Craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics inscribed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

The Franco-Swiss candidacy, aiming at the inscription on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage of know-how in watchmaking and artistic mechanics, was accepted the 16th December 2020 during the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee.

A watchmaker completes the restoration of an observatory watch from the 1920s. Equipped with a monocular magnifying glass and tweezers, she adjusts very small parts in a meticulous manner so that the mechanism works. © Ville de La Chaux-de-Fonds, 2015

At the crossroads of science, art and technology, the skills related to the craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics are used to create watchmaking objects designed to measure and indicate time (watches, pendulum clocks, clocks and chronometers), art automata and mechanical androids, sculptures and animated paintings, music boxes and songbirds. These technical and artistic objects feature a mechanical device that generates movements or emits sounds. Though generally hidden, the mechanisms can also be visible, which contributes to the aesthetics and poetic dimension of the objects.

The Jura Arc is an area in which craftsmanship remains particularly dynamic thanks to the presence of highly qualified craftspeople and companies that promote the skills and a full range of training options. Historically, entire families were involved in the practice, developing apprenticeship practices and professional and family alliances. Skills were initially learned in training schools. Nowadays, practitioners also share their know-how via online blogs, forums and tutorials and collaborative open source projects. As well as serving an economic function, the skills have also shaped the architecture, urban landscape and everyday social reality of the regions concerned. The practice conveys many values such as good workmanship, punctuality, perseverance, creativity, dexterity and patience, and the infinite quest for precision and the intangible aspect of time measurement give the practice a strong philosophical dimension.

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