Watchmaking Receives UNESCO Heritage Status

News • 18 Dec 2020

Watchmaking Receives UNESCO Heritage Status


Exciting news. The craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics has been recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Fifteenth session agenda notes are quite interesting and shed a light on how the watch industry has changed the physical landscape of these watchmaking regions:

“While these skills have primarily an economic function, they have also shaped the architecture, urban landscape and the everyday social reality of the regions concerned. They convey their own symbolism, combining notions of precision, refinement and temporality that have a significant impact on local and regional identities.

Historically, entire families were involved in watchmaking or music box assembly, developing apprenticeship practices and professional and family alliances. The lifestyles of the inhabitants and part of their vocabulary (professional and colloquial) have been influenced by these activities. The craftspeople generally live in the buildings where their workshops are located, which, like the factories, feature large windows bringing light to the workbenches.

The development of know-how in mechanics goes hand in hand with the socio-economic development of the Jura Arc. The watchmaking community also contributes to life in society and in particular to dialogue between employers and workers. In Switzerland, in 1937, collective labour agreements were concluded, initially in the watchmaking and metalworking industries, thus establishing ‘labour peace’ marked by negotiations rather than confrontation. This model of partnership continues to exist in Switzerland and has left its mark on trade union and political history.

Today, summer holidays are still regularly modelled on the watchmaking holidays, namely the three-week summer closure of watchmaking workshops. It is also customary to give a watch, a music box or a small automaton on special occasions such as a birth, birthday or retirement. Finally, several expressions directly related to this craft for the inhabitants of the Jura Arc are still widely used: ‘on n’est pas aux pièces’ means ‘we’re not in a hurry’; ‘c’est réglé comme du papier à musique’ means ‘everything is in order’; ‘il faut remettre les pendules à l’heure’ means ‘set the record straight’; ‘tu as meilleur temps de’ is used instead of ‘tu ferais mieux de’ to mean ‘you’d better’.”

Agenda Notes

Examination of nominations for inscription in 2020 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (item 8.b on the agenda) notes are accessible here (refer to 8.b.8 for Watchmaking).

For more information on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage: https://ich.unesco.org/en 

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