It is the year 1737. In Le Locle, a small Swiss village in the Jura mountains and in the heart of the watchmaking world, Abraham Favre decided to officially register his Manufacture producing timepieces. It was one of the earliest watchmaking companies. From the very start Abraham Favre concentrated on improving the technology of his timepieces, and the quality of the materials employed in their manufacture. Thanks to his hard work and pioneering spirit, the business expanded and was passed down through eight generations of the Favre family. It was his grandson Henry-Auguste, who in 1814 went a step further by going into partnership with Auguste Leuba, a watch dealer from Buttes in the Val-de-Travers.
By the 19th and early 20th centuries Favre-Leuba had ramifications around the world, with offices or representations throughout the Middle East, India and Asia, North/South America, Russia and other European countries. The business remained in the same family over eight generations, through to 1969. Then the quartz revolution came along, bringing many changes for the industry.
Favre-Leuba, one of the largest companies of its time, passed through different hands such as Benedom SA and LVMH before finally regaining its independence in 2003. Now the brand is owned by Tata Group. Proud of its nearly 300 years of uninterrupted history, Favre-Leuba enjoys a well-deserved worldwide reputation for its legendary watch movements and unique designs.
History of Favre Leuba watch brand
The 18th century was the century of Enlightenment. Europe teemed with inventors and thinkers, whose genius transformed daring new ideas into crowning achievements. Musicians, artists, philosophers and scientists stamped their times with their courage, passion and remarkable talents. One of them, Abraham Favre, the founder of today’s Favre-Leuba manufactory, decided to try his hand at making watches.
Tucked away in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Neuchâtel Jura, this church elder became initiated into the complexities of watchmaking in 1718 under the watchful eye of Mr Gagnebin, an experienced master watchmaker. Horological knowledge in exchange for a furnished room, polished shoes and firewood for heating up soup; such was the agreement which led to the birth of one of Switzerland’s most prestigious watch brands. Graduating from passionate enthusiast to specialist, Mr Abraham Favre decided to become a watchmaker. His profession was soon recognized and officially recorded on “the thirtieth of March seventeen thirty-seven” in Le Locle. In a carefully-preserved document, Mr Abraham Sandoz-Genton, solicitor, confirmed that “Mr Abram Favre, son of Mr Abram Favre, church elder and part-time judge of La Chaux-de-Fonds” was officially declared a “watchmaker.
This official registration in 1737 represented the first major consecration of a life dedicated to the art of watchmaking as well as the establishment of one of the very first watch companies in Switzerland. Thanks to this ingenious craftsman’s pioneering spirit and strong work ethic, this small company has gone from strength to strength over the eight generations it has been passed down from father to son. Favre-Leuba has a long, impressive and astonishing history: the first Favre watchmaker mentioned in the notarized acts of 1718, a manufactory officially registered in 1737, a promotion to the position of “Master watchmaker of Le Locle” certified in 1751, a close working relationship until the end of the 18th century with Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, the father of Swiss chronometry, and an unbroken line of eight generations of watchmakers. Like other renowned brands, Favre-Leuba can look back over a long and illustrious history.
One story is that the writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau owned a Favre timepiece. On his way to England in 1765, Jean-Jacques Rousseau spent ten days with his friend Doctor Abraham Gagnebin, a close relative of Abraham Favre and his son who had the same name. Between walks and other botanical studies in the verdant valleys of the Neuchâtel mountains, it is nice to imagine them talking about the art of watchmaking and giving expression to man’s enigmatic and intimate relationship with time. Born in 1712 into a family of watchmakers, Rousseau would certainly have been intrigued by the expertise and craftsmanship displayed by Abraham Favre, his son Abraham and his son-in-law Jacques-Frédéric Houriet.
At the end of the 18th century was a violent and dangerous time. Triumphant in Paris, the French Revolution of 1789 had divided the people of France, divisions that were felt as far away as the Neuchâtel mountains. In both Le Locle and La Chaux de-Fonds, revolutionary agitators clashed with the ideas of the counter revolutionaries. Despite the political and economic turmoil, life went on. In 1795, a letter from Jacques-Frédéric Houriet shows that he was still happily and confidently working with Abraham Favre’s son, whose work he described as “meticulous” and “exceptional”. Here was further testimony of Favre’s attention to detail and mastery, qualities that have been transmitted from generation to generation.
The Favres, however, have not been the only actors in this story. Early in the 19th century, the Leubas joined forces with them and helped build up the company. Under their combined commercial and artistic expertise, the company flourished both in Switzerland and abroad, gaining an international reputation in the process. Besides a concern for quality and precision, the watch trade demanded a keen sense of business.
From Le Locle to Valparaiso, Moscow, New York, Beirut, Bahrain and Singapore:exotic names that conjure up exciting journeys, enriching experiences and enduring impressions. Souvenirs of this conquest of distant markets include Fritz Favre’s passport, stamped in 1863 in Saint-Petersburg on the orders of His Imperial Majesty Alexander II, Tsar of all the Russias, letters sent from London and Panama, medals from the 1855 Universal Exposition in Paris, a letter sent to Fritz Favre in Chile, accounts of journeys from Bombay and Calcutta, etc.
No country seemed beyond the reach of this family business, giving it the dimension of a truly international brand. This is shown by the company’s letterhead from the end of the 19th century, reproduced here. Ignoring the risks of travelling by coach, train, steamer or plane, the Favres and Leubas have conducted business in the remotest regions of the world, thereby confirming their dynamism, unfailing optimism and passionate commitment.
