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Keeping a Jura heritage alive
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Keeping a Jura heritage alive

Friday, 25 March 2011
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

The Fondation Horlogère was set up to defend the watchmaking heritage of the Swiss Jura, past and present. Its latest initiative, the Route de l’Horlogerie, invites tourists to discover the horological gems across the canton’s three districts.

Aficionados hoping to follow the tourist trail of 27 major horological sites between Geneva and Basel, the Swiss arc jurassien, sometimes find that what works on paper doesn’t always work in practice. In the absence of an adequate structure, visitors are often left to their own devices to organise their trip themselves. Most of the time, the trail peters out into a quick visit to whichever (often private) museum happens to be open. Now the Fondation Horlogère is intent on remedying the problem on its patch with a Route de l’Horlogerie that will take in the three districts of Porrentruy, Delémont and Franches-Montagnes.

The year's major project

“This is our main focus right now. We have the backing of the Republic and Canton of the Jura (RCJU) as part of the New Regional Policy to develop tourism,” says Hélène Fima, an expert and historian with the Fondation Horlogère. As the Foundation itself explains: “This innovative project is rooted in the region’s extensive industrial expertise. Tourists and anyone with an interest in watchmaking will be able to travel around the three districts and discover manifestations of watchmaking past and present. The Fondation Horlogère aims to highlight the attractions of the RCJU. This tourism and leisure package will be sold to Swiss and international visitors.”

The Foundation already has contacts with 80 partners in culture, leisure and watchmaking who, says Hélène Fima, are all ready to join the project. “The Foundation will combine their different services into a range of packs. The Route de l’Horlogerie will officially open in October 2011.” Nor will tourists be left to fend for themselves, as Fima explains. “The difference between us and the Watch Valley trail is that we offer a full package. This includes à la carte deals, with accommodation, for longer stays. The aim is to get people to spend more time in the region. In the longer term, we could well extend the project beyond RCJU to the many other horological sites along the arc jurassien.”

The horological trail in the old town of Porrentruy: the Gate of France clock © Fondation Horlogère
The horological trail in the old town of Porrentruy: the Gate of France clock © Fondation Horlogère
The Emosphere Project

Set up in 2001, the Fondation Horlogère was for many years a little-known structure that relied on volunteers. This all changed in 2006 when the Foundation took full charge of the administration, promotion and funding of the Emosphere Project to restore a heliocentric moving sphere clock from the Kunstkamera Museum in St Petersburg, which houses the private collections of Peter the Great. This restoration shone the spotlight on the horological expertise of the Jura region. It was entrusted to the Ecole d’Horlogerie et de Microtechnique in Porrentruy and to the Lycée Technique Edgar Faure in Morteau (France). After two years and 5,000 hours’ work, the “old lady” was finally woken from her two centuries of slumber. Some 3,000 people came to see the clock before it was returned to Russia.

Emosphere Project: a moving sphere clock from the collections of the Kunstkamera Museum in St Petersburg © Fondation Horlogère
Emosphere Project: a moving sphere clock from the collections of the Kunstkamera Museum in St Petersburg © Fondation Horlogère

Since then, the Foundation has gone from strength to strength. After launching the Salon des Métiers d’Art de l’Horlogerie et de la Bijouterie, a showcase for the watchmaking and jewellery professions, it has carried out a census of every watch-related activity in the canton. The result is a database of 9,000 entries listing every single company and individual involved in watchmaking, now and in the past. A sign of the times, by appointing Hélène Fima – who after studying at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris specialised in antiquarian timepieces, notably with Osvaldo Patrizzi – to a full-time position, the Fondation Horlogère shows it is serious about keeping an important part of its region’s history alive..

> Fondation Horlogère de Porrentruy

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