Watches are, besides chocolate, the characteristic of Swiss business; who do not know Breitling, Ebel, G. Perregaux, Longines, Minerva, Omega, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Zenith, Swatch, just to mention some of the most famous.
Calvin and the watches
The history of the clocks dates back to Calvin, where it was forbidden to wear jewellery but the use of watches was accepted because they were considered useful. Experienced goldsmiths and jewellers took advantage of these conditions and developed the watch industry into what it is today. The clocks are today often seen as valuable art works rather than an article for everyday use.
In the aftermath of the massacre of thousands of French Protestants (The Bartholomew night in 1572) survivors fled to the surrounding countries. This also included the Calvinist stronghold Geneva which suddenly became the home of the fleeting “Huguenots”. Thus, almost overnight an increasing amount of watchmakers had moved there, bringing a precious know-how to the place.
Watchmakers in western Switzerland
Most watchmakers lived and still live in Western Switzerland. This applies particularly to the areas of Geneva, northern Waadtland, Neuenburg (Neuchâtel), Biel, Bernese Jura and Jura. The reason for this is not only the geographically neighbouring France but also Geneva’s position as exhibition and trade centre. Under the heavy influence from fleeing Huguenots, Geneva in the late 16th century became an important centre of watch production. In the case of Huguenots’ searching for areas where they could work and practice their religion in their mother tongue, also in Neuchatel a centre of the watch industry emerged.
In 1860, more than a quarter of the inhabitants of Neuchâtel, La-Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle worked in the watch industry.
The watchmaker’s name
Since the arising of the watch industry it has been common to name the produced watches by the watchmaker himself. It is therefore usual that many of today’s existing watch brands bear the family names such as Blancpain, Frederic Piguet, Patek Philippe, Ulysse Nardin, Breitling, Vacheron & Constantin as well as Piaget. These watch makers have through their precise technology and extensive craftsmanship gained international recognition and have marked the Swiss reputation for what it is today.
In Switzerland, there are countless of watch museums and it would be too extensive to mention all of them here on this page. However, it is possible to find valuable information by clicking here. Other relevant information for this theme can be found in the Swiss Federation for the watch industry.