Swiss watchmaking centers La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle have been named UNESCO World Heritage sites. The neighboring towns, with populations of about 37,000 and 10,000 respectively, are located in the canton of Neuchâtel. Many leading watch brands have headquarters or manufacturing facilities in the area, including TAG Heuer, Breitling, Girard-Perregaux, Ulysse Nardin, Corum, Ebel, Patek Philippe, Cartier, and Jaquet Droz. La Chaux-de-Fonds is also home to the Musée International d’Horlogerie, curated by well-known watchmaker Ludwig Oechslin, creator of Ulysse Nardin’s Trilogy series and GMT Perpetual, among others.
The Swiss government nominated the towns in 2007, citing them as prime examples of symbiosis between urban development and industry. It has been said that the towns were designed to serve the watch industry. Devastating fires in the 17th and 18th centuries allowed new architectural styles to flourish, and the watchmaking buildings and factories that arose have come to symbolize the industry. Like many industrial centers, the towns became home to immigrants seeking jobs, and the towns have been cited as pioneers in the development of public education and cultural activities.
Based in Paris, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) encourages the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
You can read Norma Buchanan’s in-depth story about La Chaux-de-Fonds in the June, 2009 issue of WatchTime.