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Collectors of a feather flock together
Watch Stories

Collectors of a feather flock together

Tuesday, 22 December 2009
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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4 min read

Numerous societies of watch enthusiasts have sprung up either side of the Atlantic. Through their activities and journals, they foster enthusiasm for the instruments that measure time. Michel Viredaz from Chronométrophilia explains.

The Société de l’Horlogerie recently announced the creation, in Geneva, of the Cercle de l’Horlogerie. Its purpose is to “represent a community of interests focused around instruments of time measurement. This community will include the end customer as much as professionals from all over Switzerland,” explained Eric Othenin-Girard, editor-in-chief of Movement and co-founder of the Société de l’Horlogerie. “In founding our society, we do however aim to reach watch enthusiasts first and foremost.”

Hooked on history

Not that these connoisseurs waited for the Cercle de l’Horlogerie to band together. The major difference is that while the Geneva Circle is intended first and foremost for aficionados of contemporary timepieces, the various groups to have appeared on either side of the Atlantic have their sights most definitely turned towards the past. “All our members are collectors, to varying degrees of course but all interested in learning more about the history, science and art of their chosen field,” Michel Viredaz, vice-chairman of Chronométrophilia, the Swiss association for the history of time measurement, explains. “Over the past several years, we have seen our 600 and some members shift in focus from clocks to pocket watches and, more recently, wristwatches. I believe we should nonetheless preserve our original common interest, as reflected in the name of our organisation.”

The Association Française des Amateurs d’Horlogerie Ancienne runs on similar lines. Its purpose is to “foster scientific, historical and artistic knowledge of instruments of time measurement and to safeguard the art and science of horology.” The Antiquarian Horological Society of London “exists to promote the study of clocks and watches and the history of time measurement in all its forms.” The list goes on, with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Chronometrie, founded in the late 1940s, the Associazione Italiana Cultori di Orologeria Antica, and the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors in the United States, established in 1943 and which boasts 25,000 members.

In search of youth

Each of these organisations has in common its journal, whose pages are replete with articles to please technology buffs. The Contents page of the latest issue of Bulletin, Chronométrophilia’s publication in German and French, confirms this with titles such as The measurement of short intervals of time with the chronograph recorder circa 1930; Jean-Baptiste Cattin, master watchmaker in the French Jura (1678-1767); History of the verge escapement and Miscalculations of mechanical horology in China. “We work on the premise that our members have a sound knowledge of time measurement,” Michel Viredaz explains. “These members include a good number of professional watchmakers who have joined us as enlightened enthusiasts, and who write some of the articles we publish. The Bulletin, which is one of our main activities alongside lectures, and guided tours of museums, private collections and manufactures, must be of benefit to our members and satisfy their need for training and information. This is why I believe our journal, like our association, is unique in Switzerland.”

As from 2011, we Swiss, who belong to a watchmaking nation par excellence, will be dependent on signals transmitted from Germany. It’s ridiculous!
Michel Viredaz

Like most of its sister organisations, Chronométrophilia, an independent offshoot of the Musée International de l’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds, must contend with an ageing membership. Only Asia, it seems, is spared as horological culture spreads to all generations, as demonstrated by the creation, in 2007, of the Club Calibre Haute Horlogerie, a circle of Chinese Fine Watch aficionados. “One of our main concerns at the present time is indeed to renew our membership base by bringing young people into our community,” Michel Viredaz remarks. “Hence we are stepping up efforts, as far as our budget will allow, to promote Chronométrophilia and its activities.” And if this means publishing a few words of wit and wisdom in the local press, so be it! Thus Michel Viredaz is alone in openly voicing his indignation at the forthcoming closure of the HGB time signal transmitter in Prangins. “As from 2011, we Swiss, who belong to a watchmaking nation par excellence, will be dependent on signals transmitted from Germany. It’s ridiculous!” Not to mention some welcome publicity for Chronométrophilia.

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