British Horological Institute

La Chaux-de-Fonds Pays Tribute To English Watchmaking, Register Now

The age-old British Horological Institute (BHI) is participating in the 8th Biennial of Watchmaking Heritage! As a Media Partner, Watchonista supports this exceptional MIH approved conference program occurring Saturday, November 3, 2018, at 1:45 pm.

By Joël A. Grandjean

When my ancestor, the famous watchmaker and marine chronometer maker Henri Grandjean came back from Latin America where he went for almost a decade to take care of the horological companies that his father had founded in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru, he had only one goal, "do like the English." That is to say, to make accurate timepieces and real chronometry. This is what he learned from his journeys, and when he returned to his native country, he was determined to conceive and manufacture precision watches. He put his money where his mouth was, since then he became the founder of the Neuchâtel Observatory and, ten years later, the Watchmaking School in Le Locle. Above all, history has it that his marine chronometers were nicknamed Delights of Captains. Understand that they were so precise that the captains of the vessels that were equipped with them were delighted to use them.

Mutual fascinations, Swiss and English

Thus, the Swiss have always had a wholesome admiration for the English. The British Empire's historical lead in chronometry could only nourish a natural fascination among mountain people, humble by nature, resolutely applied and gifted for the watchmaking arts. Free and common-sense personalities who were undoubtedly more affordable in terms of salaries. While England missed the turn of large-scale industrialization, a dimension that would find its way into the New World, Switzerland inherited many orders. Including English orders since, once the battle for longitude in the sea has been won by a British national, the English carpenter John Harrison, it is necessary to produce marine chronometers in high volumes.

The British Horological Institute (BHI) is unexpectedly the result of an anti-Swiss reaction. At least Edward Daniel Johnson founded the BHI institution after being notoriously opposed in a public debate to a certain John Bennett, a prominent London retailer who swore allegiance to the Swiss watchmaking industry. It must be said that Bennet and his supporters were "virulent critics of English watchmakers" and, on the contrary, were full of praise for the "educational and organizational superiority of Swiss watchmakers."

A 160th anniversary celebrated in a series of lectures

In the aftermath, Johnson launched the idea of creating an institute at a meeting on June 15, 1858, at the Belvedere tavern in Clerkenwell. An institute that set up its own media, the monthly The Horological Journal, which organized watchmaking courses, supervised diplomas and fostered the knowledge and exchange of know-how of several generations of watchmakers. It is from Upton Hall, where its headquarters are located, in the village of Upton, in Nottinghamshire near Newark-on-Trent, that this venerable institution, particularly dynamic under the governance of the current team, sends a delegation of renowned orators to La Chaux-de-Fonds, English speakers, some of whom are local, such as the laureate of the Gaïa Anthony Randall Prize and watchmaker Greubel Forsey - also a holder of the Gaïa -, who will be sharing their voices with leading English figures as such as David Penney, Robert Loomes, Dr. Rebecca Struthers, Ken Kessler, and Justin Koullapis.

Free admission, but it is recommended to register

It is therefore as part of the 8th edition of the tribute to watchmaking heritage that the City of La Chaux-de-Fonds is organizing every two years that the current BHI will stand out with a series of conferences, panels, and roundtables held at the Théâtre de l'Heure Bleue. It is the former Music Hall of this city which has been made sacred by its registration at the UNESCO because of its architectural particularities. A cultural event of national significance.

A snack will also be offered at the Espace TSM, about an eight-minute walk from the theatre. The day before this conference, Ignazio Cassis, Federal Councilor for Foreign Affairs (FDFA), will give his inaugural speech. Then the weekend event from 3rd to 4th of November 2018 will be full of highlights, hosting even on Sundays, one of the most awaited watches market exchange in Switzerland. The presence of the BHI, whose idea comes from the TIME-IN-TEMPO event platform founded by the creative Natalia Signoroni, will, therefore, give this event an international touch that Watchonista has decided to expand.

Please note that each subscriber (it is free but necessary to register), will participate de facto in a lottery contest. For English attendees, the award is a weekend for two in the canton of Neuchâtel. For others, the award is the opportunity for two people to meet BHI and the Museum of Timekeeping Museum, which is also located in Upton Hall. An immersion in original watchmaking territories, made up of contributions to practical exercises as well as guided tours.

And receive each week a custom selection of articles.