“La Chaux-de-Fonds may be considered
to form a single watch manufactory.”
Karl Marx, Das Kapital , 1867.
La Chaux-de-Fonds owes its character, its appearance, and even its structure as a town, to the watch industry which emerged in the region from the end of the 18th century. In 1870, around 4,500 people in La Chaux-de-Fonds were directly employed in the watch industry, almost half the entire population. If this city had not embarked on its great watchmaking adventure, it would certainly have remained the agricultural village of its origins.
Imbued with Enlightenment values, it adopted a methodological approach to its thought and its buildings. Its checkerboard layout is the result of purposeful and idealist town planning applied to reconstruction and development of the town after the fire of 1794. The entire village, with the rare exception of a few houses, had been destroyed. Safety, health and fairness were the guiding lights of this reconstruction plan, which sought to prevent the spreading of fires, share out sunlight and open spaces, provide vegetable gardens and guarantee sufficient space for snow clearance (Junod plan 1835).
At the end of the 18th century, La Chaux-de-Fonds was primarily a centre for the production of clocks; towards 1750, the population included 68 clockmakers, eight cabinetmakers and four bronze casters. From the 19th century however it was the watch which brought prosperity and renown to the Neuchâtel mountains.
Since 1820, La Chaux-de-Fonds has been the headquarters of the cantonal office of precious metals testing. The activity of this office reflected watchmaking prosperity; in 1853, it hallmarked 213,775 gold or silver watch cases. In addition, this organisation with its relevance to exterior watch parts sponsored many edifices in the town, including the Town Hall, the monumental fountain, the International Watchmaking Museum and the Fine Arts Museum.
Today, La Chaux-de-Fonds, the third largest city in French-speaking Switzerland, is the most complete, significant and coherent 19th century urban entity to be seen anywhere in Switzerland.
It is also the birthplace of Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), of Blaise Cendrars, Léopold Robert and of Louis-Joseph Chevrolet.
The "Le Corbusier" trail:
Available from Tourisme neuchâtelois or by phoning 032 889 68 95.
Other information can be obtained from the site Ville de La Chaux-de-Fonds.