Breitling just announced its acquisition of Universal Genève. The legendary brand, previously owned by an investment firm from Hong Kong, is set to be brought back to its former glory under new ownership. Is the sky the limit for this heritage brand under Breitling’s wings?

Universal Genève

Universal Genève was founded in Le Locle as Universal Watch in 1894, and the company moved to Geneva in 1919. Universal released the Compur and the military Aero Compax chronograph in the 1930s. Later versions, such as the Uni-Compax and Tri-Compax are highly collectible chronographs today.

In 1954, Universal introduced the Gerald Genta-designed Polarouter, which would later be renamed “Polerouter.” One year later, the bumper-automatic caliber inside was replaced by a micro-rotor movement, which would become emblematic of the house. The Polerouter would see many versions during its production run, including a diver called the Polerouter Sub.

Interestingly, Universal embraced the new quartz technology in the 1970s, phasing out its mechanical watchmaking in favor of it. It was one of the few Swiss watchmakers to do so. Unfortunately, it could not match the production efficiency of new Asian players, and the brand fell into decline. Universal was purchased by Hong Kong-based investment firm Stelux in 1989, continuing production but never again truly living up to its rich heyday.

Breitling Chronomat Automatic GMT

Breitling’s intentions with Universal Genève

So what does Breitling intend to do with its fresh acquisition? Well, if the brief press blurb is to be believed, we might be in for a treat. The aim is “…to restore the prestige of a hallowed name in the world of luxury timepieces.” The announcement describes a few crucial things we can go by for now. One is that a dedicated team will be brought on board to ensure that Breitling and Universal Genève will operate as two separate maisons. This makes sense, as I assume the majority of the value of this acquisition is in the brand, not the underlying watchmaking business as it is today.

Universal Geneve

The announcement also mentions that this is not a quick undertaking. It is supposed to be a labor of love that will unfold over several years. This all sounds like we might see the resurgence of a big name to its former glory.

We can also infer from the use of language in the announcement that Universal Genève is to be reinstated as a luxury brand. Seeing as it used to operate at the same price level as, for instance, Rolex and IWC, that comes as no surprise. Don’t expect Breitling to put UG forward as a budget brand anytime soon. We fully expect it to sit proudly alongside Breitling itself.

What we hope to see from Universal Genève under Breitling

I, for one, am excited to see where Breitling will take UG. To be honest, Universal Genève’s modern collection is a bit of an eyesore, as is the bot-translated website and lack of overall presence and significance. If there were ever a name in need of proper reinstatement, it would be Universal Genève!

At Fratello, we hope to see proper contemporary incarnations of key UG collections and technologies. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the brand became a frontrunner in micro-rotor watchmaking once more? The biggest pitfall is for Universal Genève to become purely a backward-facing brand. The last thing we need is a lineup of straight-up reissues with a bunch of faux patina and the inevitable size increase. That wouldn’t do justice to the house’s former glory but merely capitalize on it.

What if a modern Polerouter could take the fight to the Datejust/Explorer and the Aqua Terra? What if Universal Genève could become the go-to name for chronographs? The foundation and potential are most certainly there. Let’s just hope the execution will not be too sentimental. I have to admit, I am a bit jealous of the people who get to run this revival! What an amazing challenge and honorable task.

Image: Amsterdam Watch Company

Closing thoughts

Breitling’s acquisition of Universal Genève caught us by surprise, but it makes a ton of sense. Breitling knows what it means to be a successful watch brand with a rich heritage. With Universal, Breitling now has a chance to reinstate one of the big names of yesteryear.

We will keep a close eye on the next steps. As it stands, it is unclear how long it will be until we see the new Universal. It seems evident that we will see the reintroduction of heritage names. Why else would one brand buy another with such an illustrious history? The current collection comprises “Okeanos” models, but I am sure that Breitling is more keen on reinstating the Polerouter and Compax lines. Whether that is something we will see in the short term is anyone’s guess at the moment.

What do you think of Breitling’s acquisition of Universal Genève and its intention of building it out as a separate Maison? Let us know in the comments below!