Breitling Acquires Universal Genève: A Historic Reunion in Swiss Watchmaking
In a landmark move that is set to reshape the landscape of Swiss watchmaking, Breitling has announced the acquisition of one of watchmaking's most influential companies, Universal Genève, thus bringing the iconic brand back into Swiss hands. The acquisition, rumoured to be valued at around $70 million, marks the end of Universal Genève's three-decade ownership under the Hong Kong-based Stelux Group and the beginning of their long-awaited revival whereby they can join the growing list of revived brands like Doxa, Nivada Grenchen, Daniel Roth and many more.
Founded in 1894, Universal Genève has long held a revered status among watch enthusiasts thanks to boasting a rich history filled with innovative designs, technically advanced movements and a vibrant customer base. Despite facing challenges during the Quartz Crisis, the brand managed to maintain a strong presence in the collecting community, with some of its vintage models achieving cult status, like the Polerouter and their wide variety of chronographs and calendar pieces.
Breitling's acquisition, led by CEO Georges Kern and backed by the main shareholder Partners Group, is expected to breathe new life into Universal Genève and is likely to look to Universal Genève's past to inform their future releases, a bit like Breitling's resurgence that began in 2017 when Kern took his position as CEO. The move is also seen as a strategic play by Breitling, as it aims to leverage the synergies between the two brands, both of which have a significant legacy in the world of chronographs, with Breitling inventing the modern chronograph and Universal Geneve perfecting it decades later.
In commenting on the acquisition, Georges Kern stated, "Rebuilding a brand with such a rich narrative is not a quick endeavour. It is a meticulous labour of love that we anticipate will unfold over the coming years. A dedicated team will be brought on board to allow Breitling and Universal Genève to operate as separate maisons." While it is likely that this development will take years to unfold as Breitling intends fully, we can only hope that we begin to see releases from Universal Genève in the new year, perhaps powered by Breitling's movements, such as the B01 chronograph calibre. After all, this is something watch enthusiasts have hoped would happen for decades.
A storied watchmaker who has earned its place in the annals of history, Universal Genève's heritage dates back to its founding in Le Locle, Switzerland, in 1894. Over the years, the brand became renowned for its chronographs, as mentioned, including the Compax line. Furthermore, they also introduced ground-breaking innovations like the micro-rotor automatic movement. However, the Quartz Crisis in the 1970s posed challenges, leading to changes in ownership and a period of relative dormancy whereby modern Universal Genève was a shadow of its former self, with its collections, like the Okeanos and "Moon Chronograph" completely detached from their historical offerings and their aesthetic entirely different.
Breitling's successful track record under Georges Kern's leadership, where the brand nearly doubled its turnover and solidified its position among the top watchmakers, instils plenty of confidence in the team here in Top Wristonomy that this revival of Universal Genève will be a success and that we will see their watches on our watch stands in no time. With an undisclosed amount earmarked for the acquisition (we can only assume it is large), the stage is set for a revival that promises to honour Universal Genève's heritage while also infusing modernity into the brand – a fascinating mix that has proven successful for almost every brand that has tried it, and most famously Breitling.
Of course, with this acquisition being so new, Breitling's future plans for Universal Genève remain undisclosed for the time being, and industry observers are eager to see how Breitling, with its resources and expertise, will reshape the brand's identity. With a portfolio that includes iconic watches like the Polerouter and the "Nina Rindt" Compax, Universal Genève holds immense potential for a resurgence in the high-end watch market, particularly given how easy it will be for Breitling to allow its new subsidiary the ability to piggyback off of their existing infrastructure such as their retailer network, factories, staffing and so on.
As the watchmaking community eagerly anticipates the unfolding of this historic reunion, time will be the ultimate judge of Breitling's endeavour to restore Universal Genève to its former glory. However, one obvious question is how Breitling will position their new subsidiary. Priced for the masses, priced like them in the $5-$15k range, or priced beyond their usual pieces in a bid to satisfy the higher end of the market. With each position bringing its own set of challenges and difficulties, even if you aren't in the market for a Universal Geneve timepiece, this will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on. The revival is expected to take several years, so no matter how they price their watches, let's hope for a thoughtful blend of innovation and a tasteful homage to Universal Genève's storied past, which is the least it deserves if you ask us.
For more information, check out Breitling's press release here.