Under the leadership of Henry A. Favre during the years following the Second World War, the company continued efforts to improve the technology of the watch movements, focusing on improving their properties under temperature variations. This research indeed resulted in more accurate and reliable movements, most of which are still running well today – some 50 years later. The FL251 movement designed in 1962 is a good example of these exceptional masterpieces: it is an extra-thin twin-barrel movement with a centre second hand and 50 hours of power reserve. It was a good 30 years ahead of its time.
1962 was also important to Favre-Leuba as the year when the “Bivouac” was launched, the first wristwatch with an altimeter and barometer function. It was a runaway success and became a must for the major expeditions of the time. Paul-Emile Victor used it in Antarctica, Vaucher and Bonatti for conquering the north face of the “Grandes Jorasses” in the Alps. Many others followed in their footsteps. 1964 saw the launch of one of the earliest diving timepieces, the “Deep Blue”, which was waterproof to 200m.
In 1966 came the legendary “Bathy”, a unique mechanical instrument giving divers not only a precise indication of their time under water, but also a direct and accurate reading of their actual depth. The “Sea Raider” followed in 1970, with a true techno-logical break-through : their first high frequency movement of 36’000 vibrations per hour giving the watch unparalleled accuracy.
Proud of its 300-year history, the watch company was managed by eight generations of Favres and Leubas, before a short ”eclipse” at the end of the twentieth century. Two sons of Henry A. Favre, Florian A. &Eric A. Favre, continued to lead the company as the eighth generation. The introduction of cheap quartz movements in 1969 nevertheless plugged the Swiss watch industry into serious crisis, which did not stop at the gates of Favre-Leuba's workshops. After integration into the Saphir Group, to which Jaeger-LeCoultre also belonged, the family was subsequently compelled to sell the brand in the 1980s. After that, the company changed ownership, with owners including Benedom SA and LVMH.
On November 16th, 2011, Titan Company Limited, the watch manufacturing company of the Tata Group acquired the brand and transferred its company headquarters to Zug.
Legendary Watch Models by Favre Leuba
BIVOUAC(1962): The revolutionary BIVOUAC has been regarded as an essential instrument for mountaineers since its launch in 1962. It is equipped with multiple measurement functions, one of which indicates the altitude and the weather based on barometric pressure. The aneroid barometer is a real mechanical marvel that functions by means of a partial vacuum in a metal capsule, which contracts when the air pressure is high and expands when it is low. These variations are amplified and transmitted to a mechanism which, coupled with an altimeter, displays the information on the dial.
– Rotating bezel with mobile altitude scale
– Barometric scale with red marker at 760 mmHg
– Red altimeter-barometer hand
Before worrying about rust, watchmakers sought a way to combat dust. It was from research into sealing their timepieces against air-born impurities that the first water-resistant watches were born. But it was thanks to the invention of the screw-down crown that the first truly waterproof watch was made. Since then, diver’s watches have undergone spectacular progress, aided by their use in submarine combat units.
BATHY (1966): It was with the BATHY that Favre-Leuba created the first depth gauge graduated in metres (50 m) and feet (160 ft). Besides indicating the length of time spent underwater, the BATHY gave divers a direct and accurate reading of their depth.The BATHY still embodies the Favre-Leuba spirit: inventing new precision instruments that unite the art of watchmaking and a passion for sport.
– Water-resistance tested to 10 atm
– Unidirectional rotating bezel with 60 notches for calculating diving time
– Decompression stages indicator
– High-resistance glass
– Fluorescent displays
THE MERCURY COLLECTION: Favre-Leuba launched a new collection in 2007: Mercury. Inspired by the eclipse of the planet Mercury by Venus in 1737 – the year that the Favre Manufacture was officially registered – this collection marked the return of the brand to the centre of the watch stage. The Mercury collection illustrates Favre-Leuba’s on-going commitment to quality and inspiration as well as its dedication to perfection. It comprises three lines: Mercury Chronograph FL 301, Mercury Big Date FL 302 and Mercury Power Reserve FL 303. These precious timepieces, fitted with automatic movements with additional manufactory-made modules, are distinguished by their superior design and the meticulous attention paid to the finishing.
Bathy V2 : More than 40 years after its revolutionary impact on the world of diver’s watches, this exceptional timekeeper features new mechanical functions and an imposing design. The legendary Bathy is guaranteed to make generations of divers dream for a long time to come. A watch of superlatives with vigorous, contemporary lines, the Bathy has made a grand comeback, both under the sea and on the land.
This precision – extended to its limits in the most extreme conditions – is one of Favre-Leuba’s trademarks. And, of course, the diver’s safety depends on it. Also for reasons of safety, all the important diving indications are coated with Superluminova to provide optimum legibility: the rotating flange(for measuring the duration of the dive in minutes), the minute and depth-gauge hands and the scale (in metres or feet depending on the version).
This makes the visual contrast, with the depth indicated in a choice of red, yellow or orange, all the more striking! The two screw-down crowns guarantee total water resistance to 300 metres. Despite the watch’s particularly impressive dimensions – 50mm in diameter and 18mm thick – it is unbelievably light. And the case is made in Grade 5 titanium, the best quality, like all the materials used by Favre-Leuba.
Raider and Chief Collections: In 2016, Favre Leuba made a comeback with new watch collections: Raider and Chief
Official website: http://www.favre-leuba.com/