12 December 2012

A Brief History of (Swiss) Time

There is a wristwatch based on Copernicus' interpretation of our solar system on display at Le Musée Internationale d'Horlogerie (The International Museum of Clock-making) in La Chaux-de-Fonds. There is also a tiny cannon / sundial timepiece that fired automatically on the hour when the sun burned through a magnifying glass to ignite a fuse. There are also two Donald Duck watches. Each of these instruments is remarkable not just for its innovative scientific precision, but for its beauty.

La Chaux-de-Fonds is the historic heart of Swiss clock-making. It's also the former home of Le Corbusier and Louis Chevrolet (yes, that Chevrolet), but those are stories for other times. La Chaux-de-Fonds is not a handsome town, but you quickly see why watch-making thrived here in the 18th and 19th centuries.

After a fire destroyed most of the town in 1794, the streets were laid out east-west on the hill that rises south to north. Even in winter, at this elevation of 1000 meters, the sun streams in the south-facing windows. This was perfect lighting for the individual watch-making workshops that sprang up here after the fire.

The clock-making museum is a wonder of science and art married.

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