Canton Berne

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Berne or Bern is a German and French-speaking canton in central western Switzerland that includes many important watchmaking towns.

Perhaps the most important watchmaking center in Berne is the multi-lingual town of Bienne/Biel at the end of Lake Biel where the rivers Suze and Aare exit. This is home to Omega and is the site for much of Rolex production. Other important watchmaking activities take place in the Bernese Jura, including the Vallon de Saint-Imier and the Franches-Montagnes.

Watchmaking in Canton Berne

Most watchmaking activity is focused in the north of the canton in the areas of the French-speaking Bernese Jura and bilingual Bienne/Biel. Some is also present in German-speaking Oberaargau, Bern-Mittelland, and Thun areas.

Within the canton, most watchmaking occurs in the following areas:

These areas are closely associated with the bordering Canton Jura to the north, and Canton Neuchâtel to the west.

History of Watchmaking in Canton Berne

In the second half of the 19th century, the watchmaking industry began its expansion in Bienne, a transformation driven by the town’s advantageous climate and location by a lake, appealing to those from more challenging mountainous areas. Bienne's emergence as a watchmaking nucleus was further propelled by its accessible living costs and strategic railway connections, facilitating interaction with the broader Swiss Jura watchmaking regions. Consequently, Bienne evolved into a pivotal industrial center.

Incorporating the surrounding areas of Boujean, Madretsch, and the historic town of Nidau, Bienne's expansion reflected in a burgeoning number of watch manufacturers, approximately a hundred, and a workforce of some 2,500 watchmakers by the late 19th century. The local industry was marked by a diversity of workshops, including around twenty for case fitting in both gold and silver, underscored by the presence of a steam-powered facility. This broad spectrum of craftsmanship ensured Bienne's capacity to largely self-sustain in producing a wide array of watch components.

The district of Madretsch housed the notable factory of Aeby et Landry, renowned for their comprehensive production of standard-quality watches at competitive prices, including chronographs, repeaters, and alarm watches, leveraging steam-powered machinery. The Bienne region also featured the Baehni Frères hairspring factory, initially established in 1864 in La Chaux-de-Fonds before relocating to Bienne. This facility, recognized at international exhibitions, specialized in a variety of hairsprings, driven by gas-powered machine tools.

Boujean hosted a specialized industry for drilling precious stones, operated by Schneider and Perret-Gentil with steam power. The industrial flourish led to the establishment of a watchmaking school, addressing the educational needs of the burgeoning sector and housing the time transmission devices from the Neuchâtel Observatory, a resource made available to the public.

The local watchmaking community also benefited from the support of numerous mechanics’ workshops, enriching the industry’s infrastructure. Advocacy for standardized screw systems, metric measurements, and uniform movement sizes was prominent, alongside calls for the adoption of the metric system for measuring tools and stringent control laws on trademarks and patents. The push for establishing trade union chambers of commerce in Switzerland's industrial centers aimed to strengthen the sector's organizational framework.

Further contributions to the watchmaking industry came from the wider region, including Lyss, which boasted hydraulic-powered movement workshops by Farny and Verdan and Rentier, noted for their quality craftsmanship. Douanne, Teuffelen, and Cellier offered additional workshops for case fitting and parts manufacturing. The reputation of Sumiswald for its regulating clocks and La Neuveville’s Favre Frères hydraulic operations underscored the diverse industrial landscape surrounding Bienne, enriching the city’s watchmaking ecosystem well into the late 19th century.