Luxury watches have always been the domain of the rich and first to mind are...
Further up north is the Vallée de Joux, home to prestigious watchmakers like Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Daniel Roth and in particular, Jaeger LeCoultre. The Vallée is renowned for its tradition of making complications, which were bought by watch brands all over the world.
The canton of Neuchâtel is another significant region, as it has been in the past and stands today as the true centre of power. Unlike Geneva, watch making was spread out all throughout the region of Neuchâtel; in fact, throughout the whole of the Jura region. Le Locle, Val-de-Travers, St. Aubin and La Chaux-de-Fonds each had a part to play in the watch industry.
Throughout the 19th century, the Val-de-Travers stood out in the industry, thanks to the introduction of Chinese watches and the Fleurier Watchmaker’s School opened in 1851. Piaget was founded in La Côte-aux-Fées, but perhaps the pride and joy of the region is Charles-Edouard Guillaume, the Nobel Prize-winning physician who discovered Invar and Elinvar. Parmigiani Fleurier set up workshops in the ’70s, followed by Bovet Fleurier and the Chopard Manufacture SA, ensuring the region’s relevancy in the world of timepieces.
Abraham-Louis Breguet, who was born in Neuchâtel and trained in Versailles, possibly the greatest watch maker of all time. Add in Daniel JeanRichard, goldsmith apprentice turned watch maker who made his first watch at the tender age of 16, and made the first machinery to create watch parts and promote watch production in the region. Another early watch maker in the region was Jean-Henry Mairet invented a seven-shot pistol and machine tool for the industry.
In La Chaux-de-Fonds, the world’s most renowned chronographs are made. From Movado to Breitling, Corum to Eberhard & Co. – credited with the invention of the most advanced wrist chronograph during the First World War – it has played host to the most exciting watch makers. Let’s not forget Jaquet Droz and Girard-Perregaux, and it continues to be a chronograph hub. The Le Locle region specialised in the production of precision clocks and machine tools, begun by Daniel JeanRichard.
To the west lies Biel/Bienne. Many watch brands have managed their technical production centres and headquarters there, amongst them the Swatch Group and Rolex. And in Grenchen, the first self-winding wristwatch was produced in 1926; today, the only German-speaking watch school is located in the city, ensuring the watch traditions remain secure.
The region of St. Imier is perhaps best known today as the home of Longines, TAG Heuer and Breitling. Compared with Geneva and watches made in Great Britain, which had a much heavier pricing, St. Imier’s productions still remain extremely fair – any watch lover will agree that Longines’ craft is value for money.
At the tip of the Jura region is Basel. The Baselworld Watch and Jewellery Exhibition is an annual pilgrimage for those who simply cannot wait to find out more about the latest watches. While Basel has had no watch making tradition of its own, it remains a point of notice – here, the greatest watches have been unveiled to the public for the first time. For 90 years, Basel has been the culmination of the watch making route.
The furthest out, Schaffhausen is one of the few watch regions in German Switzerland. Perhaps the most notable company in the region is International Watch Company; the Mark XI is a well-loved wristwatch in our offices. Bordering on the River Rhine, the company was set up by Johann Heinrich Moser and American F.A. Jones (hence the name International Watch Company).
The Watch Route is as much a walking tour of Switzerland’s history as it is a look into the traditions of timepieces. Every region has contributed to the culture and tradition of watch making; at the same time, the industry has left an indelible mark on each of these regions.