Favre-Leuba: Instrument For All AltitudesBy Sophie Furley
Favre-Leuba is a Swiss watchmaking legend with a rich heritage in producing rugged and reliable timepieces for explorers and adventurers. Since its humble beginnings in the 1700s, the brand has created timepieces that are designed to withstand all kinds of extreme climatic conditions, going wherever their owners have the courage to take them. Always equipped with practical functions that are displayed in a highly legible way, Favre-Leuba timepieces are for those who need a watch, as well as want something special.
Founded in 1737 by Abraham Favre, Favre-Leuba is the second-oldest Swiss watch brand after Vacheron Constantin. It was consecutively run by eight generations of the Favre-Leuba family until the 1980s, when it passed into the hands of Benedom SA and then LVMH. In 2011 it was bought by the Tata Group, an Indian multinational conglomerate holding company that is best known for its 2008 acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover – two brands that the group has completely turned around.
“The Tata Group’s objective is to do the same with Favre-Leuba,” shares Favre-Leuba’s CEO, Thomas Morf. “There are five to 10 big aspirational brands on the market today and I believe that if Favre-Leuba had been in the right hands these last couple of decades, it would be one of them today. Our goal is to put the brand back where it belongs.”
The company’s slogan, “Conquering Frontiers,” sums the brand up very well. These inspiring words are designed to motivate those striving for their own goals, but it is also a reference to the past. “One thing that Favre-Leuba has never done is follow trends, whether in terms of innovation, technology, marketing or distribution. Even in the early days the brand was conquering frontiers by going to faraway lands such as India, Chile and the United States. It has always been Favre-Leuba’s way to do things differently and this inspired us for the slogan, because it is something that goes back to the very start of the brand,” explains Morf.
Two-hundred-and-eighty years of watchmaking history may inspire the brand today, but it isn’t a historical brand in the traditional sense. “Favre-Leuba is for those who like the truly functional, engineering side of watchmaking. We are not celebrating l’art pour l’art, at least not in the haute horlogerie way. You won’t see pictures of watchmakers at the bench in our communication material! The history brings legitimacy, but it isn’t history for history’s sake. The brand is, and has always been, forward thinking,” notes Morf.
Watches that marked Favre-Leuba
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of watches that have marked Favre-Leuba’s long history and it would be wrong not to mention them. Wristwatches such as the first monopusher chronographs of 1925 and the manual-wind Datora with calendar of 1946 are of particular note. The company also produced precision chronometers that were awarded multiple first prizes by the Neuchâtel Observatory.
Later in the 1950s and ‘60s, the company introduced its own series of manufacture movements such as the FL101 with a large balance wheel and a 50-hour power reserve. This was followed by the FL102 with calendar function, and the FL103 and FL104 automatic movements without and with calendar respectively. In 1962, the brand unveiled its patented FL251 caliber that revolutionized series production of extra-flat movements with a second hand. This movement had outstanding stability and was used in a wide range of models such as the Sea King Twin Power.
The company’s sales material at the time promoted “The Swiss Watch for All Climates” along with a range of sporty, resilient and functional instruments such as the Deep Blue, water-resistant to 200 meters, and the legendary Bivouac, with altimeter and barometer, that came in the 1960s. The Bivouac quickly gained a reputation as the watch for all hardcore explorers and stories about its achievements are abundant.
“One Bivouac adventure occurred in 1964 when Geneva mountain guide Michel Vaucher and Italian alpinist Walter Bonatti were climbing the north face of Pointe Whymper in the Grandes Jorasses on the Mont-Blanc Massif. All of sudden the weather started to change and they had to make a quick decision whether to continue or not. Luckily, they were equipped with the Favre-Leuba Bivouac with its integrated altimeter and barometer, which warned them of the impending weather. Thanks to this information, they decided that it was safer to pitch a camp and ride out the storm than continue – a decision that was to save their lives as the storm developed into a severe blizzard. Following the information from their Bivouac closely, they were able to set off two days later and be the very first alpinists to reach the summit,” shares Morf.
The Rebirth of a Legend
It is this sense of adventure and courage, along with the highest functionality, that the modern-day Favre-Leuba is committed to bringing back to life. These are timepieces for those who love the outdoors, adventurers who set their own goals and then do everything in their power to beat them. There are two main collections – the Raider and the Chief – that come in a number of different iterations for both men and women. Let’s take a look at a few of the new timepieces that caught our eye this summer.
The Raider Harpoon
When you are participating in extreme sports, you don’t want to have to look at your watch twice. This is the reason Favre-Leuba timepieces all feature the simplest and cleanest designs, so that the relevant information can be read in a heartbeat. The Raider Harpoon keeps only the essential elements and omits everything else. This stunning divers’ watch is a purpose-built and brilliantly functional diving tool which focuses on only the essential – the minutes. The all-important minute hand is the first thing the eye sees as it stands out against the striking blue dial, so there is no possibility of misreading the timepiece while diving.
A further 20-minute scale on the unidirectional rotating bezel is also a good reminder of the remaining dive time. Twenty minutes is that sweet amount of time a diver can stay under water without having to observe decompression times. The Raider Harpoon is also equipped with a helium valve that has its own individual crown to avoid confusion and guarantee secure operation.
The same minute hand also points to the hours on a specially constructed luminous ring with Arabic numerals. This patented mechanism used in this watch also ingeniously returns the hour numbers to their starting point every 12 hours.
