Breitling Acquires Historic Brand Universal Genève

Despite being barely existent anymore or now a memory from the past, some brands continue to live within the collecting community, benefitting from a certain aura. One of these brands is Universal Genève, a once-prominent manufacturer known for its innovative designs (the Polerouter or the Tri-Compax, to name a few) and technically advanced movements (the famed micro-rotor). With the quartz crisis, Universal Genève became the shadow of itself, still producing watches as the subsidiary of a Hong Kong-based investment firm. These days are over, as UG comes back into Swiss hands after Breitling watch and its main shareholder Partners Group have announced its acquisition of Universal Genève, a move that “promises to restore the prestige of a hallowed name in the world of luxury timepieces,” according to the brand.

Founded in 1894, Universal Genève grew to become one of the top Swiss watchmakers, providing Breitling watch enthusiasts with models such as the Tri-Compax, the Aero-Compax, dozens of versions of the Polerouter (as explained in this book), racing chronographs such as the “Nina Rindt” Compax or the original Space Compax. However, like so many other brands, the advent of the quartz technology and the crisis that would follow significantly challenged the company. No dead, but certainly not as active as it used to be.
Despite this shift in its trajectory, Universal Genève or UG kept having a strong image within the collecting community, some of its models being high on the list of collectables. Since 1989, the brand has been owned by the Hong Kong-based Stelux Group – also the owner of Cyma (another Swiss watchmaker) and a prominent distributor of Seiko and Grand Seiko in Asia – which kept the name and legacy alive. Nevertheless, the destiny of the brand drastically changed, not being the same for the last 30 years.
Today, Breitling watch via its CEO Georges Kern and Partners Group (the main shareholder of Breitling), has announced the acquisition of Universal Genève from Stelux, for an undisclosed amount (rumours talk about $70 million), probably seeing huge potential in the name and highly possible synergies between brands sharing an important past presence in the field of chronograph watches – UG could be relatively easily re-started by using base movements from Breitling, such as the B01. “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,” explains Kern. What will be the future of Universal Genève…? Time will tell, as for now no words have been given on Breilting’s and Kern’s plans. There’s certainly massive room for improvement in the revamp of the collection, and dozens of historical models and names that are worthy of being revived. And while the grounds for success are there and the brand still benefits from a highly positive imago, we’ll have to wait a couple of years or more to see what will be the new face of UG.

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