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What the World’s Second Oldest Watch Company, Favre-Leuba, Can Teach us About Crises

Favre-Leuba knows what tenacity means.

| By Gandor Bronkhorst | 5 min read |

283 years ago, a man named Abraham Favre started making his own timepieces in Switzerland. The company expanded and shrunk again. After a temporary knock-out in 1985, Favre-Leuba has spent decades recovering to get back on its feet. And when this story comes together with quintessentially Swiss mountaineering, it teaches us a lesson about ‘Swiss Made’ that could be quite motivating in these confusing times.

Times of crisis always put our daily struggles and routines into perspective. They do so by shaking up our world as we know it, thereby forcing us to readjust our priorities. But they also teach us something about the power of persistence. It is, indeed, not the strongest of the species that survive, but the most adaptable to change.

The watch industry is currently suffering. The very crucial Chinese market has been restricted for months now. Other major markets, such as Europe and the US, have severely limited tourism and apply confinement policies, thereby drying up another stream of income. But this industry has had worse and longer-lasting crises. The quartz era springs to mind, but the 1930s were also particularly bad.

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Completely by coincidence, another event is taking place at the same time. An event that has been going on for 283 years now, and which puts everything into perspective: the second oldest watch company in the world is celebrating its 283rd anniversary. So first of all, happy birthday Favre-Leuba!

From ace to ashes

The story of this company is one of innovation, entrepreneurship, ups, downs and weathering crises. Abraham Favre first opened his workshop in March 1737. After his sons joined, the company moved to Le Locle. By the time the fourth generation was at the helm, in 1815, they shared their powers with Auguste Leuba, which in 1855 finally resulted in the current name.

Things went well for Favre-Leuba for quite some time. The 1940s brought great technological advancement, but the real heydays for the brand were the 1960s. The company had a run of several great introductions, like the Deep Blue (a 200m water-resistant wristwatch), the Bivouac (the first mechanical wristwatch with an inbuilt altimeter) the Bathy (the first watch with an inbuilt depth metre) and several technological improvements. It even opened beautiful new production facilities near Geneva.

Favre Leuba Bivouac 9000 - Baselworld 2017

But then everything went downhill. The quartz crisis hit Favre-Leuba hard and the family finally had to sell its company in 1985. It changed hands a couple of times until it was bought by Tata Group’s watch department Titan in 2011. Since then, the company is recovering, step by step, from its near knock-out all the while respecting its own huge legacy. One example is the Raider Bivouac 9000 from 2017. This was the first watch to measure an altitude of 9,000 metres mechanically, an improvement of the brand’s own record set in the 1960s.

Favre Leuba Bivouac 9000

Looking up again

The reborn Raider Bivouac 9000 became the first mechanical timepiece to measure altitude on Mount Everest and K2 in 2018 and 2019 respectively. This required the use of innovative materials for the barometer and precise calculations for the height and diameter of the capsule, as well as a new conversion mechanism for the altimeter.

Last year, Xavier interviewed mountaineer Adrian Ballinger on climbing the Everest and K2 without oxygen and on using his watch to consult the height mechanically. This inspiring interview narrates some of the most significant moments in his life. “I climbed my first 6,000m peak when I was 17 years old in Ecuador. It was the first experience that completely pushed me to pass my limits physically but also mentally,” he tells. “There were people who I thought were less strong than me they did much better than me. That really fascinated me, what mental strength is and what it allows us to achieve. I pretty much tried to get higher and higher and higher since I was 17.

Adrian Ballinger On Climbing Everest Without Oxygen, his Favre-Leuba Bivouac 9000 On The Wrist

The power from within

Celebrating its 283rd birthday, Favre-Leuba reveals its inspiring story, a motivation for anyone in times of crisis. The company tells us: “We are bringing together two eras that have shaped human history and when Favre-Leuba clearly declared itself as a pioneering brand. The 1960s, the era of exploration and new beginnings, and 2010-2020s, the time of high-tech and even crazier discoveries. In both those times in history, Favre-Leuba’s engineering was at the forefront.

In its latest project, Favre-Leuba asked two legendary climbers to test the watches in the Swiss Alps. Nicolas Hojac (one of the fastest speed-climbers in the world) and mountain guide Ueli Bühler. In the video, they talk about their experiences and their love for climbing. The imagery is stunning and the stories of their willpower are quite inspiring.

It gets even more motivating by the end of the video. Buhler shares a lesson for everyone who really wants to achieve his best, even in the most difficult circumstances. “As everywhere else, changes have taken place in mountaineering,” says Buhler. “The [climbing] equipment is better and lighter, and training has become more focused. […] However, the motivation to go to the mountains still comes from within. That is how it has always been.

Swiss watchmaking has survived centuries thanks to pioneering, perseverance, excellence and learning how to become stronger from change. During difficult times, those values will always be tested. Some get knocked down and stay down. Others get up again, stronger and hopefully wiser.

A company that has survived for 283 years and weathered many storms and two mountaineers who have climbed the highest peaks in the world: for everyone who is facing challenges, these stories of pure perseverance are truly inspirational. “The motivation comes from within. It’s always been that way.

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1 response

  1. What a great product it is.
    I hv a favre-leuba (mechanical) since 1967 which was given by my elder brother which he had in 1965 war (army)
    Astonishing is that it is still working today

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