Mitrajit Bhattacharya outlines the journey of a 279-year-old icon and it’s re-entry into the Indian market
I have had the misfortune of dropping and breaking one watch in my entire life- that too when I was just a one-year-old. At least that’s what I have been told. And it was a Favre-Leuba watch which my father owned. Since the time I got to know Titan had acquired the famed Swiss watchmaker, I must have shared the story with everyone related to the brand. Yes, that deep is the relationship of Favre Leuba with India. Not many may know, but Favre-Leuba is second oldest Swiss watch brand, having started with Abraham Favre’s small workshop in the Swiss municipality of Le Locle in 1737. And India was one of the earlier markets reached by them along with Brazil, Chile, China and the USA.
As the world’s first mechanical wristwatch with an aneroid barometer for altimetry and air pressure measurement, the Bivouac launched in 1962 was an obvious and an ideal instrument for high altitudes.
As a brand, Favre-Leuba’s history began on March 13, 1737, when watchmaker Abraham Favre was mentioned in an official document in Le Locle – the birthplace of Swiss watchmaking. The 35-year-old, who came from a long-established, respected family, began his apprentice as a watchmaker in 1718 and was appointed as the master watchmaker of Locle in 1749.
The passion for his craft, the constant pursuit of technical and aesthetic improvements, and the will to seize new market opportunities to nurture the family business was passed on in 1970 to his son, also named as Abraham. Two years later the younger Abraham, together with his sons Frédéric and Henry-Louis, founded the company ‘A. Favre & Fils’.
Henry Auguste, Frédéric Favre’s son joined forces in 1815 with the watch business of Auguste Leuba from Buttes in Val-de-Travers and travelled around the world – from Germany to Russia, through Cuba to New York, from Brazil to Chile – to establish their own workshop’s finely-made pocket watches.
Fritz Favre, who married Adele-Fanny Leuba in 1855 and subsequently used the double surname Favre-Leuba, proved himself a worthy successor to his father and successfully pursued his expansion strategy in Europe, United States of America, and Asia. In 1865 and 1867, he travelled to India and launched his brand as the first Swiss watch manufacturer in the subcontinent, which was to quickly develop into an important market for Favre-Leuba.
As a member of the family’s seventh generation, the lawyer Dr. Henry A. Favre turned the watch workshop into an internationally successful Manufacture with over 300 employees. The brand was able to count on a stable position in India, thanks to its own office in Mumbai.
The brand’s popular wristwatches, which first superseded pocket watches in the first quarter of the 20th century, included the first mono-pusher chronographs in 1925 and the manually-wound Datora with calendar, of 1946. In their workshops, precision watches such as chronometers were also assembled, the outstanding accuracy of which was awarded multiple first prizes by the observatory of the Neuchâtel canton.
The brand experienced a golden era in the 1950s and 60s. In 1955, Favre-Leuba introduced its own manufacture calibre FL101, with a large balance wheel for precise regulation as well as a power reserve of 50 hours, which was first used in the Sea Chief, Sea King, and Sea Raider watch models. Two years later, the calibre FL102 with calendar used in the Datic models as well as the automatic movements FL103 and FL104, which were equipped without or with a calendar indication, followed.
The patented FL251 calibre of 1962, with 11.5”’ and a height of only 2.95 mm, revolutionized series production of extra flat movements with centered second hand: the design with two barrels made it possible to use components with conventional dimensions and place the center second hand on the same level as the barrels. With this construction, the designers were able to reduce the height of the calibre significantly.
After the first in-house diver watch – the Water Deep of 1960 – the brand launched the Deep Blue, waterproof up to 200m, in 1963. This model’s huge success encouraged Favre-Leuba to also apply the principle of the aneroid barometer used in the Bivouac to pressure measurement under water. In 1968, the brand introduced the Bathy – the world’s first mechanical wristwatch, which not only displayed dive time but also current diving depth.
Several models marked the transition into the 1970s by perfectly matching the style of the time with their distinctive pillow design. Inside the Sea Raider with day and calendar indication ticked the automatic calibre FL1164 with 36,000v/h, while the Memo Raider delighted the global clientele with an automatic alarm. The Sea Sky and Sea Sky GMT models, which were introduced at the same time, combined the functionality of a diver’s watch with that of a chronograph and a 24-hour indicator.
Two sons of Henry A. Favre – Florian A. and Eric A. Favre – continued to lead the company as the eighth generation watchmakers. The introduction of cheap quartz movements in 1969 nevertheless plunged the Swiss watch industry into a crisis, which included the Favre-Leuba workshops. After integration into the Saphir Group, the family was subsequently compelled to sell the brand in the 1980s. Since then the company changed ownership several times, with owners including Benedom SA and LVMH.
On November 16, 2011, the Tata Group acquired the brand, rich in tradition and transferred its company headquarters to Zug. A stylized hourglass still forms the Favre-Leuba logo. It stands for the brand’s commitment to creating exceptional timepieces with lasting value, even when everything is in a constant state of flux. The global power of the Tata Group, together with Swiss expertise in the development, construction, marketing and sale of timepieces in the premium segment, forms an outstanding basis for the success of the brand. A key launch, no doubt, is the iconic Raider Harpoon.
Specialists depend on the simplest and cleanest designs for even very complex technology, for they know that less is more. To create the ultimate diving watch, this is exactly what Favre-Leuba has focused on. The birth of the Raider Harpoon takes place by keeping only to the essentials and omitting everything unnecessary.
Favre-Leuba recognizes the need for clarity of information and the simplified technology in a world that can overpower the senses. The engineers hence designed a watch, the Raider Harpoon, which focuses on only the essentials, by making the important minutes much easier and precise to read, in every situation and under every condition. In doing so, the standard form of time indication has been completely rethought, and everything needless omitted. The result is further proof of the values such as defiance, ingenuity, and the pioneering spirit, that have defined the brand for over the rich 279 years – a diving watch that proves its worth with just one hand!
When diving for professional or recreational objectives, distractions are the last thing one should worry about. Hence the pioneers at Favre-Leuba made a purpose-built watch, which ensures the diver does not miss the important passing minute with the possibility of having read the hour hand instead. To further assist a successful dive, the 20-minute scale on the unidirectional rotating bezel proves to be a good reminder of the remaining dive time. This feature ensures greater safety, while one is being allured by nature at its best. After all, if the diver did not stay underwater for longer than 20 minutes, s/he could resurface without observing decompression times. However, if the wearer must know the hour of the day, the rotating hour indicator will allow the person to learn of that.
Needless to say, the striking minute hand designed with a bold and irregular hexagon and the conspicuous appliquéd index markers are all highlighted with SuperLuminova, producing a blue light emission, thus making the reading of the time easier even in the deep dark depths. Furthermore, a diver needs to know that the watch is functioning all the time and hence the centre disc, which also carries the second’s indicator tip, acts as function control and showcases through its recesses a luminous base. With such confidence and visibility, one can now undertake the adventurous journeys planned.
As a diving watch, the Raider Harpoon rises up to meet the demands of a professional diver. It features the helium valve that provides the necessary pressure balance inside the watch essential for the diver who has spent several days underwater.
To guarantee secure operation and avoid confusion, the crown for the helium valve as well as the one for manual winding of the automatic movement and setting the time, are positioned at a good distance from one another: at 2 and 4 o’clock respectively.
The story was revised on January 5, 2106