Imagine you are Switzerland’s second-oldest watch brand, a watch company with a storied past but with very little to show to its name in the last two decades. What better way to announce your return from dormancy than turning up with an inventive retro-futuristic tool watch that riffs on your brand heritage?
That’s exactly what Favre-Leuba has done with the Raider Bivouac 9000, the first mechanical wristwatch capable of measuring altitudes of up to 9,000 meters above sea level. To put this in context, Mt Everest is 8,848 meters tall. First unveiled as a prototype during Baselworld this year, the watch was launched officially in Dubai this month.
Favre-Leuba is making a comeback in 2017 after a long period of inactivity. Over the years, the brand’s ownership changed hands from the Favre-Leuba family that helmed the business for eight generations, to Benedom SA and even LVMH. It was eventually bought by Titan for €2 million in 2011. Titan, part of the Tata Group, is India’s most prominent watch brand and retailer.
In 1962, Favre-Leuba launched the world’s first mechanical wristwatch capable of measuring air pressure and altitudes of up to 3,000 metres above sea level. The model was called Bivouac; it was easy to use, reliable and often seen on the wrists of mountain climbers, pilots, explorers, and the sort.
The Bivouac 9000 pays homage to its 1962 namesake, but the brand has been careful not to go down the ‘vintage revival’ route that many Swiss brands have taken in recent times. The new Bivouac has been refined to make it sturdy enough to cope with the demands placed today on a functional instrument used at extremely high altitudes. The Bivouac 9000 still measures altitude with the aid of an aneroid barometer, but now does so up to a height of 9,000 metres above sea level.
While designing the watch, care was taken to ensure that the dial is perfectly legible in all conditions. Everything is functional; there is nothing unnecessary to distract the view from the important displays.
The most significant of the improvements is its ability to measure from 3,000 to 9,000 meters. 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.
Unlike the 1962 Bivouac, the new version is also water-resistant to 30 meters. The air inlet on the new case – essential for the barometer’s functioning - is protected by a fine but tough membrane made from a micro-perforated hydrophobic material. This membrane allows air but not water or dust particles to pass through.
The watch uses an imposing sandblasted dull grey titanium case that 48 mm wide and 18.7 mm thick. Lightweight, hardwearing, and hypoallergenic, this seems like a legit material for a 21st century tool watch. The case uses a bidirectional rotating bezel sculpted in Favre-Leuba’s characteristic tetradecagon design with an altimeter scale divided into 50-meter steps.
It is powered by the hand-wound FL311 movement, which is based on Eterna’s EMC 3903M caliber with a power reserve of 65 hours. The watch comes with a vintage-look leather strap.
Using the watch as an expedition tool is fairly easy. The red central hand indicates the altitude on the bidirectional rotating bezel, which carries a scale divided into 50-meter steps, up to 3,000 meters. One full clockwise rotation of the red central hand indicates a climb in altitude of 3,000 meters.
During a climb, the small red hand of the subdial located at 3 o’clock continues to turn too, until, after three full rotations of the central hand, it arrives at 9,000 meters above sea level. The bezel is held securely in place by a two-way ratchet mechanism that prevents it from being unintentionally moved to a different position.
The heart of the barometer is an airtight capsule made from a special alloy. The capsule expands when the air pressure drops as the wearer climbs and contracts when the air pressure rises during the descent. The expansion and contraction of the capsule triggers a linear movement, which is then converted into a rotational movement to indicate the altitude.
The Bivouac 9000 is also capable of displaying any changes in air pressure at the same altitude. The hectopascal (hPA) scale on the sub dial located at 3 o’clock displays the current air pressure on a scale ranging from 1013 to 300hPa.
The watch is priced at AED28,500 ($7,750) will be available at all Rivoli Group outlets from October 2017 onwards.