From Grail Watch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Besançon is a watchmaking city located in France near the Swiss Jura.

The French Revolution and the Emergence of Watchmaking in Besançon

The seismic waves generated by the French Revolution, despite having roots in long-standing causes, cascaded across Europe, creating a profound and dynamic impact on neighboring countries. This transformative wave of change affected nations differently, hinging on their political circumstances and relationships with revolutionary France. Switzerland, situated at the heart of Europe, bore witness to distinctive consequences, notably in the canton of Neuchâtel.

Neuchâtel, an integral part of the Swiss Confederation, boasted republican institutions and a commendable degree of freedom. However, its government maintained an aristocratic character, distinguishing it from other regions, such as those of William Tell's legacy. The sudden eruption of revolutionary sentiments from France posed a unique challenge to Neuchâtel. Even the smallest demonstration in favor of the French Republic was met with stringent measures, reflecting the canton's reluctance to align itself with revolutionary principles. This divergence resulted in a visible split within the population, leading to an internal struggle.

In the towns of Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds, individuals persecuted by the Prussian police began contemplating emigration. The harsh measures enforced by the authorities, combined with disapproval from fellow compatriots, pushed these republicans to seek refuge outside Swiss borders. The allure of France, with its promise of political asylum and a chance to leverage their watchmaking expertise, became an enticing prospect.

The prosperity of Swiss cantons with well-established watchmaking industries had long attracted attention from neighboring nations. Despite various attempts, including England's brief experiment in Ireland, replicating this success outside Switzerland had proven elusive. However, with the onset of the French Revolution, a renewed interest emerged in establishing a watchmaking colony in France.

Central to this endeavor was Laurent Mégevand, a watchmaker persecuted in Le Locle. Born in Geneva in 1750, Mégevand settled in Le Locle in 1776, engaging in the manufacture of light watches. His initial emigration, marked by business setbacks and his subsequent return to watchmaking, highlighted the challenges and uncertainties of the times. Compromised due to his sympathies for the French Revolution, Mégevand sought refuge in France. However, his aspirations extended beyond personal safety; he envisioned establishing a watchmaking colony that would contribute to the economic and industrial development of the region.

Mégevand, although not a seasoned orator, presented the project with passion and conviction to the Doubs council in Besançon. He emphasized the economic benefits and moralizing effects of watchmaking on the inhabitants of the Swiss Jura region. The council, swayed by Mégevand's sincerity and the potential advantages for the city, responded favorably. This marked the beginning of a collaborative effort to establish a watchmaking industry in Besançon, combining the skills of Swiss artisans with the support of the French authorities.

The official decree of 21 Brumaire, year II, formalized the terms of support for Swiss emigrants settling in Besançon. The decree included financial assistance, transport support, free accommodation, and various other benefits. Mégevand's initiative, coupled with the Doubs council's support, led to the influx of around 200 skilled Swiss artisans into Besançon.

The establishment of the watchmaking industry in Besançon represented a noteworthy outcome of the tumultuous times surrounding the French Revolution. It showcased the resilience and adaptability of skilled artisans in the face of political upheaval, emphasizing the interconnectedness of European regions during this transformative period.