watchmaking town planning: one of the unesco heritage sites in switzerland

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Switzerland is famous for a few things; cheese, chocolate and watches! Let’s just say, we are no experts on cheese or chocolate but we certainly know how to enjoy and appreciate them. What we don’t know too much about: watch-making.

IMG_4199While we were in Switzerland, we visited two neighbouring towns that are key to the Swiss watch-making industry.

La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle exist because of watches and they owe it probably to some clever town planning from the 19th Century.


Up in the Espacite Tower (which the locals deem an eye-sore – it is rather out of place), we get an almost 360-degree view over the Old Town of La Chaux-de-Fonds and what we see resembles almost a life-sized Lego town (or a row of houses on a Monopoly board). This is how architects turned the art of watch-making into an industry.

The buildings are neatly lined up in parallel rows in a grid formation with wide streets between each row. If you look carefully, there are unusually a lot of windows on the sides of the buildings, spaced quite closely together.


And what was the purpose for this design?

To allow maximum natural light to flood through the windows, especially into the top floors of the buildings so watch-makers could work with the tiny mechanics of watches. Light is of the essence here!

Each building would have watch-makers who specialise in a particular component of the watch and when the part was assembled, there would be young runners that would take that part to the next appropriate building for the subsequent part to be assembled/added. This process continued until the watch was complete.


And why the wider streets?

During winter, being 1000 metres up in the Jura mountains, it snowed a lot. To ensure the continuity of watch manufacturing, historically, the streets needed to be manually shovelled so that the runners could continue to access all the buildings.


After exploring the town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, we had the time (no pun intended) to visit Le Locle Watchmaking Museum, which is in Chateau des Monts. The museum has on display an extraordinary collection of clocks, mechanics and exhibits of the art and science of time, in particular, time-keeping!

The collection was so extensive, we were just in awe. To see all the different devices from around the world through history that essentially do what our wristwatches do every second, every minute of every day. We surprised ourselves with how fascinated we found time-keeping, we even wanted to buy a grandfather clock for our apartment 🙂 .

IMG_4165 IMG_4174 IMG_4175 IMG_4197

After this unique visit to the two towns, we certainly will be looking at clocks and watches in a different light. This is one of the reasons we love travelling so much, it is these types of places that we get to visit that enlightens us, resulting in us having a greater appreciation for the little things in life we sometimes take for granted.

La Chaux-de-Fonds/Le Locle, watchmaking town

planning was listed as a

UNESCO Heritage site in 2009.

To see the other UNESCO sites we have visited,

visit our unofficial bucket list

Your comments are always welcomed.


27 thoughts on “watchmaking town planning: one of the unesco heritage sites in switzerland

    手腕 ケニア (@savvykenya) said:
    November 2, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Now I also have a different perspective on watches and will not take a Swiss watch for granted (or any other watch for that matter). This is why I love reading travel blogs 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      November 2, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      Feel great knowing that we were able to share something a little different with our readers 🙂 Yes, we certainly learnt about the value of watches!

    the eternal traveller said:
    November 1, 2014 at 9:14 am

    One of the things I love about travelling is finding these gems that I hadn’t heard of and one of the things I love about the blogging world is reading about them on blogs. Thanks for this story. How interesting to hear about the town planning. Are watches still hand made in Switzerland or is everything automated now? I’m guessing the $300 000 ones might be custom made.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      November 2, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this piece. Isn’t travelling and the blogging world just so much fun? 🙂
      Some of those buildings are still in the watch making industry and yes, still handmade which is why the cost of some Swiss watches cost what they do. Hope you had a lovely weekend 🙂

        the eternal traveller said:
        November 2, 2014 at 5:03 pm

        I have indeed had a very pleasant weekend…not too much rushing around. How about you?

        My mother always says you can’t talk travel with people who don’t travel and I think that applies to blogging as well. When the two are combined, it’s great.

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          November 2, 2014 at 5:07 pm

          Absolutely true! Those are vey accurate words your mum said!

          We are having a mass spring clean up and declutter of the apartment (which is always so invigorating) – doing that today and had a wonderful day yesterday so overall, weekend was pretty awesome. Thank you for asking 🙂

    Curt Mekemson said:
    November 1, 2014 at 7:06 am

    A interesting blog, indeed. The city was definitely into watch making. Not sure I’d want the grandfather clock. We had one once and I could never get used to its bonging at night. Woke me up every damn time. 🙂 –Curt

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      November 1, 2014 at 7:42 am

      Hahaah Curt, we have to admit, that would be the determining factor for us. We are in an apartment so you can imagine the reverberations of the bong each hour. Our neighbours would LOVE us 😉
      Hope you are well. We must duck on over to your blog and see catch up on what you have been up to!

