Bauer Power: When Watches and Outdoor Recreation Collide
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Because nothing says "Americana" like a fine Swiss timepiece
Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first installment of Wristory Revealed. The mission of this series is to highlight the unique background of a specific timepiece. Through in-depth research and communication with individuals who were there when history was made, we can gain insight into the one-of-a-kind provenance of the piece; shining a light into the deeply rooted abyss of horological history.
In the posh world of watch collecting, retailer-signed examples generally command a premium over their more run-of-the-mill counterparts. Historically, a number of significant retailers placed their own branding on watch dials. Big names like Tiffany and Cartier remain well known, while smaller operations such as Linz and Serpico y Laino remain more incognito. The meager addition of nonessential dial text not only increases monetary value, generally speaking, but it makes the watch just a *little* bit more special than an unadorned version. The idea of co-signed dial makes sense though, right? A jewelry retailer orders a shipment of watches from the manufacturer, and wants their own business represented on the dial. Far more unusual, is finding watches that were double signed, but not by a jewelry business. In the case of this obscure Favre-Leuba Seabird, it was signed and sold by an outdoor gear and clothing company.
The idea of a company built upon adventure pursuits co-branding watches is not wholly unheard of, though still fairly uncommon. There are Hamilton watches aplenty signed by the Maine-headquartered titan L.L. Bean. In fact, there was a nearly decade long partnership at play between the American watch manufacturer and Bean. This is, however, not the outdoor retailer to be discussed. This is a watch signed “Eddie Bauer”. I came across this Seabird quite by chance, and was able to pick it up for a fantastic price after noticing the unusual dial text. I had never seen a vintage Eddie Bauer signed watch before, but was more than familiar with the heritage brand.
It is worth mentioning that before the brand was adopted by university students and shopping malls across the United States, Eddie Bauer produced garments and gear for the harshest of conditions. They are widely regarded as the first to patent the goose down insulated jacket way back in 1936. This creation was the fortuitous result of a harrowing ordeal that Eddie Bauer himself experienced after being caught in a violent snow storm without suitable insulating gear. The down coat is now considered to be the gold standard for the most unforgiving and frigid pursuits. Eddie Bauer garments have been worn from Everest to Antarctica, helping to further solidify the company’s place as one of the foremost manufacturers of expedition-quality gear.
Though Eddie Bauer is known primarily for clothing, even a cursory glance at one of their renowned catalogs conveys the broad array of merchandise that they have available. A brief perusal of a 1971 catalog reveals, for example; knives, axes, hats, blankets, sleeping bags, daypacks, tents, and yes, even watches.
I was fortunate to correspond with Colin Berg, Historian and curator of the Eddie Bauer archives, who helped to shed some light on this unique watch. He was able to provide me with scans of the 1969 Christmas catalog, as well as the 1971 catalog which shows multiple models of Favre-Leuba wristwatch advertised. Not all of the dials are signed by Bauer, but the Seabird is present, clear as day. Though an alarm watch may seem an unlikely outdoorsman’s companion, this is exactly what Eddie Bauer had in mind in 1969.
“In camp, the alarm gets you up on time; signals legal opening and closing hunting times. Invaluable for reminding you there’s barely time to catch the last ferryboat to the mainland or the non-stop commuter train home”
The Seabird itself is a humble watch unlikely to garner much attention in day-to-day life. Within the 37mm gold-plated case beats a metaphorical hummingbird of an alarm that is manually wound and set by the additional crown at two o’clock. Though I would say that the alarm function of the modern smart watch is far more effective, the analog appeal of winding and setting such a primitive (yet charmingly effective) alarm should not be underestimated.
Although Favre-Leuba is not among the most popular modern watch brands, the company is still very much in existence. In fact, Favre-Leuba is one of the oldest Swiss watch manufacturers in existence. Despite the general lack of recognition, there are a multitude of unique models in the vintage lineup, from the altimeter-equipped “Bivouac” to the depth-measuring diver, the “Bathy 50.” Given the brand’s propensity for producing mountaineering and dive-centric watches, it should come as no surprise that this was the supplier of choice for Eddie Bauer. So, if your heartsong is the sound of warblers in the pines and the rush of a stream, rather than champagne toasts and classical piano, this may be the co-signer you never knew you were looking for.