WATCH•SWISS

Development of chronometry in Switzerland

The interest in chronometry in Switzerland began in the second half of the 19th century, first of all in watchmaking schools. To compete with the United States and Great Britain, Switzerland needed elite watchmakers, scientifically trained and capable of innovating and organising industrial production.

The School at Le Locle in particular focused on precision. Its first director, Julius Grossmann (from 1868), was a pioneer in the art and method of precision timing. James Pellaton, famous for his tourbillons, headed up the school from 1925 to 1939. Towards the end of the 19th century, Switzerland sent its chronometers to Kew Observatory in England, a byword for chronometer tradition, and gradually began to overtake English watches. When the First World War broke out, Great Britain, which had been in the forefront of chronometry in the previous century, used Swiss chronometers to safeguard its domination of the seas. Between 1920 and 1930, the makers of chronometers in Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds produced watches which enabled the Swiss watch industry to achieve the finest results at observatories all over the world, from Kew-Teddington to Neuchâtel via Hamburg, Besançon and Washington.