    Marina from said:
    November 1, 2014 at 3:29 am

    We love tours like this and absolutely love Switzerland! Thanks for sharing, we’re adding this to our map.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      November 1, 2014 at 7:37 am

      Marina, places like these are such little surprises, right?
      Thank you for visiting our blog 🙂

    Mabel Kwong said:
    October 31, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    That really does look like a Monopoly town, IT doesn’t look real at all, Monkeys 😀 I never knew such intricate clocks and watches still existed. That is an impressive collection you got to see. It would be nice if you got to take a watch souvenier away with you 😉

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      October 31, 2014 at 7:49 pm

      Hi Mabel! How have you been? We are only really getting back into the swing of things, we must duck over to your blog to see what’s happening over there 🙂 We have lots of blogs to read and catch up on 😉
      Hope you are well and have an amazing weekend.
      PS we did not get a Swiss watch as a souvenir – maybe if we had a spare $300,000 as we saw some that cost that much!

        Mabel Kwong said:
        October 31, 2014 at 11:08 pm

        Not too bad, Monkeys. Blogging less since I’m working on other writing projects. Hope the two of you are resting well from your camino walk. What a feat, congratulations once again 🙂

        Ah, didn’t get a souvenir? Rightfully so since those clocks are so expensive! With that money, you could take a few hundred trips around the world. You have a lot of nice photos there – the memories 😉

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          November 1, 2014 at 7:36 am

          We are glad to be home again 🙂 But at the same time wish we were still travelling….. Planning the next getaway as we speak.

          And definitely with that type of money, we would travel the world several times over 😉

          Have a lovely weekend, Mabel! And good luck with your other writing projects.

            Mabel Kwong said:
            November 2, 2014 at 10:06 pm

            Thank you, Monkeys. Enjoy being home. As the saying goes, there’s no place like home 🙂

            You two have a good week ahead 😉

            wisemonkeysabroad responded:
            November 3, 2014 at 8:12 am

            Thank you 🙂

    Gypsy Bev said:
    October 31, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Switzerland has always been on my bucket list and still is! Enjoyed seeing the neat layout of the town and its purpose in being designed that way. Thanks for all the interesting facts and great pictures.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      October 31, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Oh, you really should visit! It is such a spectacular country on so many levels. Such a variety of things to see 🙂 We have several more Switzerland posts to share…stay tuned! Hope you have a lovely weekend 🙂

    Yvonne said:
    October 31, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I loved this post, the photos and explanations were excellent. Clocks are so cool! I liked that perpetual almanac, I wonder wen it was made.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      October 31, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Thanks so much! So glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 There were so many different types of clocks and time-keepers, it was really fascinating! Hope you have a wonderful weekend 🙂

    katarinawohlfart said:
    October 31, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Who would have known. It is some cool things on that list. Sweden have a radiostation on this list.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      October 31, 2014 at 9:29 am

      Wow! Didn’t know that about the radio station – as you say, some cool things on there that we hope to explore through the course of our travels 🙂

        katarinawohlfart said:
        October 31, 2014 at 5:27 pm

        Yes there is. 🙂 that and the copper mine of falun is some pf my targets here

    Mani (A New Life Wandering) said:
    October 31, 2014 at 3:55 am

    Very cool! Suddenly I’m hearing about Switzerland across my blog world a lot. Maybe I need to go! Cheese and chocolate are like my favorite things haha. I went to a clock museum in Sweden once. They’re pretty cool. I enjoyed how building the city revolved around building watches back then.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      October 31, 2014 at 6:34 am

      Ahhh…. Switzerland is full of interesting places to see yet it doesn’t seem to get the same ‘hype’ as some of the other European places. Definitely a place for you to visit then! It is a sign 🙂 For us, Croatia and Taiwan keep coming up.

    Wandering Iris said:
    October 30, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    I had no Idea that a town would plan so that watchmakers would have more light! Thank you for this educational post with such beautiful photos. 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      October 31, 2014 at 6:30 am

      It was so different to what we normally see on our travels 🙂 Thank you for reading and for leaving us a comment!

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