then, Universal Genève had not produce watches under the label Polerouter any more.
Microtor model presented at the Bale Fair in 1958

German SAS timetableof 1957

In 1957 SAS inaugurated the transpolar service Copenhagen-Anchorage-Tokyo with the new Boeing DC-7 C. The flying time was reduced from 52 to 32 hours. By tying together the southern route and the polar route, SAS had earned the right to put "First over the pole and around the world" over the door on its DC-7 C's. But a new era was coming closer - the jet age. Very quickly the new jets like the SE-210 Caravelle and the Douglas DC-8-33 replaced the older propeller machines.
Founded in 1946, today SAS is one of the most sucessful European airline with an average of approx. 1,000 flights per day. In 1997 SAS became a founding member of world-wide Star-Alliance network. The present the fleet consists of 152 jet aircrafts (Airbus 340, Boeing 767, 737 and McDonell-Douglas MD81/82/83, MD 87, MD 90-30 and DC 9) as well as 31 propeller aircrafts (Fokker 50, Saab 2000 and deHavilland Q 400). Polar flights became the daily routine of the flight schedule and atomic controlled Quartz watches have replaced the mechanical masterpieces long time ago.

SAS advertisement published in the German news magazin "Spiegel" two days after the inagural flight
Polerouter advertisement published in the German SAS timetable of 1957

The movement used in the early Polarouter and Polerouter models was the caliber 138 SS. It was introduced by Universal Genève in 1948, first as cal. 138 with a subsidiary second and then with a central second as cal. 138 SS and with date indication as cal. 138 moondate. The cal. 138 SS measures 28.2 mm in diameter and 5.55 mm in thickness. Its balance makes 18,000 vibrations per hour. As in all early self-winding wrist watches, the weight - located in the center of the movement - oscillates between two springs acting as shock absorbers, the so-called bumpers. This mechanism is only winding the mainspring during one motion. The bimetal 2-arm balance with compensating screws is protected by an Incabloc antishock system. It is fitted with a flat Nivarox hairspring. The balance cock has a long regulator pin. The cal. 138 SS has 17 jewels, a plain surface finish and is rhodium-plated. It is shock-proof and anti-magnetic. Despite the precision and reliability that was proven on duty for SAS, the movement was replaced by the famous "Microtor" movement after approximately one year of production.

Caliber 138 SS: Bumper automatic movement, 17 jewels

Caliber 215: First Microtor automatic movement, 28 jewels

In the early fifties Universal Genève masterminded, parallel to the Buren Watch Company, a radically new automatic winding system: the Microtor with its incorporated rotor mass. The Patent for the technical design was applied on 27th May 1955 and, after some legal troubble, registered on 15th May 1958 under the No. 329805. Therefore, the movements of the first production years are signed "Patented Rights Pending" underneath the rotor. The first movement introduced in spring 1955 was the cal. 215. The rotor is winding the mainspring in both directions, enabling more energy to be stored. The main characteristics are: 28.0 mm diameter, 4.1 mm height, 18,000 vibrations per hour, 28 jewels. The 2-arm monometallic balance is protected by an Incabloc antishock system. The self-compensating flat Nivarox hairspring is blue coloured. The escape wheel is fitted with a Gyrocap shock-protection. The regulator is very short and arrow-shaped; since 1958 a long shaped regulator was used. The power reserve of 60 hours is exptional high. The rotor is pink gold-plated with a "Colimaconnage" finish, the movement rhodiumed with a fine "Fausses cotes de Genève" decoration.

In 1958 the cal. 215-1 with a date indication at the "3" followed. The movement was introduced in a chronometer version of the Polerouter Date. It was supplied with a screw driven fine-regulator of the balance spring, that was not available in the "normal" cal. 215-1 or in the thinner later cal. 215-2, where a long shaped regulator was used. Due to the additional date indication module the movement grew in thickness by 1.15 mm to 5.15 mm, all other features remained unchanged. In the same year the cal. 215-07 without date, 4.7 mm high and 17 instead of 28 jewels was launched. The cal. 215-9 also without date indication but with 28 jewels, has an increased frequency of 21,600 vibrations per hour, whereas the cal. 215-97 had the same features with just 17 jewels. The other variations, cal. 215-17 with date indication but only 17 jewels and the cal. 215-27 with the same number of jewels but a reduced thickness of 4.7 mm due to a integrated date function, were not or only very seldom used in Polerouter models.

Caliber 215-1: Microtor movement with longer regulator, 28 jewels

Caliber 218-2: Microtor movement with micrometric regulator, 28 jewels

The sucessor of the cal. 215 are the cal. 218 and 218-2, whereas only the cal. 218-2, fitted with a date indication, was used in the Polerouter (Polerouter Date). Introduced arround 1960, it replaced all calibers of the type 215. Only for some rare models without an date indication like the Polerouter Sub with two crowns, the cal. 215 was still used. The thickness could be reduced to 4.7 mm due to the integration of the date function. The general technical features and the finish remained unchanged. The movement now has the same micrometric adjustment of the balance spring as the above mentioned cal. 215 (chronomètre). Furthermore, it is featuring several innovations in parts of the automatic mechanism. For example, on 30th January 1957, Universal Genève lodged an application for Patent No. 330900, refering to a further development of the winding mechanism. The cal. 218-9 has an increased balance frequency of 21,600 vibrations per hour, 28 jewels but no date. It was used in some late Polerouter Genève models.

The next stage of development is the cal. 69. The movement is featuring an even more advanced winding system. While the general design and seize remained the same, the rotor has a new shape. In addition, several parts are also given the "stop oil" treatment, in order to reduce their need for lubrification. The movement was introduced arround 1962 in the Polerouter Date and later used in the Polerouter Super. The version 1-69, for example used in the Polerouter Sub (with a revolving lunette), has 17 or 28 jewels and no micrometric adjustment for the balance spring. The cal. 68 is identical but without date indication, was only used seldom for the Polerouter familiy. The cal. 69 is the last representative of the classical microtor movements, originating from the famous cal. 215. The sucessors cal. 66 (without second hand), cal. 67 (without second hand but with date), both not used for Polerouter models, are thinner (only 2.5 mm without date) but less attractive. This is due to the less harmonious arrangement of the bridges and the reduced number of jewels (25 instead of 28), because of a rotor with a ball bearing.

Caliber 69: Microtor movement with new rotor mechanism, 28 jewels

Caliber 72: Microtor movement with new design, 25 jewels, 21,600 A/h

The cal. 72 with a diameter of 27.0 mm instead of 28.0 mm, is completely different from the aforementioned movements. It has a date and weekday indication at the "3" and a height of 4.6 mm. The frequency increased to 21,600 vibrations per hour (like with the cal. 215-9, cal. 215-97 and cal. 218-9) while the number of jewels was reduced to 25. This is related to the use of a ball bearing for the rotor mechanism. The arrangement of the bridges differs very much from the classical microtor movements (cal. 215, cal. 218-2, cal. 69). The cal. 72 was used in all Polerouter models with separate windows for day and date in the late sixties. The thinner cal. 71 (3.9 mm) without the weekday indication was not used for Polerouter models. The so-called "Super Microtor" cal. 256 (with the ending A, B or C) is not covered here deliberately. The movement has a "normal" central rotor and was produced by Movado (equivalent to cal. 395). It has 28 jewels but is of lower quality and only used in the Polerouter compact. Furthermore, all electrical or Quartz movements are ignored here.

No comments:

Post a Comment