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Zenith - Journey to the heart of time

Zenith Journey to the heart of time

For the first time in history, a watch manufacture is opening its doors to the public. Neuchâtel Tourism is collaborating with Zenith to offer a unique experience, in the hopes of promoting the Swiss watch industry beyond its borders.

A chance meeting

In 1990s, Philippe Streiff, who worked for the tourist board of Neuchâtel, criss-crossed the world to raise awareness of his region. Switzerland has a number of iconic landmarks, including Geneva’s water jet, the Matterhorn in the Valais, and the Pont de la Chapelle in Lucerne. But what would help Neuchâtel to stand out from other cities? The answer is watches, and the way the watch industry has influenced the region’s urban architecture (which led to its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 27 June 2009).

So what better way to promote the watch industry than to offer a visit to a watch manufacture, enabling visitors to witness first-hand how timepieces are created? The potential was clearly there, but the project was surprisingly difficult to get off the ground, largely because the watch industry is based on manufacturing, and the processes are often shrouded in secrecy. And yet, against all expectations, a meeting with Jean-Claude Biver, President of LVMH’s watch division, turned the situation around and made what was previously impossible, possible. In 2018, four years later, the project is complete, and the dream has become a reality.

Why Zenith?

“Collaborating with the Zenith watch manufacture seemed like the obvious thing to do, with the ‘Le Monde Etoilé de Zenith’ guided tour as a focal point, offering an invitation to explore the world of watchmaking in a dynamic, contemporary and fun way,” explains Yann Engel, Director of Neuchâtel Tourism. Nothing has been left to chance where Zenith’s world premiere is concerned.

Journey to the heart of time

Yann Engel (Director of Neuchâtel Tourism), Julien Tornare (CEO of Zenith), Jean-Nathanaël Karakash (State Councillor in charge of the cantonal Department of Finance and Social Services) and Michel Etter (Director of Thematis) © Zenith

What’s more, the visitor project fits in perfectly with the values the company wants to project. As CEO Julien Tornare notes, Zenith is “a local manufacture” that aims to be “close to the client”. This behind-the-scenes look at the world of mechanical watchmaking gives clients the opportunity to “meet the watchmakers” and “dive into the heart of the brand”, which has its headquarters in Le Locle, the cradle of watchmaking.

The regional authorities have also lent their support to the project, which will help to promote the towns of Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds. Jean-Nathanaël Karakash, State Councillor in charge of the he cantonal Department of Finance and Social Services, says that the towns were “created by and for watchmaking”, which is why they have a very strong link with “the reality, the urbanism, the culture and the DNA” of the region.

Visit in three parts

Every Friday, from 9 to 12 am, the Zenith manufacture now opens its doors to offer guided tours to the public. Reservations are essential for anyone hoping to enjoy this unique experience, which is divided into three themes: the brand history, the six stages of production and the products themselves. The scenography was designed by Thématis, a multidisciplinary team that specialises in museography and showcasing heritage.

Journey to the heart of time

The attics of Charles Vermot © Zenith

The story begins in the attics of the manufacture. This is where, when the quartz crisis struck in 1975, workshop foreman Charles Vermot hid all the tools and jigs that were used to make mechanical movements, to ensure they would not be sold off. The visit continues with an exploration of the star-spangled world of Zenith, which was founded by Georges Favre-Jacot in 1865. Visitors plunge into the universe of precision engineering, taking a closer look at iconic watch models, archives, chronometry certificates, and movements such as the legendary 5011. The El Primero calibre, which was created in 1969 and which, with the latest El Primero 21, is now accurate to 100th of a second, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019.

Journey to the heart of time

© WorldTempus/Cloé Mugny

At the end of 150 years of history, it’s time to discover how the watches are made, with a tour of the workshops. Production is split into six stages: design, R&D, machining, blanking, assembly and encasing, plus quality control. The visit ends with a presentation of the products and the opportunity to purchase a timepiece.

Journey to the heart of time

© Zenith

Whether you are a serious watch collector, or just intrigued by the fascinating world of mechanical watches, why not take a journey back in time with Zenith, and discover the mysteries of mechanical watchmaking? A fascinating experience awaits.

Practical information

  • OPENING DAYS
    Every Friday from 9 to 12 am
  • DURATION
    3 hours
  • PRICE
    CHF 40 per person
  • NUMBER OF PEOPLE
    1 to 8 persons
  • LANGUAGES
    French (German, English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish)
  • MINIMUM AGE
    14 years
  • ADDRESS
    Rue des Billodes 34, 2400 Le Locle

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Ever since it was founded, Zenith has been cultivating the ability to open up new horizons by assisting with some of the most remarkable human achievements.

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