Conquering Frontiers Stories

The beginning of a new era – the first watchmaker in his family



The beginning of a new era – the first watchmaker in his family

Abraham Favre and his apprenticeship

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. 

The apprenticeship was crowned with success: In 1737, Abraham Favre was officially mentioned as an independent master watchmaker in Le Locle for the first time and granted the title “Maître horloger du Locle” in 1747. With his watchmaking workshop, he laid the foundation for a thriving family business and the brand Favre-Leuba. 


The weather channel on your wrist

Walter Bonatti, Michel Vaucher and the Bivouac

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. 

Two days later, on August 9, at about 6:00 p.m. – still in adverse conditions, accompanied by snow and wind – they reach the 4,184-meter-high peak, exhausted but safe and sound. One of the two mountaineers shortly thereafter writes in a letter: “The last stage of this ascent is certainly one of the hardest endeavors you can undertake in the Alps!” The two daredevils: Geneva mountain guide Michel Vaucher and the Italian mountaineer Walter Bonatti. Their watch: Favre-Leuba’s Bivouac, the world’s first mechanical wristwatch with an aneroid barometer for altimetry and air pressure measurement.