Universal Genève is a Swiss watch manufacture.
Descombes et Perret
Louis-Edouard Berthoud (1867-1947) registered a watchmaking operation of his own in Neuchâtel on February 26, 1883. This would become the oldest element of Universal, which would bring Berthoud into the company three years later. Separately, Georges-Ulysse Perret (1868-1933) became a director of the Banque Suisse de Fonds Publics in 1883.
Numa-Emile "Emile" Descombes (1863-1897) and George-Ulysse Perret founded an etablissage workshop and watch dealership on January 13, 1894 in Le Locle. The firm was known officially as "Descombes & Perret" and was located on Rue du College 302 in Le Locle. Louis-Edouard Berthoud of Couvet joined the firm on April 6, 1896, and would remain involved for decades.
In 1897 Emile Descombes died at just 34 years of age, so Georges Perret was forced to seek a new partner.
Perret et Berthoud
On June 5, 1897, the firm became Perret & Berthoud after the death of Emile Descombes, with Louis-Edouard Berthoud (1867-1947) becoming a partner. The company was renamed Perret et Berthoud, taking over all assets and liabilities of the previous firm. It soon moved to a new headquarters at Rue Daniel JeanRichard 7.
Early on, the company specialized in simple watches, but the addition of Berthoud gave it additional experience in complications. He soon introduced a chronograph with a 30-minute counter in 1897, establishing the company in this new market. A surprising design trademark dated September 2, 1898 describes a wrist chronograph with a pusher between the lugs at 6:00. Known as "Universal Watch Extra", this was not produced commercially. In 1917, during the first World War, Universal did produced their first bracelet chronograph watch line using a 17 ligne monopusher movement.
Georges Perret-Knoll died on August 12, 1933. He had been swimming in the company of his business partner Louis Berthoud when he drowned at the beach in Geneva. His son Raoul Perret (1901-1973) quickly took over management of the firm. He soon concentrated the firm in Geneva, closing the Le Locle factory. The company was officially renamed Universal Genève in 1937.
Under Raoul Perret, production of watch movements was taken on by the Martel factory, which was also transitioning to the sons of the firm's founder. Perret took a seat on the board of Martel and provided funding to construct a modern factory there. Although still an independent company, the Martel factory wore the name "Universal" on the facade in 1941 and was treated as "in-house" by the Geneva firm.
In the 1930s, the focus was on the production of wrist chronograph models with the models Colonial, Compur and the very successful Compax chronograph range. The first major move came in 1934 with the introduction of a two-button chronograph to rival those of Heuer and Breitling.
In the fifties, Universal patented, among others, a jumping central seconds, an automatic with bidirectional rotating central rotor and the "Microtor", an automatic with off-center planetary rotor (also called micro-rotor). In 1954 the company launched the Polarouter, predecessor of the well-known wristwatch model "Polerouter". In 1956 a new production facility in Geneva was established and thus the entire production was shifted there. The Martel factory was purchased by Zénith in 1959.
Movado-Universal and Bulova
In 1960, Universal joined together with Movado of La Chaux-de-Fonds to form "Movado-Universal". The two companies were roughly the same size, managed by their founding families, and with strong sales in the American market. Universal and Movado shared movements in this period and developed joint products. But the companies remained mostly independent and this combination was not a true merger.
In 1966, Montres Universal Perret and Berthoud SA, as it was then known, was acquired by the American watchmaking giant, Bulova Watch Co. The August announcement was made simultaneously by Raoul and René Perret and Harry Henshel in Geneva and New York. Universal then employed 225 workers at the Carouge factory in Geneva, and these soon began producing watches for both brands. This acquisition came just a few months after Hamilton acquired Büren, and as Elgin and Timex were also moving production to Europe and the US Virgin Islands. These moves were spurred not just by the profitability of American companies but also the devaluation of the US dollar after the fall of the Bretton Woods monetary agreement and the liberalization of the Swiss watchmaking industry.
Universal and Bulova remained somewhat separate from a product development and sales perspective, but this did give Universal access to Bulova's tuning fork movement technology, resulting in the 1968 introduction of the Universal Unisonic line. Universal would go on to use Bulova's tuning fork emblem on the dial of their watches, leading to some branding confusion between the two.
The 1960s and 1970s also saw continued technical innovation. Cal. 2-66 and 2-67, released in 1966, were the brand's first ultra-thin micro-rotor movements. A decade later, in 1975, Universal released Cal. 74, the world's thinnest quartz movement.
The Universal factory in Geneva became increasingly unprofitable for the group in the 1970s and by 1983 it was facing bankruptcy. The group announced in March that it would close the factory despite gaining debt relief and restructuring.
