In a country well-known for its watch brands such as Patek Philippe, Rolex, Tag Heuer, Omega, Piaget, Longines, and many others, visiting a watch museum in Switzerland is an absolute must. Several museums have been established by the brands themselves, such as the Omega and Swatch museums in Biel as well as the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. There is one museum in particular that is worth visiting above all others: the International Museum of Horology (Musée international d’horlogerie) in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Almost all of the treasures at Musée international d’horlogerie are housed in a subterranean building. Truthfully, I expected it to look more like a watch shop that you can find in Lucerne or Zurich, but I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it was definitely better than what I expected.
Here’s what you can expect from the Musée international d’horlogerie or the International Museum of Horology in La Chaux de-Fonds.
Visiting Musée international d’horlogerie
La Chaux de-Fonds
Located just a few kilometers south of the French border, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, is the ideal place for this watch museum. Since 2009, La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle have been UNESCO World Heritage sites, recognized for their contribution to watchmaking around the world.
In contrast to other parts of the country, the region’s land is not arable, which factors into its importance as a watchmaking region. Watchmaking has always been the main reason for its survival.
Together with 22 other sites scattered throughout La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, the Musée international d’horlogerie is also listed as a Swiss heritage site of national significance.
What to Expect Inside the Museum
This museum is worth a visit not only for its collection of watches, but also for its explanations regarding the workings of watches and time.
The museum offers more history and explanations than other watch shops and museums, and even offers leaflets about timekeeping that you can take home with you. This is an excellent place to learn a great deal about watches.
Inside the museum, you can expect the following sections:
- Walkway and the Hans Erni Room: Frescoes showing the conquest of time
- Man and Time: Water clocks, sundials, hourglasses, and more
- Treasures: Remarkable watch pieces are on display in spherical display cases
- Sky and Earth: Astronomical clocks, observation instruments, reference to earth’s daily rotation
- Day, Hours, Seconds: Calendar watches, mechanical clocks, pendulum, and second intervals. You can also test your reaction time at an interactive station.
- Automata: Mechanical clocks
- Style: Changing watch styles over the centuries
- Machine: A look at industrial machines and watch-making
- Hand: Watchmaking and the watchmaker’s work bench
- Restoration Workshop: Professional watchmakers restore timepieces for the museum’s collection
- Temporary Exhibits: Areas of the museum such as the promontory, gallery, and belfry are reserved for temporary exhibits.
Musée international d’horlogerie: History, Man and Time
The origin of day and night was based on a relationship between the sun and man. Observing and calculating this required our ancestors to use a fixed point in the sky, a star. They fine-tuned the concept of day after learning more about it and divided time further into hours, minutes, and seconds.
Various durations were calculated between sunrise and sunset in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. This led to the use of various items, such as the clepsydra, fire timekeepers, and later, hour glass (or sand clock). Candles and incense sticks, which burn for varying periods of time, are examples of fire timekeepers.
There are still a lot of hour glasses available today, mostly in board games or gift shops. This device measures time by measuring fluid flow, water flow, and most commonly sand flow. In the past, hourglasses were filled with egg shells and stones, and they were used to calculate the interval of time between prayers. Seafarers also used it extensively.
Musée international d’horlogerie: Watch Styles
Throughout history, watch styles have evolved. It was originally intended for clocks to be used in monasteries. However, technological advances led them to be reduced in size, so they are now in our homes and on our wrists.
The timepieces of the 16th and 17th centuries were elaborate and intricate, decorated with engravings, figures, floral motifs, and more. Gold-plated brass or silver were used for these, and there was a case included. Cases were also made from brass, agate, enamel, or silver.
The 18th and 19th-century clocks and watches were fine-tuned to be more accurate during this time period, becoming slimmer while still adorned with enamel and precious stones. They were also used for decoration and still had cases for protection and decoration. In the 19th century, watch pockets were worn inside suits before being transformed into bracelets.
During the 20th century, wristwatches firmly established their place in society. Electronics, micro batteries, and quartz oscillators were also introduced. We also witnessed the switch from traditional watchmaking to mass production. The result has been that watches are being sold as fashion items at lower prices.
Timekeeping and clockmaking were forever transformed as a result. As we move forward, we will look for ways to achieve more accuracy than we currently have.
How to get to Musée international d’horlogerie
It is a short walk from La Chaux-de-Fonds train station to the Musée international d’horlogerie. Parking is also available on the street near the museum, or at the nearby Metropole Centre where 480 spots are available.
|Address||Musée international d’horlogerie|
Rue de Musées 29
2301 La Chaux-de-Fonds
|By Train||La Chaux-de-Fonds|
|By Bus||La Chaux-de-Fonds, gare|
La Chaux-de-Fonds, Promenade
Final Thoughts: Musée international d’horlogerie
Musée international d’horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds was a real treat to visit. It is an engaging and well-organized permanent exhibition. The amount of information available is abundant.
The museum has an open floor plan, so the subdivisions of the sections aren’t readily evident. However, you can guide yourself through the different watch topics by following the blue plan guide available at the front desk. As you go along, you’ll learn more.
A visit to Musée international d’horlogerie can easily take up to three hours (most likely around two hours). Watch enthusiasts, and by this I mean those who also appreciate its function as well as its beauty, will find visiting the watch museum highly rewarding.
- Man and Time. Musée international d’horlogerie.
- Short History of the Measurement of Time. Musée international d’horlogerie.
- Style 16th and 17th Centuries. Musée international d’horlogerie.
- Style 18th Century. Musée international d’horlogerie.
- Style 19th Century. Musée international d’horlogerie.
- Style 20th Century. Musée international d’horlogerie.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.