Watchmaking soon to be recognised by UNESCO


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April 2019

Watchmaking soon to be recognised by UNESCO

An application has been officially submitted by Switzerland and France to UNESCO. Beyond its symbolic significance, the decision to include watchmaking as part of intangible cultural heritage of humanity, which should be taken in November 2020, has very tangible consequences for the industry.


t’s been a long time coming, but now it’s done: watchmaking is officially a candidate for the world’s intangible cultural heritage, a list drawn up by UNESCO. The Swiss Confederation has already successfully submitted applications in the past for the “Fête des Vignerons”, the Basel Carnival and the way it manages avalanche risk in the mountains. It is now the most famous Swiss mechanical tradition in the world, watchmaking, that is being promoted.

The current list of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage includes more than 500 traditions that have already been added or are candidates for inclusion (click here to find out what they are). UNESCO also provides the general public with an interactive introduction to these traditions or skills, ranging from Slovenian lacemaking to baile chino and Chinese shadow theatre.

Watchmaking soon to be recognised by UNESCO

Watchmaking urban planning already recognised

Presented to UNESCO jointly by Switzerland and France, the application includes “the watchmaking craftsmanship located along the Jura from Geneva to Schaffhausen, but also the manufacture of automatons and music boxes”, according to a statement from the Federal Office of Culture (OFC).

These traditions have also shaped the architecture, urban planning and daily social reality of the regions concerned. Indeed, one of the assets of this candidacy lies in its link with the environment planning of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, listed as a World Heritage Site in 2009, as well as in its transnational dimension.

Watchmaking soon to be recognised by UNESCO

Renewed interest in heritage

Switzerland’s application was prepared by the OFC with a binational steering group of craftsmen, trainers, museum representatives and French local authorities. After an evaluation procedure that will last nearly 18 months, UNESCO is expected to decide in November 2020 whether this tradition will be added to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

As we pointed out in a recent report (read here), watchmaking heritage today lies at the heart of many challenges for the industry: it is widely used in marketing, after-sales service and the reissue of models from the past. At the same time, the power of the web is causing an explosion in the second-hand market.

There is a plethora of new initiatives to rediscover the history of watchmaking and the value it contains,, whether it is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon at Omega, the setting up of the exhibition “Le Monde étoilé de Zenith” by the Le Locle brand or, at Europa Star, the digitisation of over 60 years of watch archives....

Watchmaking soon to be recognised by UNESCO

The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage

With the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, ratified by Switzerland in 2008, UNESCO aims to document and safeguard oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, rituals and festive events, traditional crafts and knowledge and practices concerning nature. The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage contributes to raising public awareness of the importance of this heritage.

In October 2014, the Federal Council approved an indicative list of eight Swiss traditions that are candidates for the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity: the Basel Carnival, Swiss Graphic Design and Typography, the Vevey “Fête des Vignerons”, Avalanche Danger Management, the Holy Week Processions in Mendrisio, the Swiss Alpine Season, Watchmaking Mechanics Skills and Yodel.