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Bargain Travel Europe guide to Europe on a budget for unusual destinations, holiday travel tips
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MUSÉE INTERNATIONAL D'HORLOGERIE – LA CHAUX-DE-FONDS
International Watchmaking Museum in Switzerland Jura

Gilded Cage Clock La Chaux de Fonds Museum photoOne might ask the question, what separates the middle-ages from the age of enlightenment? Is it the printing press, the university, or is it perhaps the clock? A clock appeared in Westminster in London about 1288. The first weighted clock about 1500. The watch mainspring about 1450 and the pendulum clock about 1650. The agrarian and the industrial are separated by the management of time, and nowhere in the world is this more apparent the unique city of La Chaux-de-Fonds (pronounced rather shodfond), in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland, between the French border and Neuchatel. The Swiss did not invent the watch, but perfected it and turned it into an industry. The industry of watch making is still found here and the history of time keeping in the Musée International d'Horlogerie (the MIH) or International Watchmaking Museum.

Time Line at La Chaux de Fonds Horlogerie Museum photoThe watchmaking region of La Chaux-de-Fonds and its neighboring village of La Locle have been named a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE site for its place in the history of watchmaking. The entire town is a form of museum, built nearly from the ground up in the 19th Century to manufacture watches, with apartment houses-factories where watch technicians could work at home on individual lathes and work stands with the light provided through windows facing the sun. The watch-making of famous elite brands like Longines, Tag-Heuer, Patek-Philipe, Tissot, Hermes, Girard Perregaux and Piaget are still made here, but in more modern factories which cling to the outskirts of the city.

Musical Automaton  photoIn 1865, the la Chaux-de-Fonds Horological School of watching making opened its doors, and began a mission of building a collection of watches for students to study and learn from the past masters of their craft. The collection grew over 35 years, only to be seen by students and teachers, until the city, inspired by French-Jewish watch-making industrialist Maurice Picard opened the Horological Museum to the public. The International Watchmaking Museum, now in a very modern building from 1980, houses one of the world’s most extensive collection of time-pieces. Displayed in suspended glass domes and among interactive time-lines and exploratory stations, on four levels from the beginning of time-keeping to the atomic clock and the Cern Collider, where even the separation of neutrinos tell time (see Cern Collider Tours Geneva).

Clock Museum at La Chaux de Fonds photoThe collection features some of the most ornate and fabulous examples of clocks and watches, from the world’s most complex watch movement to the smallest watch, a watch made of wood, and gold gilt Baroque royal timepieces, music playing automatons, marine chronometers, and robots. Works of designers like Pierre Jaquet-Droz, Henry Grendon and Abraham Louis Brequet, to anonymous masterpieces. Hours can be spent among the beauty and technological precision of the mastery of art and time. View the restoration of historic pieces behind glass by master craftsmen at the Centre of Restauration. Rotating exhibits feature varying themes and the museum itself is buried in a hillside, with a park above where the shining stainless steel of a modern Carillion clock which tells time in digits and shifting panes of color on the quarter hour, visible from the hillsides around town.

Visiting the Musée International d'Horlogerie La Chaux-de-Fonds

Carillion Clock La Chaux de Fonds photoThe museum is open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays, Christmas and New Years. Admission is 15 CHF for adults, 12.50 CHF for Consessions (Seniors), Students up to 25 years 10 CHF, and Children under 12 years are free. A family ticket is available and the museum is free with a Swiss Pass. The Museum is located on Rue de Musee (Museum Street) a 5 minute walk from the train station.

Visitors to La Chaux-de-Fonds can start at the Espace for Urbanisme Horloger, just a block from the museum, which presents the story of the watchmaking industry that built the town. Next to the clock museum is the city’s history museum (currently under a reconstruction), the local Freemason Hall and the Musee des Beaux Arts, with samples of the city’s connection to the Art Nouveau movement. The Musée d'Horlogerie du Locle is a smaller clock museum in a former chateau in the neighboring town. © Bargain Travel Europe

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SEE ALSO:

PATEK PHILIPPE MUSEUM - GENEVA

GENEVA WATCH TOUR

BEYER CLOCK AND WATCH MUSEUM - ZURICH

BUCHERER ROLLING BALL CLOCK - LUCERNE

SWISS PUPPETRY MUSUEM – FRIBOURG