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Time Made in Germany: Le Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle

- By Keith Lehman (PA) 09/10/19

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The city of la Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland.

Currently, I am on tour in the Black Forest in Germany, tracing Germany’s earliest steps into becoming a prominent, global center of horological progress and commerce up until the infamous Quartz Crisis in the early 1980s. Before starting this tour, however, NAWCC Executive Director Tom Wilcox and I visited the Swiss towns of Le Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle to meet up with Laurence Bodenmann. I met Laurence in 2012 when she was working on a special Hamilton Watch Co. exhibit at the NAWCC Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, PA. We became fast friends and have stayed in contact over the years.

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NAWCC Executive Director Tom Wilcox and Zenith Brand Manager Laurence Bodenmann on top of the visitor's center in la Chaux-de-Fonds.

Laurence has been actively involved in the horological community in Switzerland for many years and is currently the brand manager for Zenith Watches in Le Locle. She was gracious enough to meet with us in la Chaux-de-Fonds and give us a tour of the area and, along with her colleague Wolfgang Carrier, tours of the Musée d'Horlogerie in Le Locle and the Musée International d'Horlogerie in Le Chaux-de-Fonds.

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The Musée d'Horlogerie in Le Locle.
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A collection of pocketwatches, a marine chronometer and carriage clock at Musée d'Horlogerie in Le Locle.

After these visits my appreciation of the tradition and heritage of watch-making has soared to new peaks. The tradition of watch-making there isn’t just a slogan on an advertisement or a branding campaign; it is a way of life and a viable profession. Watch-making is so important to this region that in 2009 both towns received recognition from UNESCO as world heritage sites due to their historical and current-day contributions to the industry. This reality slowly dawned on me as we drove past the manufacturing centers of major watch brands such as Tissot, Ulysse Nardin, Zenith, and Montblanc. It was in this region that Abraham-Louis Breguet fled to safety from the French Revolution and, as rumor has it, learned of a concept for the tourbillion that a fellow watch maker and personal friend, by the name of Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, developed in theory. Because of their history and world-class museums, these two small but incredibly significant towns are a must-visit for any horological enthusiast.

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Tom Wilcox enjoying a guided tour by horolgical curator Wolfgang Carrier.
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A fully functioning automoton that drinks coffee while sitting on an animated flying carpet.

Stay tuned for updates as I tour further horological haunts and hangouts.

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