Le Locle

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Le Locle is one of the most important "watch cities" of Switzerland.

Located just West of La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Canton of Neuchâtel, Le Locle was the site of important developments in both the business and technology of watchmaking.

Starting in 1705, Daniel JeanRichard established a watchmaking industry in Le Locle. He began the etablissage tradition, where small workshops specialized in various watch components with a central manufacture bringing them together under their own branding. This practice continued for centuries, with major manufacturers gradually emerging, including Tissot, Zenith, Ulysse Nardin, and many others. Today, these companies remain in the town, along with watch manufacturing for many other famous names, including Montblanc, Rolex and Swatch Group.

Also located in Le Locle is a clock museum called "Musée d'Horlogerie du Locle," which is located at the Château des Monts.

History of Le Locle

Le Locle, watchmaking town, relaxing, although very active, in its characteristic valley, is the oldest city in the Neuchâtel Jura. Born in a humble and rustic village during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, it was located at the passage of the great seigneurial road which linked the town of Valangin, residence of the lords of the same name and masters of the country, to Franche-Comté. When we consult the deeds of franchise issued in the 14th and 15th centuries to the people of Le Locle by their lords, some archived documents and what tradition has transmitted to us, we can evoke what was the old Locle, cradle of our watchmaking industry.

In 1532, Le Locle, which already formed a jurisdiction composed of a mayor and twelve jurors, had 145 houses, scattered throughout its territory (which was then larger than today). It therefore had several hundred inhabitants and had a church, including the tower that we still admire today. Three hydraulic mills operated at Combe-Girard, Verger and Jaluse.

In 1664, nearly forty houses were built in the “Quartier des Côtes”, forming the center of the community; other small agglomerations of lesser importance had already formed here and there in the valley. A clock was installed in the tower of the old moutier. The town hall had two attics and a guardhouse attached. Three fountains flowed nearby. The territory had a little less than 2000 inhabitants.

If we no longer find vestiges of the old Locle of origins, we are left with witnesses of what we could call the city of Daniel JeanRichard (years 1700 to 1800), witnesses that the terrible fire of 1833, destroying more than three quarters of the buildings of the locality, spared: that is, the tower of the Temple, the houses of Crêt-Vaillant and some old farms of the "Lower of the village" and of the Foule, the farms scattered in the surroundings. The urban agglomeration, very modest at first, developed little by little while retaining its partially rustic character until around 1850, the year in which Le Locle was erected as a municipality.

The streets, then stony, uneven, were, at night, badly lit by oil street lamps, the responsibility of which fell to the residents of the village, composed of the sole owners of the place. Public services were not organized. It was the commission of “Taxpayers on the roads” which took care as best they could have the maintenance of the more or less bumpy public roads.

This Locle, which had nevertheless become industrious, was still quite isolated because of the surrounding mountains (not easy to cross), the important centers of the Swiss Plateau and foreign countries. However, despite the lack of means of communication, the heads or representatives of the watchmaking houses and counters, driven by energy and will, left on foot or on horseback on the difficult paths of the deserted mountains of the Jura to arrive in the regions more populous cities and plains in order to sell their watches and, at the same time, support the Locloise and city families whose ancestors had abandoned the work of the fields and the forest, for watchmaking. It is also from this moment that the industry of painted fabrics and that of lace took birth in the Neuchâtel mountains. The latter was flourishing around 1750 but it was then fairly quickly abandoned by the Locloise women who preferred watchmaking to it.

In 1712, there were still, scattered throughout the territory of the mother Commune, only 2148 inhabitants. Half a century later, in 1766, there were 3905 inhabitants.

The half-century that elapsed from 1850 to 1900 was a period of great development for Le Locle, during which the village city became an industrial city known to the major world markets thanks to its precision watches, its objects of industrial art, its chocolates, its Technical School.

In 1850, the population figure was (approximately 7800 souls (with 1700 households in a round figure), but spread over a larger territory than today (Les Eplatures were still attached to Locle). In 1900, the number of inhabitants is 12,576 with 1000 more households than in 1850.

We owe this beautiful development to the evolution of the watch industry, of course, but also to other facts that are correlated with it:

  1. With the erection of the municipality of Lode (the first in date in the canton of Neuchâtel), erection which was the direct consequence of the republican revolution of 1848.
  2. To the introduction and development of means of communication and transport: application of the new federal law relating to the organization of Swiss posts, introduction of the telegraph, construction of the "industrial Jura", later transformed into the "Neuchâtelois Jura railway that took Le Locle out of its isolation by linking it with Neuchâtel and the Swiss Plateau), installation of the telephone, establishment of new roads that were technically better constructed than the old, wider roads with greatly reduced ramps.
  3. With the establishment of the office of control of precious materials, with the creation of a school of watchmaking, later of mechanics, later still of the Technicum, with the much greater development given to public instruction.
  4. To the construction of industrial premises allowing the factory to replace the small workshops and watch counters: the technique developed, leading to the introduction of machinery in watchmaking: the large factory at the same time became a possibility and mass production of watches, even precision ones, became a reality.

If we take a look at the changes that have taken place between the city of Le Locle as it is today and the old Lode at the various stages of its development, what a transformation! The foregoing gives a general image of the different states where life was still only primitive, rustic, essentially domestic, a life which radiated little outside, except from the 18th century from the point of view of watchmaking exports.

From 1900 to the present day, Le Lode has developed even more by its increased industrial life, by its large modern factories, its embellished, clean, fairly spacious streets, its houses of fine appearance on the whole which, no longer being able to be contained in the bottom of the valley, are staged on the neighboring hillsides, among the trees and even on the edges of the plateaus dominating the city.

Economic life began to radiate outwards more intensely thanks to the mass production of products of excellent quality. The heads of the industrial houses, anxious to deliver irreproachable products to the market, devote all their care to the application, in their company, of the discoveries (the most recent techniques, to the training of a good workforce work, training in which the Neuchâtel Technicum cooperates in the first place: good quality watches of all kinds and sizes, marine, on-board and pocket chronometers, chronographs, clocks of all shapes, anchor and cylinder sets, Neuchâtel clocks, gold and silver boxes, decoration, medals, precision machine tools, Cary gauges.Let us add that Le Lode will receive an even greater impetus from the forthcoming activity of large factories of precision mechanics currently under construction or whose construction is next, finally by the introduction of new interesting industries.

The Le Locle industry will not want to stop at the stage of development that is asserting itself for it: Its goal is to continue its ascent unceasingly towards ever greater success and prosperity. The social and moral life of the city and its population will certainly not fail to be happily influenced by it for the future.

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