Reaching extremes has always been one of mankind’s challenges. While the watchmaking industry has already provided watches for the exploration of both the top of the world or the deepest trench under the sea, today we have something that goes a few miles further… Seeking a rugged tool watch for hikes and explorations? The Favre Leuba Bivouac 9000 might be the perfect wrist companion, being the first watch capable of measuring altitude everywhere on Earth – and by that, we really mean everywhere, even on top of the Everest. Let’s take an in-depth look.
The come-back of Favre Leuba
The roots of Favre-Leuba go as far back as 1737 when the watchmaking workshop of Abraham Favre is mentioned in official documents from Le Locle. This founded an illustrious horological dynasty that would last over eight generations of the Favre family, making Favre-Leuba one of the oldest watch brands in the world.
The name Favre-Leuba actually appears in 1855, when Fritz Favre (5th generation) marries Adèle-Fanny Leuba. The brand expands internationally and its watches are regularly distinguished at the Neuchatel Observatory or at international exhibitions.
During the brand’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Favre Leuba manufactured tough and functional watches. Among the iconic watches produced at the time is the Bivouac (1962), with altimeter and barometer. The success of its dive watches such as the Deep Blue, waterproof up to 200m, encouraged Favre Leuba to apply the principle of the aneroid barometer used in the Bivouac to pressure measurement underwater. The 1968 Bathy features a dive time indication and a depth gauge.
The 1960s Bivouac watch featuring an altimeter/barometer
Following the quartz crisis of the 1970s, the Favre-Leuba family was compelled to sell the brand. After changing hands several times, it was acquired by Titan Company Limited in 2011 and is now managed by Thomas Morf.
In 2017, Favre Leuba celebrates its 280th anniversary. “Conquering Frontiers”, the company’s tagline reflects the state of mind of doing things differently. With Morf, Favre Leuba revives its tradition of producing tough professional watches. A nod to the past, the latest Favre Leuba timepieces are not just mere reproductions of past glories, but modern creations that stand out from the crowd through their off-beat design and technical characteristics. Following our coverage of their dive watch collection, in particular, the Raider Harpoon, we go in-depth with the Favre Leuba Bivouac 9000.
Favre Leuba Bivouac 9000, Scaling heights
The Favre Leuba Raider Bivouac 9000 is a gargantuan timepiece. If this tool watch with altimeter/barometer is certainly a tribute to the original Bivouac, bringing back to life its functionality, its performances have been brought to an unprecedented level. But beyond the technical feat, the first thing to catch your eye is its strong personality and bold design. Clad in monochrome grey, the 48mm barrel-shaped case is massive. It is fashioned out of tough, lightweight titanium. If it makes a statement on the wrist, it wears surprisingly well.
The dial is highly legible, as it should be for a tool watch. It features luminescent hands and hour markers. The large red centre hand (working with the bi-directional rotating bezel) allows displaying altitudes of 3,000m per full rotation, allowing for precise measurement. The subsidiary dial is used to keep track of altitudes for up to 9,000m, with the “death zone” enlightened in red (the death zone, in mountaineering, refers to altitudes above a certain point where there is not enough oxygen for survival). The power reserve of the movement is clearly displayed at 12 o’clock and the small seconds resides in the 9 o’clock sub-dial and allows to check that the watch is still running.
The rotating bezel allows to reset the altimeter, and its functionality is based on its ability to display changes in air pressure that varies for a given place. The watch, therefore, gives information about the weather, a key feature for mountaineers before undertaking any climb. Watch the following video to see a demo of the altimeter in action (the precision achieved as we shot that video was rather impressive).
Technically, the Favre-Leuba Bivouac is powered by a hand-wound FL311 movement, comprising a sophisticated altimeter module designed in-house. This movement is based on the Eterna Caliber 39, (calibre 3903.M to be precise). Patrick Kury, Chief Technology Officer of Favre-Leuba has a long experience with this versatile movement. The choice of a manual movement was driven by the fact that the altimeter module occupies the space traditionally used by the rotor. In the same way, a small second indication was chosen to give priority to a large altimeter centre hand. It also provides a healthy 60-hour power reserve.
The altimeter module – the first to allow a wristwatch to display altitudes from 0 to 9000m – is a true technical feat. It is based on an aneroid capsule: as the wearer ascends, the pressure falls and the capsule expands (respectively contracts as the pressure increases). A tiny linear motion is transmitted to the gear of the mechanism, via a ball and a spring and converted into a rotational movement. Precision is key as the maximum expansion of the capsule is less than 4 tenths of a millimetre! And the expansion/contraction of the capsule must be regular. The atmospheric pressure drops approximately by 0.7 bar between 0 and 9,000 meters. Three parameters were crucial to design it: its size, its shape and its material, a special copper alloy.
The Bivouac 9000 is water resistant to 30m, even if there is an air exchange. This does not allow diving but it might be sufficient to protect the watch from rough outdoor activities. This is made possible because the air inlet in the case, which is required for the barometer, is protected by a membrane made from a micro-perforated hydrophobic material. It allows dry air – but not water or dust particles – to pass through. The membrane for the altimeter is protected under a plate on the side of the case secured by two screws.
The Favre-Leuba Bivouac 9000 is paired with a rugged leather strap matching the colour of the case and closed with a pin buckle. It is priced at CHF 7,500.
I can thoroughly recommend that you go hands-on with the Favre Leuba Bivouac 9000, if only just to check it out in person. Designed to hold-up to outdoor activities, it is constructed to tolerances for specific purposes and functionality. The perfect wrist companion for adventure seekers or for a rugged look for an afternoon trip to town. Interestingly, the concept of its aneroid barometer will be soon used to design a dive watch with a depth gauge. The first renderings we were shown are rather promising, so stay tuned. For now, you can visit www.favre-leuba.com to learn more about the brand and the Bivouac.
Technical specifications – Favre-Leuba Bivouac 9000
- Case: 48 mm diameter x 18.7 mm thick – titanium case – bidirectional rotating bezel – screw-in crown – sapphire crystal with double-sided anti-reflective coating – water resistant to 3 ATM / 30m.
- Movement: mechanical calibre FL311 (base Eterna cal 3903.M) with manual winding – 65h power reserve – Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds, power reserve indicator, central hand to display altitudes of 3,000 m per full rotation, subdial for displaying altitudes of up to 9,000 m and air pressure in hPa.
- Strap: leather strap with pin buckle.
- Price: CHF 7,500