Local History

Gnomon, Musée international d’horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Photo/Foto: TES.

The Watchmaking Canton

The canton of Neuchâtel is the heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry. Already at the end of the 17th century, farmers-watchmakers produced clocks and watches for clients in every corner of Europe and even the world. In 1914, more than half, 55%, of the world’s production of watches came from La Chaux-de-Fonds, closely followed by Le Locle. The watchmaking town planning of these to cities goes without saying. The industry needed large windows because of the need for light, residential and industrial areas were not strictly separated, and many production facilities were in the same building as the apartments of their workers. Efficiency and planning were essential. The grid planning of both cities resembles these principles, made possible after devastating fires in 1794 (La Chaux-de-Fonds) and 1833 and 1844 (Le Locle). The unique symbiosis of town planning and industry, urban and architectural unity of these two industrial cities has evaluated them to the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site in June 2009.

The key to understanding the origins of this status is the so-called Espace de l’urbanisme Horlogier in La Chaux-deFonds (www.timExplorer.ch). This multimedia space is entirely devoted to the watchmaking, town planning and industrial heritage. Various manufacturers allow an insider’s view of the watchmaking production (o.a. Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie Corum and Le Carrousel Formation in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Les Apprentis du Temps and Atelier micromécanique in Le Locle and Le Centre Horloger in Neuchâtel). Several museums are devoted to the clock and watch industry: the Musée international d’horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds and the Musée d’horlogerie in the Château des Monts in Le Locle present a historical and general overview. The collection Jaquez-Droz at the Museum of Art and History in Neuchâtel consists of music automatons and their intricate mechanisms, pieces that graced the royal courts of Europe in the 18th century. The Musée des Mascarons in Môtiers, the Musée paysan et artisanal in Neuchâtel, Le Castel – Pendulerie neuchâteloise in Saint-Aubain and ateliers and shops in Fleurier, Auvernier, Peseux, Le Locle, La Chaux-de-Fonds are other centres of interest.

How did it all begin? During the long winter months, the farmers busied themselves with repairing their farming tools and other craft activities. When the first timepieces appeared, these artisans learned to dismantle and to fix them and subsequently learned to make their watches. The farmer-watchmaker was the ingenious manufacturer in the eighteenth century, businessmen expanded the business in the nineteenth century. (Source: Tourisme Neuchâtel, At the heart of time, Neuchâtel, 2017; www.timExplorer.ch).