Experts and Collectors Weigh in on the Return of Universal Genève

Early yesterday morning, news broke in the watch world that was both surprising, and felt inevitable. Universal Genève, the highly regarded and historic Swiss brand that has been effectively dormant for years, will be revived and relaunched by the same ownership team currently steering the ship at Breitling. While the news of Universal finally getting a high profile relaunch isn’t exactly shocking (reviving heritage brands shuttered during the Quartz Crisis has been a favorite pastime in the watch industry over the last decade), we weren’t expecting the Breitling connection. The news (and reaction to it) speaks both to the great affection the community feels for the Universal Genève brand, and to the strength and financial turnaround of Breitling under Georges Kern’s tenure. 

Universal Genève has a long and rich history, and has grown significantly in esteem in recent years. They were part of an explosion of interest in vintage watches that began more than ten years ago, but unlike other brands that benefited from increased attention on historic vintage pieces (Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet among them), Universal Genève doesn’t exist as a modern watchmaker in a meaningful way. For that reason, there’s always been a mystique to the brand that can’t really be replicated. We can, and do, compare vintage versions of Submariners, Daytonas, and Royal Oaks to their modern equivalents, and can thus relate to these watches through a modern context or lens. But no one is making a modern version of the Polerouter. Universal Genève references exist in a liminal space, or a bubble, as true horological artifacts. 

Image via Analog/Shift

That’s now set to change. The Partners Group, the company that owns a majority stake in Breitling, is prepared to acquire Universal Genève from Stelux Holdings, a Hong Kong holding company that has been the brand’s custodian since 1989. During the Stelux ownership period, there have been a handful of halfhearted attempts to revive Universal Genève, but never with the finesse, resources, or timing needed to capitalize on interest in the brand and make it truly successful. It seems that now, with the involvement of a team that has experienced real success in expanding the reach of another heritage brand in recent years, Universal Genève is going to get a real shot at a modern revival. 

Kern’s comments indicate he is aware of the gravity of bringing back a brand like Universal Genève. “As excited as we are, we are also fully aware of the task at hand and the profound heritage we are set to uphold,” he said in a statement. He also indicated that the rollout of new watches will not be quick. “It is a meticulous labor of love that we anticipate will unfold over the coming years,” he said. 

This is a sentiment echoed by Eric Wind, noted vintage watch dealer, and member of an Advisory Panel initiated by Breitling to make plans for the acquisition and the initial rollout of new products. “It is going to be a long time before the watches are released,” Wind told me. Indeed it’s possible to view yesterday’s announcement as premature, in a sense. The timing of the announcement, according to Wind, was spurred by Hong Kong stock exchange rules that would have made the news publicly available. “It was better to announce it than have someone find it online and publish it without Breitling making the announcement,” said Wind. 

Still, the thinking from Wind and others around the news can be characterized as universal (pardon the pun) excitement. “This is an exciting day for fans of Universal Geneve’s vintage watches, and for fans of vintage watches in general,” Wind said. He added, “I am excited for what is to come, and I think they have an excellent plan in place to revive Universal Genève, speaking not only to fans of vintage Universal Genève watches, but offering a compelling product offering for the public interested in modern watches today.”

Eric Ku, watch dealer and founder of Loupe This, is excited that Universal Genève is finally getting a moment on the modern stage. “As a storied brand whose vintage chops have never been questioned, it’s great to see an infusion of cash and resources at UG,” Ku said. “Hopefully they can capitalize on current market trends and make watches that leverage their glorious past and the resources behind the Breitling group.”

James Lamdin of Analog/Shift has a similar outlook, and sees an opportunity to, at long last, highlight the story of the brand in a way that hasn’t been done to this point. “Universal Genève has an authentic and compelling historical narrative for their many contributions to the industry that provides a unique opportunity as a launching platform for the next chapter of their story,” he said. This is a reminder that other brands with a deep history have been able to tell their own stories unimpeded as interest in their watches has boomed in recent years. UG, until now, hasn’t had the same chance. “The brand has a rich legacy in terms of design and innovation, and their historical models offer a wonderful assortment of styles and complications that appeal to a broad swathe of the collector community,” Lamdin added. “I am incredibly excited to see what comes next.”

In a refreshing change from the norm, dealers and collectors appear to be equally excited and positive about what amounts to a huge story in the watch world, coming at the tail end of a year that by all accounts saw a downturn in watch valuations in the pre-owned and many vintage markets. Collector Greg Selch (find his Instagram linked below, and give it a follow), whose collection is currently on the block at Sotheby’s as part of their “Honest Vintage” sale, sees the revival of Universal Genève as an event long overdue. “Collectors like me remained stupefied as no one seemed to have much interest in the amazing offering from UG that came around year after year in the vintage world,” he told me. Further, he has confidence in Breitling’s ability to manage the acquisition with the taste and delicacy that is required and that the brand deserves, saying “now that Breitling has…acquired Universal Genève, I believe that it will not try to make a quick profit by capitalizing on the name alone.” Selch’s enthusiasm and excitement can be summed up by the way he signs off many of his Universal Genève themed Instagram posts, and his correspondence with me via Instagram DM yesterday: “Viva Universal Genève!”


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Another prominent figure from the collecting community, Instagram’s @bazamu, struck a slightly more measured tone. “I’m excited and cautiously optimistic about the revival of Universal Genève,” he told me via Instagram DM. “While future designs will likely be somewhat dependent on Breitling’s existing calibers, the brand seems to be very aware of the regard that collectors hold for the brand and will hopefully be good stewards going forward.” Bazamu went on to cite the increasing scarcity of great examples of vintage Polerouters, as well as Compax and Tri-Compax references, and how new modern versions of these classics could be welcomed by a new crop of collectors. “UG’s rich history deserves a modern complement,” he said. “This will open up the brand to an entirely new generation that may not have had access.”


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Christoph McNeill, our own vintage watch expert and a longtime Universal Genève collector, was thrilled to hear about the UG news. “Universal Genève has had a special place in my collecting heart since the early days of watch collecting for me, and the news that they are being reborn is utterly fantastic,” he told me. Christoph also gets to something in his comments that I’ve heard echoed across watch media and Instagram: it’s about time. After what has amounted to a never ending run of defunct brands being reborn, sometimes with arrangements that are wholly unrelated to their own history, it was downright strange that Universal Genève hadn’t followed suit. “UG is a brand that didn’t deserve the fate they’ve been suffering while languishing in watch purgatory,” he explained, referring to their strange in-between status as a brand that still exists on paper, but virtually nowhere else. “I cannot wait to see what heritage models they come out with as well as new and exciting takes on their rich history,” Christoph concluded. “This is the best watch news I’ve heard in years!”

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.