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La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle

Urban development in the cradle of watchmaking

On 27 June 2009, the watchmaking urbanism of the towns of Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Great events are taking place in the mother town and the watchmaking metropolis.

The two towns in the Neuchâtel Mountains, with their exceptional urban planning, bear witness to a whole part of the world's industrial history, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The watchmaking activity and its evolution are intimately linked to the various residential areas, in a rational and functional whole. The social dimension is at the heart of their design, their checkerboard plan being intended to be egalitarian...

Build by and for watchmakers, La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle reveal their history of craftsmanship and of industry in their urban architecture. It is enough to walk the streets of the two towns to see the extent to which watchmaking and urbanism have been inextricably linked throughout their development.

By looking at the façades of the few farms that still exist on the outskirts of the two towns or within them, it is easy to imagine the farmer watchmakers of the 18th centuriescrouched over their latestcreation behind light from thelarge window. The workers' housing - built at a later stage - features many well-lit rooms to house the workbenches. Other buildings include rows of windows, indicating the presence of workshops for the "établisseurs" - assemblers who were the link between the watchmakers and the merchants. This phase within watchmaking history developed over a large part of the 19th century. After that, the first factories appeared: buildings that also included the residences of the firms' owners and workers. They are still present on the checkerboard layout of streets that is so typical of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle. And finally, large modern manufacturing buildingscametocompletethe picture.They remain today, within the perimeter of the town.

There is nowhere else in the world where watchmaking has left such indelible traces on urban development within a clearly defined, perfectly preserved boundary. The Swiss Confederation - fully aware of the significance of this legacy - registered the two towns as sites of national importance since 1984. In December 2004, the Swiss government took a further step by proposing the submission of a candidature for the two towns to become part of the World Heritage sites list because of the rich watchmaking legacy within their urban structure. The sites included in the World Heritage List are of oustanding universal value to humanity. They represent the diversity of the cultural and natural heritage of our planet.

The candidature was officially submitted by Switzerland in December 2007, and the inclusion of the two towns was the subject of a decision by UNESCO the 27th June 2009. This prestigious listing will not, however, mean that the towns will stand still: their laboratories and white rooms will still be the stage for creating the most modern timepieces but also products born from a mastery of microtechnology and the rapidly evolving field of nanotechnology. And the watchmakers? They will continue to work at their benches, carrying on their remarkable ancestral skills.