The Favre-Leuba Bivouac 9000 – the first mechanical wristwatch capable of measuring altitudes of up to 9,000 metres above sea level – is the perfect encapsulation of the Swiss brand’s storied history
Since its creation in 1737 by Abraham Favre, Switzerland’s second-oldest watch brand has always taken the path less trodden when it comes to creating highly functional watches that are extremely useful for the wearer. The Bivouac, in particular, has a pedigree that is impeccable.
Following its launch in 1962, the Bivouac became a hot favourite with, and a permanent fixture on, the wrists of mountain climbers, pilots, parachutists, explorers and other pioneers, who welcomed all challenges, regardless of how extreme they were or how hostile the environment was. It was the first mechanical wristwatch to measure altitude and air pressure, with an aneroid barometer; it was no larger than a standard chronograph, boasting outstanding reliability and extreme precision, and was very easy to use and read. The Bivouac caused a sensation in the watch industry, but it was just one of the many accomplishments of a brand that had set itself the goal of creating timepieces that work perfectly in any situation and in all weather conditions.
For example, the five members of the Swiss national parachuting team wore Bivouac watches during training for, and when competing in, the 1962 World Parachuting Championships in the USA. The watches precisely displayed the ideal jump height, and team captain Major Roland Troyon gave a clear assessment of the watch: “The Bivouac is the perfect instrument for skydiving.”
Or take famous French arctic explorer Paul-Émile Victor, who headed out from an island in the Pacific Ocean to Adélie Land in the Antarctic. Here, in the ice near the South Pole, the researchers explored largely uncharted terrain in subzero temperatures. Victor carried out the essential altitude measurements with several different instruments, including his constant companion, the Bivouac, and was astonished by its precision and reliability.
Similarly, in 1964, four German mountain climbers undertook a dangerous 40-hour ice-climbing expedition, to make the first ascent of the 3,142-meter-high Moose’s Tooth, in Alaska. Experienced climber Walter Welsch led the team, and following his return, he noted that, in spite of the great changes in temperature and the extremely dry air, the altimeter and barometer of his Bivouac performed impeccably, and was indispensable throughout the expedition.
The Bivouac 9000
The new Bivouac 9000, like the original watch, measures altitude by way of an aneroid barometer. The red central hand indicates the altitude, on the bi-directional rotating bezel, which carries a scale split into 50-metre steps up to 3,000 metres; a full rotation of the central hand, therefore, indicates a climb in the altitude of 3,000 metres. A sub-dial located at 3 o’clock also has a red hand, which continues to rotate; after three full rotations of the central hand, the sub-dial arrives at its 9,000-metre limit. The bezel is securely kept in place by a two-way ratchet mechanism. The watch allows air to enter an airtight capsule, made from a special alloy, via a 3mm opening in the case. This capsule expands when the air pressure drops and contracts when it rises, triggering a linear movement, which translates into a rotational movement, to indicate altitude.
Other than altitude, the watch can also display any changes in air pressure that take place at an altitude. This is indicated by a hectopascal (hPa) scale on the sub-dial at 3 o’clock, which displays the current air pressure on a scale ranging from 1,013 hPa to 300 hPa. For example, if a climber sets the watch to the correct height of a particular base camp the evening before an ascent, the air pressure gauge will set itself accordingly. If the air pressure drops, the central hand will turn clockwise and the air pressure hand will show a lower value, which warns the climber of low pressure and possible rough weather; in the opposite instance, the gauge will show a higher air pressure and the likelihood of good weather. The 48mm, titanium-made Bivouac 9000 has the brand’s own FL311 calibre, is watertight, has a power reserve indicator at 12 o’clock (the reserve is 65 hours), a small seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock and a date window at 6 o’clock, all set in an absolutely clear, legible manner for maximum readability in any weather conditions; it comes with a vintage-look leather strap.
THE INDIAN CONNECTION TO A SWISS BRAND
Favre-Leuba is a Swiss watch company, based in Solothurn, and adheres to the high and strict standards set by the Swiss watch industry. The manufacturing process follows these guidelines, wherein the design, engineering, manufacturing and assembly of watches follow the Swiss- made code.
The brand also has strong ties with India that go as far back as 1865, when Fritz Favre first travelled to India to launch the brand, thus making it the first Swiss watch manufacturer on the subcontinent. The region later developed into an important market for Favre-Leuba, mainly for its smaller timepieces. Globally, the brand was more renowned for its specialist instrument watches, such as the Bivouac and Bathy, which even today are in high demand with collectors and aficionados in the vintage timepiece market. The brand, given this history, was purchased by the Indian-owned Tata Group in 2011, with Titan Company Limited being the parent company. A multi-cultural team based in Switzerland is today headed by Vijesh Rajan, a proud Indian taking the Swiss brand to a global audience.