F. A. Jones was born in 1841 in a small town in rural New Hampshire, to Solomon Jones and Lavinia Craig Jones. His father was listed in the 1850 census as a shoemaker, and his older brother, then 16, was a farmer. When he was nine, his household included several other relatives, Bradleys and Burns among others. One was a blacksmith, another a lawyer but most of the others were farmers.
By age 16, he left New Hampshire and went to Boston. In 1861 he enlisted as a private in a Massachusetts infantry regiment to fight in the U.S. Civil War. When he enlisted he described his occupation as watchmaker. In 1864 he was mustered out of the regiment, still as a private. Some suppose that he was injured during the War, since he left before the end and also there is one record reflecting that he asked for Civil War disability pay as an invalid in 1907.
After Jones left his regiment, from 1864 until 1868 he worked in Boston for a prominent U.S. watchmaker, E. Howard Watch & Clock, finally becoming an “assistant superintendent”. In 1867, at age 26, he applied for a U.S. passport and traveled to Europe for the first time. Undoubtedly, Jones' experiences as a watchmaker, learning the industrialized manufacturing processes in the U.S., and then seeing Europe in combination must have motivated him to take a great leap. Even without much knowledge of European culture, let alone languages, he then traveled to Switzerland to establish his own watch manufacturing operation. It was a bold move and perhaps with hindsight a foolhardy one