For lovers of fine luxury watches, the Jura Mountains in the Canton of Jura of Switzerland is a veritable Mecca. Located at the north-eastern border of Switzerland, the Jura Arc, as it is called, is the real heart of Swiss watch making, where some of the legendary names in the history of watch making were born and made their mark, and headquarters to some of the most prestigious watch making companies on the planet today. In these starkly beautiful mountains are numerous families who have been involved in the watch-making industry for generations, and innumerable artisan workshops and other small family businesses dedicated to some aspect or the other of watch making. For those interested in catching a real watchmaker at work, or learning more about the history of this fascinating craft, this is the perfect place to be.
A visit through Switzerland to the Jura Mountains is a trip through some of the most endearing Swiss clichés in the travel brochure – brilliant green fields studded by cows grazing contentedly, towering mountains rearing up into a clear blue sky and pretty little towns tucked into hilly valleys. Here in this quiet northeastern corner of Switzerland, close to the French border, most people are speak French – complete with accompanying hand gestures – rather than the heavier German which dominates the speech of residents around Lake Geneva, a fact which adds a certain exotic flair to this otherwise typically Swiss landscape.
For those who love to do tours, there’s a Watch making Tour available – which is to say, you can take a 200-km round trip, 30-stop driving tour from Geneva through the many towns in the Jura Mountains to Basel and back, stopping at various showrooms and museums along the way. For true watch lovers however, one of the most important stops along the route is the small town (or by Swiss standards, city) of La Chaux-de-Fonds, where many of the luxury watch marques site at least part of their operations – Girard-Perregaux, JeanRichard, TAG Heuer, Corum, Omega, Breitling, Juvenia, Movado, Ulysse Nardin, Invicta…the list goes on.
Many of these headquarters are obviously off-limits to casual visitors, but the town does boast one of the country’s biggest watch-related must-see attractions: the Museum of International Horology located at 29 Rue des Musées (Tues–Sun: June–Sept 10am–5pm; Oct–May 10am–noon & 2–5pm; Fr.8; SMP). This museum has one of the most extensive collections of extraordinary time pieces you’d probably find anywhere, from exquisite pocket watches from the 18th century to some of the most recent models available.
Another interesting stop in Le Chau-de-Fonds is the quietly elegant Villa Marguerite, home to the Girard-Perregaux Museum, which has an amazing collection of delicate, hand painted pocket watches and wristwatches from the previous two centuries – definitely a gentleman’s collection here! Visits to this museum, as well as the JeanRichard museum have to be made by appointment, but for those who claim to be true ‘horolophiles’, as it were, a stop at these collections add depth to understanding.
Nearby is the Villa JeanRichard, home to the company named after a legendary Jura watchmaker. This neo-gothic building fronts a quiet street in this quiet town and is frankly so quietly impressive that its no surprise the locals refer to it as ‘the Castle’. Rather than showcasing old models (the JeanRichard marque is very young by Swiss standards, with barely 20 years under its belt in a country where many watch brands are hundreds of years old), the museum preserves some of the apparatus once used by watchmakers of yesteryear. It would probably bore any non-watch lover in minutes (cogs and lathes are admittedly not very exciting) but for those who find the whole process of watch making fascinating, the museum makes an interesting stop to get a more intimate feel for the craft.
Speaking of the legendary watchmaker, the JeanRichard headquarters and museum aren’t the places where you can sense Daniel JeanRichard’s legacy to Swiss watchmaking; there’s a road named after him just few streets away and in the nearby town of Le Locle, you can also contemplate a rather stern-looking iron statue of the man himself.
These are only a few of the fascinating things to see in the Jura Mountains (if you’re a watch lover). For those not quite so interested in horology, a trip around the mountains at least offers the compensation of magnificent scenery, quaint little towns, some excellent horse-riding, cheese-eating and wine-drinking opportunities, some fantastic ski and biking trails…in fact, practically anything you can imagine wanting to do or see in Switzerland!