Movado was left out of the Bulova acquisition and that company would merge with Zenith in 1969 forming Movado-Zenith-Mondia. This was purchased by the American Zenith Radio Corp. in 1972 and repatriated by Dixi in 1978. In 1983 Movado was purchased by the North American Watch Company, which was soon renamed Movado Group. Thus both Universal and Movado fell into American hands. Citizen Holdings of Japan would purchase Bulova in 2008.
Montres Universal SA
The assets of the company were taken over by a new firm, Montres Universal SA of Geneva, under Jean-Claude Maibach in June, 1983. This company was located at Rue Sautter 20 in Geneva along with Montres Saint-Pierre SA and was established with just 50,000 francs of capital. The firm received an infusion of money the following year, raising capital to 2 million francs, and moved to a new headquarters at Route des Acacias 2.
Universal soon launched a new "Polerouter Series 2000" line along with an automatic full calendar watch resembling the classic Universal Date line. In 1985, Universal released the "Dichcronic" digital LCD display as well as a new analog quartz movement, Cal. 42, with the smallest circular calendar and moon phase complication.
Universal SA struggled to regain its former status despite the closure of the factory and the global preference for quartz watches. But the company, funded by the public economy department of Geneva and Saudi investors, nevertheless saw some success in the mid-1980s. Universal was managed by Lennart Odman by 1987.
Re-Birth under Stelux
In 1989 the Stelux group of Hong Kong bought the company and the brand Universal. Stelux also owned Solvil et Titus and Cyma at this time. Universal established a new headquarters in Thonex near Geneva in 1988 even as production was moved to Bienne. Fred Santischi took over as head of Universal in 1993, launching a new product range for the company's anniversary the following year.
Universal was re-launched again at BaselWorld in 2005, focusing on the Microtor and its heritage in chronographs. The Microtor was re-launched as Cal. UG101 in 2007. But the brand saw little success and remains operation at a low level through the 2020s.
- See also Universal calibres
- 1894 - Founded as "Descombes et Perret" by Numa-Emile Descombes (1863-1897) and Georges-Ulysse Perret (1868-1933)
- 1897 - Numa Descombes dies; the firm becomes "Perret & Berthoud" with Louis-Edouard Berthoud; new headquarters at Rue Daniel JeanRichard 7; chronograph with a 30-minute counter
- 1898 - wrist chronograph with pusher between the lugs called "Universal Watch Extra"
- 1917 - Universal produces their first bracelet chronograph; Bernard Laberty and Henri-Edouard Brandt join the board
- 1919 - Headquarters is moved to Rue du Stand 48 in Geneva
- 1920 - Bernard Laberty is replaced in management by Bernard Tissot-Daguette
- 1921 - Headquarters is moved to Rue du Rhône 43 in Geneva
- 1923 - The company is reorganized as a société anonyme, "Perret & Berthoud S.A."; Guido Descobes is officially removed from the company
- 1925 - Louis-Edouard Berthoud becomes a director of Zenith
- 1930 - Perret et Berthoud takes over the firm of Paul-Edouard Berthoud, son of Louis-Edouard Berthoud
- 1933 - Georges-Ulysse Perret dies, with his son Raoul Perret becoming director and secretary of the firm
- 1934 - Raoul Perret replaces Louis-Edouard Berthoud on the Zenith board
- 1935 - Raoul Perret is named president with Louis-Edouard Berthoud remaining chairman and his son Paul-Edouard Berthoud joining the board
- 1939 - The company is reorganized and officially renamed "Manufacture des Montres Universal, Perret & Berthoud S.A."
- 1941 - René Perret replaces Paul-Edouard Berthoud on the board
- 1942 - The management team is expanded, with Emile Taillard, Louis Béguin, and Hélène Jeanneret joining the board; Raoul Perret becomes president of Universal supplier Martel and leaves the board of Zenith
- 1944 - The share capital is increased to 1 million francs; Raoul Perret officially relocates to Geneva
- 1945 - Louis-Edouard Berthoud retires, with Raoul Perret becoming president and René Perret secretary; Louis Béguin is replaced by Eugène Zwahlen and Frenchman Pierre Vigne; Emile Taillard joins
- 1946 - Pierre Vigne is replaced as attorney by Charles-Albert Di Micco; Eugène Nussbaum joins
- 1947 - Louis-Edouard Berthoud dies
- 1948 - Eugène Zwahlen and Emile Taillard leave
- 1949 - Edmond Henneberguer joins
- 1956 - Universal opens a new factory in Carouge-Genève; cooperation with Martel ends
- 1960 - Universal and Movado agree to work together
- 1966 - Universal merges with Bulova
- 1983 - The Universal factory is closed; A new Swiss company, Montres Universal, is launched
- 1989 - The Hong Kong firm Stelux takes over Universal
Universal Genève SA
Route des Acacias 6
Case postale 515
CH-1211 Genf 24
Tel. : 022 / 307 78 80
Fax : 022 / 307 78 90