The Favre-Leuba Raider Harpoon is a new dive watch from a newly resurrected company; Favre-Leuba was one of the mainstays of Swiss watchmaking in pre-quartz days, and made a wide variety of watches. Two of its best known today among vintage watch enthusiasts are the 1962 Bivouac, which was the first altimeter equipped wristwatch, and the Bathy, which was the first dive watch with a pressure/depth gauge. The company ceased production in the years immediately following the Quartz Crisis but relaunched last year with two collections: Raider and Chief; the former includes a new version of the Bivouac, which can measure altitudes of up to 9000 meters (Mount Everest is8,848 meters, so the Bivouac pretty much has you covered from a mountaineering standpoint). For fans of over-engineered dive watches you know who you are Favre-Leuba has the 500m water resistant Raider Harpoon.
The Raider Harpoon is determined to put the “over” in “over-engineered.” Everything about it is larger than life and certainly not dictated by pragmatic necessity; the case has the aforementioned 500m water resistance; it’s also equipped with a helium escape valve for a primer on who would need such a thing, and why, check outour story on saturation diving and comes in a gunmetal PVD coated stainless steel case which is a whopping 46mm x 16.5mm. Ours showed up at HODINKEE on a very heavy leather strap which is itself about 7mm thick where it attaches to the lugs, though it tapers to only four or so at the ends.
It’s actually quite fortunate that the strap is so substantial it feels stout enough to yoke a Clydesdale to a beer wagon with a significant safety margin, but it also lends some much needed balance to the experience of having a 180 gram ingot of metal on your wrist. (For comparison, our unofficial Standard International Dive Watch Mass Unit, the Seiko Diver SKX007, comes in at 142 grams, on a bracelet).
Once your eyes adjust to the scale of the thing, the first thing you are apt to notice is that there is no hour hand. You may think that the tiny hand at the center is the hour hand but in fact, it’s the running seconds hand, mounting on a rotating steel disk with three apertures; it’s not so much a seconds hand as it is a function indicator, letting you know that the watch is running (having some such thing, whether it’s a seconds hand per se or some other function indicator, is actually a requirement for ISO 6425, the international standard for diver’s watches). The one long, orange tipped hand you see is the minute hand.
You read the hour off from the position of the minute hand at the top of each hour, the minute hand points to a number on the white rotating ring that corresponds to the correct hour. As the minute hand turns, the white ring turns along with it and the minute hand gradually advances from one hour numeral to the next, until at the top of the next hour, it has lined up with the next numeral.
The rationale here is that it’s elapsed minutes that are most critical for a diver and certainly that’s true, although for most of us the appeal is going to be simpler than that: it looks cool. The inner minute track has lume plots allowing you to read elapsed minutes a bit more intuitively (and of course make it possible to set the watch accurately; the movement (Sellita SW200 base) has a stop seconds function and the four markers at the quarter minutes mean you can actually set the watch very precisely.There is actually some precedent for this sort of thing in precision horology; this is essentially a variation on a regulator dial which is based on the same notion of putting the minute hand front and center.
The hour ring and seconds hand both have Super-LumiNova on them, which means you can also read the hours and minutes in the dark (and see the function indicator) if you want. I had thought at first that the bezel was placed a bit too close to the case edge to be turned comfortably but there’s actually enough of an overhang at 3:00 and 9:00 that turning the bezel’s easily done.
I remember many years ago, a friend of mine who has long since stopped writing about watches for public consumption but who remains deeply involved with them personally and professionally, once wrote in a review, “There’s no reasoning with this watch.” The phrase occurred to me while wearing the Raider Harpoon because at first the it seems quite outlandish. The thing is, there is a lot about the watch that actually makes sense if you sort of take it on its own terms once you accept the basic concept of the time-telling system and the premise on which it’s based (maximizing the presence of the minute hand) a lot of the rest of the watch actually flows logically from that, including the three nested rings formed by the unidirectional bezel, hour ring, and minute chapter ring. Even the very large case starts to make a bit more sense; with those three concentric circles a little extra dial real estate is not a bad thing.
Ultimately though, this is something that I think people are going to get into, if they get into it, for emotional rather than practical reasons. That’s nothing against the watch, either. Mechanical watches are a funny thing; yes, in an absolute sense they’re impractical and unnecessary, but we still want them, like any gripping fiction, to be internally consistent and not do what video gamers call “breaking the metaphor.” On that score this watch kind of reminds me of Iron Man as portrayed in the movies and comics. Undoubtedly, from a practical world-peace standpoint, having one man one incredibly narcissistic egomaniac, to boot with that much power is completely counterintuitive. But it’s fun, and though it’s just as needlessly overbuilt as a superhero’s power armor, so is the Favre Leuba Raider Harpoon.
The Favre-Leuba Raider Harpoon: case (in model shown) gunmetal PVD coated stainless steel,46mm x 16.5mm; water resistance, 500 meters, with helium escape valve. One way turning anodized aluminum timing bezel; sapphire crystal with double antireflective coating. Movement, selfwinding caliber FL301, Sellita SW200 base with patented moving hour chapter ring synchronized with the minute hand. Dial, blue luminous hands, hour ring and minute chapter ring. Price, $4,700.
Read more about the Raider Harpoon at Favre-Leuba.com.