On distant shores

10.08.2017
The city stretching along lake Geneva seems to be a Paradise for almost any tourist. The old Europe atmosphere, a wide variety of museums and restaurants, gorgeous views of the Alps and the world-famous cheese and chocolate. However, from the viewpoint of a horology fan it is primarily the birthplace of numerous legendary brands.


Wherever you go in Geneva, your eye will inevitably come across numerous testimonies of its rich watchmaking history. It is here where Rolex, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Frederique Constant, Alpina, F. P. Journe are created and it is far from the complete list. Annual exhibitions Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) and the ceremony of the “watchmaking Oscars” Grand Prix d’horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) take place here. Industry employs about 10 thousand people from the half-million canton population, so that literally everyone has relatives or friends connected with it. Rue du Rhône can boast the densest concentration of watch boutiques per square kilometer in the world – they are more than 40 totally, including multi-brand ones. One feels the level throughout everything. Personalized store Patek Philippe, for example, occupies four floors at once. The top floor, meant for special clients, offers a wonderful view of the lake.

Geneva for watchmakers

Because of serious persecution in the mid-eighteenth century, many French Huguenots fled to Switzerland. It just so happened that the artisans preferred Geneva to other cities, and over time, it turned into a real production center. As it is well known, a Protestant society did not welcome ostentatious wealth and wearing of jewelry. Watch was primarily regarded as a tool for measuring time and it was not under any prohibitions. Consequently, a large proportion of masters in the adjacent areas of focus simply retrained. Already by the end of the XVIII century, magnificently decorated cases and dials from Geneva were known all over Europe. Technical perfection was not long in coming, and in the next century, the Swiss managed to push English and French competitors seriously
in the market. To stand out even against the nearest neighbors, on 9 November 1886 manufactories of the canton have officially established their quality mark – the Hallmark of Geneva, which is still considered to be one of the most prestigious in the world.  

Who lives on the roof

Watchmakers usually worked in the socalled cabinets – small rooms located on the upper floors of buildings. Nothing mystical here, just delicate work demanded maximum access to natural light. Hence the word “cabinotiers”, which is now referred to independent professionals who create watchworks and cases alone or with a small team. To see the remaining houses of that time and to imagine oneself at work in the attic is most easy in the quarter of St Gervais on the streets of Rousseau and Chantepoulet. However, one can follow the traces of cabinotiers not only in architecture. Jet d’eau, or, as it is called, “Fountain of watchmakers”, also owes them its existence. In their production processes masters actively used water. When they all turned off the taps at the end of the working day, the resulting pressure threatened to damage the entire sewer system. Nevertheless, city engineers have found a solution: they brought an extra tube into the lake and wittily sent up. The novelty has caused a storm of delight by the citizens and soon became one of the symbols of the city. Nowadays the fountain rises to 140 meters and is illuminated at night. 


Mechanical fauna

Of course, among the important sights of Geneva there was place for several unique watches at once. L’horloge fleurie have the form of a giant flower dial with huge pointers (the length of the second one is 2.5 meters). In the composition are used 6,500 plants, renewed regularly depending on the season. Due to the complex system of synchronization with external sources, the device always keeps perfect time. A wall-mounted mechanism of the Longines Clock in the prestigious shopping center Passage Malbuisson surprises in its own way. Every hour it pleases visitors with a chime of 16 bells and a real parade of moving figures. They represent a solemn procession on the successful city defense from troops of the Duchy of Savoy in 1602. However, for the portion of awe connoisseurs of horology should go straight to the Patek Philippe Museum. Here are not only rare specimens of the brand, but also many artifacts related to the history of the entire Swiss industry.