Watches

Breitling Just Bought a 129-Year-Old Watch Brand

WatchesDec 14, 2023

Breitling Just Bought a 129-Year-Old Watch Brand

Universal Genève is a collectors’ favorite that’s been around since 1894.

Universal Genève vintage ads
At left, an ad for Universal Genève’s “Tri-Compax” watch that appeared in Europa Star magazine in 1952 and, at right, an ad for a women’s watch from the brand that appeared in a French magazine circa 1940. Breitling has announced plans to buy Universal Genève and revive the brand, which is coveted among collectors.
Geneva—Breitling has acquired Universal Genève, a Swiss watch brand that dates back to 1894 and is a favorite in the watch collecting community.

Breitling announced the surprise acquisition via press release Tuesday, with CEO Georges Kern stating, “As excited as we are, we are also fully aware of the task at hand and the profound heritage we are set to uphold. 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.”

The cost of the acquisition was not disclosed in the release but a filing by Stelux Holdings International Ltd., the Hong Kong-based company that owns Universal Genève, shows Breitling paid 60 million Swiss francs ($69 million) for Universal Genève.

According to an online history of the brand, Universal Genève was founded on Jan. 18, 1894, in LeLocle, Switzerland, as Universal Watch. 

The name was changed to Universal Genève in 1937, several years after its operations were consolidated and moved to one city, Geneva, in order to save money and weather the Great Depression. 

Key watches produced by the 129-year-old brand include the “Cabriolet” (1927), a reversible watch that pre-dated Jaeger LeCoultre’s “Reverso” by four years; the “Compur,” the world’s first two-pusher chronograph, which the brand introduced at the 1934 Baselworld show; and the “Tri-Compax,” a triple calendar chronograph with moonphase, debuted at Baselworld in 1944. 

 Related stories will be right here … 

The Tri-Compax became Universal Genève’s best-selling watch; one was given to President Harry Truman at The Potsdam Conference in 1945.

Patek Philippe distributed Universal Genève watches in the United States in the 1940s, and its timepieces remained popular until the “quartz crisis” in the 1970s, when mechanical watch sales fell off worldwide.

Stelux Holdings bought the company in 1989.

According to a Breitling spokesperson, Universal Genève still makes a limited number of watches and provides after-sales service, though distribution currently is limited to a few Asian countries: Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, China, and Malaysia.

Its vintage models remain popular with collectors, selling on secondhand watch websites like Analog:Shift for anywhere between $1,550 and nearly $40,000.

The brand’s potential comeback is creating a buzz in the watch world.

Alfred Gantner, co-founder of Partners Group—which is Breitling’s largest shareholder—and chairman of the Breitling board, said: “Universal Genève was once hailed as the couturier of watchmaking, renowned for its in-house movements and mythical models. It is a brand that watch enthusiasts have dreamed of seeing make a permanent comeback.” 

CEO Kern said Breitling will be hiring a dedicated team for Universal Genève so that Breitling and Universal Genève can operate as separate maisons. 

No further details on Breitling’s sales strategy for the brand are currently available.

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