Best picks Tuesday, June 19th 2012
An initiative of the magazine GMT, the Geneva Watch Tour invites visitors to discover Geneva’s watch industry through its shops and historic monuments.
The mechanical clock of the Hôtel Cornavin
Designed to raise awareness among tourists who generate three million overnight stays in Geneva each year, the Geneva Watch Tour was opened at the beginning of June. The project, created and financed by the magazine GMT, enjoys the support of the Tourist Office. Its ambition is to showcase the watchmaking heritage of Geneva’s city centre through a trail that can be covered in half a day or one full day on foot or by bike. The itinerary does not therefore extend to the edge of town where the large manufactories are sited (Meyrin or Plan-les-Ouates). However such manufacturers are represented by boutiques, past whose shop fronts the Geneva Watch Tour passes. Whether based in Le Locle or La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Sentier or Schaffhouse, Le Brassus or Neuchâtel, L’Abbaye or L’Auberson, Nyon or Saint-Imier, these companies are well established in Geneva. By including around fifty single-brand boutiques and the same number of multi-brand retailers, the Geneva Watch Tour offers an all-round view of Switzerland’s watchmaking panorama while passing through Geneva’s most symbolic districts: the area near the station and the Tourist Office to begin with, followed by the city centre shopping district, the old town with its art galleries and designer boutiques, the banking district and its cultural institutions, and also the modern art quarter which extends from the Patek Philippe Museum to the F.P. Journe manufactory.
And for those less interested in shops, much of the route is devoted to the history of Geneva’s watch industry and its emergence in the mid 16th century, when in 1541 Jean Calvin decreed a prohibition on the display of signs of wealth in Geneva, obliging jewellers and goldsmiths of the period to channel their skills into the creation of timepieces. In the 18th century, around 4,000 «cabinotiers» – craftsmen working from home in special rooms facing the north light – were established on the banks of the Rhône in order to harness its motive power. Pressurised water made possible the mechanisation of many operations in the manufacture of watch movements and cases. The architecture of old buildings still bears witness to this past, such as the historic headquarters of Vacheron Constantin located on the Quai de l'Ile, occupied by the company since 1875.
Along this trail there are a number of "watchmaking highlights" not to be missed: the Patek Philippe Museum, which presents important collections of clocks, watches and enamelware dating from the 16th to the 20th century. L’Horloge Fleurie, a clock composed of 6,500 flowers, has the world’s longest seconds-hand (2.5 metres). Another world record is the mechanical clock of the Hôtel Cornavin, the tallest in the world with a distance of 30.02 metres (98 feet) separating the movement and its pendulum, the equivalent of nine floors. Many other historical curiosities line the route, such as the Pont de la Machine, the clock in the Passage Malbuisson, the Rath Museum, etc.
To allow future visitors to Geneva to prepare their arrival, a website has been set up for their use (www.routedelhorlogerie.com), as well as an iPhone application which can be downloaded free of charge. ■
Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH