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Breitling Acquires Universal Geneve in First Major Deal

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In 1965, Universal Geneve won the Diamonds-International Awards in New York with this model

In a comeback that watch enthusiasts have been long dreaming of, watchmaker Breitling has announced its acquisition of Universal Genève and in doing so, marking the revival of the Swiss watchmaking Icon. Long known for its renowned horological artistry, innovative in-house movements and mythical models Universal Genève was once hailed as the “couturier of watchmaking”. However, the advent of the quartz crisis significantly challenged the company, marking a shift in its trajectory. With Universal Genève acquisition from the Hong Kong based Stelux Group, Breitling aims to restore the storied brand to its former glory, grounding the brand in its Swiss tradition while keeping it poised for contemporary relevance.

Universal Geneve watchmakers working in the factory, ca. 1960s

According to Joseph Wong, chairman and CEO of Stelux Group, the management at Breitling has demonstrated that it is 100 percent committed to ensuring that Universal Genève lives on, not just in name but in spirit. “Rebuilding a brand with such a rich narrative is not a quick endeavor—it is a meticulous labor 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,” explained Georges Kern, CEO of Breitling. Kern also explained that a dedicated team will be brought on board to allow Breitling and Universal Genève to operate as separate maisons.

Universal Geneve advertising banner during an automotive race in Brazil, ca. 1950s

Universal Genève has rich histroy since its founding in 1894 but it was the brand’s technical prowess in the early to mid-20th century that saw Universal Genève rise to prominence. In the 1920s, Universal Genève’s crafted the reversible Cabriolet, a first of its kind. The 1940s saw the brand go from producing elegant women’s cocktail watches and innovative men’s jewelry timepieces to offering an impressive variety of its Compax chronographs with manufacture movements, along with the legendary Tri-Compax full calendar launched to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary.

1920s Universal Geneve Cabriolet, ca.1928.

In the 1950s, the brand introduced a revolutionary self-winding movement known as the Microtor. Commissioned from a 23-year-old Gérald Genta, The Polerouter watch was designed to withstand any climate, from the pole to equator. In the 1960s, the brand successfully relaunched its Compax series as sports watches and in 1966, Universal Genève released the world’s flattest automatic movement in its Golden Shadow.

Vintage advertising for a Universal Geneve lady’s watch published in a French magazine, circa 1940

As Hodinkee reports, Breitling CEO Georges Kern has invaluable experience in revolutionising a brand as since heading Breitling in 2017, sales have surged, becoming one of the 10 largest Swiss brands by revenue. In 2022, sales approached USD 1 billion, increasing about 40 percent year-over-year according to Morgan Stanley. With Universal Genève’s rich history in mind, Breitling now has a pivotal role in restoring the prestige of a hallowed name in the world of luxury timepieces.

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