Earlier this year, I found myself flying to Zurich to meet the management team of one of Switzerland’s oldest watch-making companies, Favre-Leuba. It was to provide a watershed moment in the evolution of Arctic Mission.
Watch-making and exploration became closely entwined when accurate time-pieces provided the key to establishing longitude, and therefore one’s position on the surface of the Earth. World-renowned explorer Captain James Cook was one of the first navigators to use a time-piece at sea to establish longitude. He was only a 10-year old when Abraham Favre was registering himself as a watch-maker in 1737.
And randomly, in my researches some time ago for an article about the dependence on watch-makers by explorers, I’d clocked that Favre-Leuba’s Bivouac wristwatch, launched the year I was born (1962), was the first mechanical watch ever to incorporate an altimeter and aneroid barometer thereby creating an ‘indispensable companion’ for explorers. I’d also noted legendary polar explorer Paul-Emile Victor had been one of the first to deploy this wristwatch on one of his Antarctic expeditions … and one of my heroes, Walter Bonatti, had worn it while summiting the Grandes Jorasses in the Alps.
In 2017, Favre-Leuba celebrates its 280th anniversary. This is a remarkable milestone in the illustrious history of Switzerland’s second-oldest watch brand, which is once again expressing how, since inception, it is always conquering frontiers across various domains. Be it with its watches such as the Raider Harpoon or Raider Bivouac 9000, or with its association with Artic Mission, led by renowned Artic explorer – Pen Hadow, the brand understands what it takes to go beyond the everyday living to achieve a goal that will have larger implications for all life on earth.
The rapidly changing environment around us has led to many changes in nature, which can truly be understood only when we see it. This is what Arctic Mission team, co-led by the renowned explorer Pen Hadow (55) and Arctic specialist yachtsman Erik de Jong (35), aims to do. A pioneering voyage has set sail to the Central Arctic Ocean from Nome, Alaska (USA) on 15th of August. Two 50-foot yachts are sailing across almost half of the 3,000,000 sq. km area of international waters around the North Pole, which is ice-free and now navigable by surface vessels. The 10-member crew on these yachts could be among the first to reach the furthest north ever sailed. Conquering the physical, mental and emotional frontiers this journey will pose is unimaginable. Favre-Leuba understands this spirit and supports the team on this journey by being their indispensable companion through it all.
Built into the barren hills of the Swiss Jura, Le Locle was mainly dominated by agriculture when the nearly 16-year-old Abraham Favre signed his indenture in March of 1718. He was to be the first of his family to learn the craft of watchmaking under Daniel Gagnebin.
Some surprising agreements can be found in this indenture: The master agreed to teach his apprentice everything he knew about watchmaking, fair and square, over a period of three years. In return, Abraham Favre obliged to provide him a room in his own house in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Moreover, the said room was to be equipped with all necessities, i.e. bed, chair, table, tablecloths, and last but not least, candles. On top of that he was to clean it regularly and provide wood for heating during the long, harsh winters. The apprentice’s obligations further included making Gagnebin’s bed, washing his clothes, and regularly cleaning and greasing his master’s shoes. The apprentice also had to set up a small workshop for their work and provide the necessary tools and materials. Abraham Favre had no entitlement to the work carried out by Gagnebin.
It is early morning on August 7, 1964. Two mountaineers are squarely in the middle of the almost vertical, mostly ice-covered north face of Pointe Whymper in the Grandes Jorasses. So far, no one has ever been able get to the top of the difficult summit on this seemingly impossible route.
It’s freezing cold. Again and again, stones plunge down, thundering past the two mountaineers into the bottomless void. Clouds are gathering. Keep going, or cut it short? Much is at stake – not only the success of the planned ascent, but also the survival of the two men. Thanks to the integrated barometer, their wristwatch shows them not only their current altitude, but also any impending weather changes. Because of this important information, the two-man climbing team pitches a protective camp and thereby escaped a heavy snowstorm.