Universal Genève To Relaunch Under The Same Ownership As Breitling
While many once-defunct watch brands have relaunched over the past decade-plus, one name in particular has remained the white whale: Universal Genève. Today, a revival that’s been dreamed of for years has become reality, as Universal Geneve is being reborn. Partners Group, the ownership group behind Breitling, has announced its acquisition of Universal Genève from Stelux Holdings, the Hong Kong holding company that has owned the brand since 1989.
“As excited as we are, we are also fully aware of the task at hand and the profound heritage we are set to uphold,” said Georges Kern, CEO of Breitling.
“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,” added Alfred Gantner, Co-Founder of Partners Group and Chairman of Breitling’s board. Partners Group is a private investment firm based in Zurich and is the largest shareholder in Breitling. Ownership in Breitling first changed hands in 2017 when the Schneider family sold a majority stake to CVC Capital Partners. In 2022, Partners Group increased its stake in Breitling replica watch to become the brand’s largest shareholder, in a deal that Bloomberg reported valued the watchmaker at $4.5 billion. At the time, it was reported that there were plans to take Breitling replica watch public on the Swiss Stock Exchange in 2027.
Universal Geneve’s history dates to 1894, when it was founded in Le Locle, Switzerland, as Universal Watch. Soon, it opened a branch in Geneva, officially changing its name to Universal Geneve in the 1930s. By then, the brand had become an industry leader with its chronographs, highlighted by the Compax line. By the 1940s, the Henri Stern Agency, distributor of Patek Philippe in the United States, began distributing Universal Genève, an endorsement of the brand’s quality. At the time, UG’s headquarters sat between Rolex and Patek in Geneva. Through the 1950s and ’60s, Universal Genève continued to sit at the cutting edge of watches. It introduced a micro-rotor automatic movement, then in 1954 launched the Polerouter (nèe Polarouter), one of the first designs from a promising young designer named Gérald Genta.
But like so many other Swiss watch brands, the so-called Breitling replica watch Quartz Crisis spelled the eventual collapse of the proud manufacturer. It partnered with Bulova and began to use its tuning fork technology before pursuing quartz. But the Universal Geneve of the 1970s and ’80s was far from the brand that had once produced watches to compete with Rolex, Heuer, and others.
In 1989, Stelux Holdings, a Hong Kong-based investment holding company, acquired Universal Genève. Since then, the brand has made a couple of ill-fated attempts at a relaunch, first for the brand’s 100th anniversary in 1994 and then again in 2005. While the brand still makes watches today, they’re nothing like the watches from the golden age of the 1940s–1960s. Still, collectors have kept the interest in Universal Geneve alive over the years, sharing research, scholarship, and enthusiasm for the vintage brand across forums, social media, and, of course, on this very site.
Rumors of business people or enthusiasts trying to acquire Universal Genève have been frequent over the years, but they never seemed to get very far. These rumors usually hinted that Stelux seemed content with the status quo and had no interest in selling. Now, Breitling replica watch leadership, led by CEO Georges Kern, will be in charge of one of the most anticipated brand revivals in the Swiss watch industry.
Kern’s experience should prove valuable. Since taking the helm at Breitling in 2017, sales have surged, and it’s now one of the 10 largest Swiss brands by revenue. In 2022, sales approached $1 billion, increasing about 40 percent year-over-year according to Morgan Stanley. Breitling’s success is attributable to its focus on simplifying its product line, producing watches in more modest sizes, and a focus on its historically important models. This marketing and aesthetic overhaul is complemented by Breitling’s continued technical innovation, illustrated with developments like the manufacture caliber B01 chronograph. He’ll look to use a similar formula for the relaunch of Universal Genève.
“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,” Kern said.
Universal Genève’s back catalog is replete with models loved by enthusiasts. From the 1940s Tri-Compax to the Polerouters of the 1950s and ’60s and the sporty “Nina Rindt” or “Eric Clapton” of the ’60s, each has its own community of loyalists. Personally, they’re some of my favorite vintage watches. Somehow, I snuck into the world of watches through the side door – I knew what a Ninda Rindt Compax was before I knew what a Paul Newman was, and it’s always been one of my favorite vintage chronographs. From there, the love has grown to older Tri-Compaxes, the Polerouter, even the simple “Ferrovie dello Stato.”
A proper revival of Universal Genève is a massive opportunity for Partners Group and Breitling. Its vintage watches are mentioned alongside Rolex, Omega, Heuer, and Breitling replica watch as some of the best and most representative of watchmaking’s golden mid-century era.
The new ownership seems to understand this, along with the importance and history of Universal Genève, mentioning its mid-century designs, in-house calibers, and history of innovation. I’m told the revival will be considered and deliberate, staying faithful to UG’s rich heritage. There will be a focus on developing in-house movements and paying tribute to UG’s history, while still establishing a modern brand. This is the “modern retro” formula that has worked so well for Breitling. I think it’s actually fitting that two of the most historically important makers of chronographs, Breitling and Universal Genève, would end up in the same ownership group.