“School watches” of the Joux Valley (2012-2013)
du 5/25/2012 au 5/5/2013
“School watches” of the Joux Valley

- Introduction: What is a “school watch”?

A key player in training and the economy, Joux Valley Technical College (Ecole Technique de la Vallée de Joux) has been able to adapt to the changing face of watchmaking over the decades. Celebrating its 111th anniversary this year, the college has trained several generations of watchmakers.
From miniaturisation to extreme mechanical sophistication, via mechanisation and the arrival of electronics, watchmakers have lived through changes and revolutions in their industry throughout their working lives. In this shifting landscape, they have kept alive the memory of their time at the College in the form of their end-of-study “masterpiece”, also known as the “school watch”.
The development and diversity of these “masterpieces” allows us to retrace this history in which the times change while the watchmakers remain.

- Part 1: Technical drawings

Forming the basis of every construction, the technical drawing has become, for watchmakers, emblematic of the meticulousness of an entire profession.
Produced by hand, the colours used to differentiate the parts of a mechanism give it an unmistakeable appearance. The finesse of every drawing is the signature mark of a precision draughtsman.
Joux Valley Technical College launched its first draughtsman’s course in 1960. Technical drawing acquired a third dimension in the 1980s with the introduction of computer technology. As the computer replaced the drawing board, the traditional draughtsman lost his manual dexterity and drawings in pencil became a relic of the past.
While the technical aspect of these drawings is outmoded, the aesthetic dimension, secondary at the time, today acquires a new importance. Representations of a lost skill, these drawings retain a very high value in heritage terms, as well as an indisputable artistic merit, which has led to the conservation of these “masterpieces-in-waiting”.
- Part 2: Masterpieces and realisations

Every one of these watches marks the culmination of several years of study and the assimilation of watchmaking expertise by young apprentices.
Showing a remarkable quality of finish, “school watches” are not the only projects on which students collaborate. They also take part in the production of learning and demonstration modules, as well as the manufacture of precision tooling.
These items are a distillation of the general advances of horological engineering and science. They also reveal a message of precision, sophistication and tradition conveyed unanimously by an entire industry.
In the 1980s, it became necessary to reduce the time devoted to the “school watch” in order to focus on new learning programmes. As a result, a number of components are no longer manufactured by hand, but machined on modern production equipment.

- Part 3: Watchmakers

Coming from different generations, having all attended the same college these watchmakers pursued different careers.
Some, making fabrication their priority, followed the paths of research and development, management or teaching. These watchmakers have served their industry and contributed to the high esteem in which their expertise is held by the greatest manufacturers.
Like a visiting card or a CV, their “school watch” has often been the point of departure of an exciting adventure.
With their shared passion for watchmaking, these individuals are also the vital ingredients of the Joux Valley’s watchmaking culture.

- Conclusion: Tradition and continuity

The economic boom experienced by the Swiss watch industry from the end of the 20th century returned the mechanical watch to centre stage. In the euphoria of this revival, students and their parents once again saw watchmaking as a source of job creation, resulting in an increase in the number of students enrolling on courses.
In the Joux Valley, production of the “school watch” continues.
Today, Joux Valley Technical College is making the most of this resurgence and of the exquisite creations of “haute horlogerie” to produce, with its students, “masterpieces” that are the heirs of this long tradition.

© Espace Horloger - Vallée de Joux 2012