Other details to note include a small central hand for the running seconds (so the diver can be sure that the watch is working), a striking minute hand tipped with an irregular hexagon and unique rectangular indexes that are coated with SuperLumiNova for utmost visibility.
Raider Sea Bird
The Raider Sea Bird expertly takes the characteristic design codes from Favre-Leuba’s long and rich history and translates them into a women’s timepiece for today. Details such as the large rectangular indexes, unique tetradecagonal bezel and sporty design set this timepiece apart. Functionality and femininity are at the heart of this strong and distinctive timepiece.
The Raider Sea Bird comes in a choice of four different dial colors, from a radiant white to a captivating copper, a classic brown and a midnight blue. There are also two different sizes – a 37mm version equipped with an automatic movement and a 34mm model that is powered by a quartz movement.
For the daring woman who wants to do it all, the Raider Sea Bird is the ideal companion to accompany her as she conquers her own frontiers.
Bivouac – A tribute to 280 years
One of the most outstanding timepieces in the Favre-Leuba collection is the Bivouac 9000, a groundbreaking timepiece that has been created as a tribute to the brand’s 280-year-old history.
“The Bivouac is perhaps the timepiece that best represents the brand. It is a tool watch with altimeter and barometer functions to help you conquer your own frontiers, whether you are climbing a mountain or parachuting out of a helicopter. It is an outdoor activity watch with a form that follows its function. It is above all a tool, a device that gives you all the essential information at a glance,” says Morf.
The Bivouac 9000 is the first mechanical wristwatch capable of measuring altitudes of up to 9000 meters above sea level, setting new standards for mechanical sports watches and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. The altitude function is nothing new at Favre-Leuba. In 1962 the brand launched the world’s first mechanical wristwatch capable of measuring air pressure and altitudes of up to 3,000 meters above sea level, and now they have gone through the clouds literally by increasing the altitude to a spectacular 9,000 meters.
The Bivouac 9000 features the same kind of aneroid barometer as its 1962 counterpart, but includes a number of significant technical improvements and refinements, such as new and innovative materials, even more precise calculations for the height and diameter of the capsule and a new conversion mechanism for the altimeter.
The altitude is extremely easy to read thanks to a red central hand pointing to a bidirectional rotating bezel that has a scale divided into 50-meter marks, up to an altitude of 3,000 meters. One full rotation of the red central hand clockwise indicates a climb in altitude of 3,000 meters. This red central hand rotates three times up to a total height of 9,000 meters. After each full rotation, a subdial at three o’clock continues to count the altitude above sea level between zero and 3,000 meters, 3,000 and 6,000 meters and 6,000 and 9,000 meters. The bezel is held securely in place by a two-way ratchet mechanism, a safety feature that prevents it from being unintentionally moved to a lower altitude. “We chose a hand wound movement for the Bivouac 9000 because the central hand for the altimeter goes right through the movement. An automatic movement wouldn’t have worked due to the oscillating weight,” explains Morf.
The aneroid barometer works using an airtight capsule that is made of a special alloy. This capsule expands when the air pressure drops as the wearer ascends, and contracts when he or she descends as the air pressure rises. This change in pressure triggers a linear movement, which is then converted into a rotational movement to indicate the altitude on the dial.
The atmospheric pressure that is required to measure the altitude enters the chamber carrying the barometer capsule through a three-millimeter opening in the case. This opening is protected by a special membrane made from a micro-perforated hydrophobic material that allows the air to come into the barometer chamber, but keeps dust and water out, allowing for a water-resistance of 30 meters. The perforations in the membrane have been precisely calculated and tested with extreme precision so that they will work flawlessly, even when the wearer is ascending rapidly in a helicopter, for example.
Other features include a running seconds subdial at nine o’clock, so the wearer can instantly see if the watch is running, much like on the Raider Harpoon divers’ watch, and the wearer can also count down the days to his or her next adventure thanks to a practical date aperture at six o’clock.
The design of the Bivouac takes its inspiration from the brand’s legendary timepieces from its 280-year history, but translates them into a highly modern sports watch. “Favre-Leuba comes from the past, but is always looking to the future. The Bivouac isn’t vintage just because vintage is in fashion right now. The timepiece is a modern interpretation of past models. There is no copy and paste. We aren’t looking for a short-term design solution because in my mind that isn’t very innovative. We always want to go the extra mile and do something different,” continues Morf.
Legibility is at the forefront of the design with nothing unnecessary to distract the wearer from the mission at hand. Luminous hands and indexes stand out clearly against the stone-gray dial as do the bright red altimeter hands that immediately catch the eye.
The Bivouac 9000 is housed in a robust 48mm titanium case. This lightweight, hardwearing and hypoallergenic material is the best metal for comfortable wear during an ascent. The case design also features Favre-Leuba’s trademark tetradecagon shape along with arcs that extend from lug to lug across the sides of the case like bridges.
The Bivouac 9000 is priced at an extremely attractive 7,500 CHF and is a great timepiece to celebrate Favre-Leuba’s 280th anniversary as it provides the perfect link from the past to the present. The timepiece respects the brand’s technological and aesthetic legacy but projects the brand into the future.
“What I appreciate most about the brand is that it is genuine and authentic, there is nothing fake or made up about it. It is a brand with a strong identity that has always been cool and different,” concludes Morf.
Fashion Stylist: Marie Lee
Fashion Assistant: Zheng Kai
Model: Jason Gorskie / Mannequin
Special Thanks to Elephant Slacklines for the kind assistance from their rock climbing instructors during the facilitation of the photoshoot.