Dec 13, 2023
Swiss luxury watchmaker Breitling AG is making its first major acquisition, buying Universal Geneve in an attempt to revive a brand that has faded since its heyday decades ago.
The deal marks a turning point for Breitling, which jumped into the top 10 Swiss watch companies by sales in 2022 and is known for aviation-themed chronographs such as the Navitimer, as it becomes a watchmaking group. The company, controlled by Swiss private equity firm Partners Group Holding AG, has been revived under Chief Executive Officer Georges Kern.
Kern, in an interview, said Breitling will hire a team of designers and executives to run Universal Geneve as a separate entity. There are plans to bring back famous models such as the Gerald Genta-designed Polerouter as well as the Compax sports watch, which was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“This is the best dormant or semi-dormant watch brand on the planet,” Kern said of Universal Geneve, which was founded in 1894.
The first watches could come to market by 2026 and will be priced well above Breitling’s average price of about 6,700 Swiss francs ($7,640).
“It will be much more expensive,” said Kern.
Once one of the most famous and popular Swiss brands, Universal Geneve, like many mechanical watchmakers, ran into financial difficulties during the quartz crisis in the 1980s. It has been owned by Hong Kong-based and listed Stelux Holdings International since 1989.
The sale price was about 60 million Swiss francs, to be paid over five years, according to a corporate filing by Stelux.
The acquisition of Universal Geneve will give Breitling its second major brand. It competes against conglomerates such as Swatch Group AG and Richemont, each of which owns about 10 timepiece brands. Rolex, the top Swiss watchmaker by sales, also owns the Tudor marque.
Kern told Bloomberg in 2022 that Breitling was considering acquiring other watch brands that could also be revived.