Mechanical Watchmaking Joins Unesco Cultural Heritage List

PARIS — Unesco has added the craft of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics to its list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity, recognizing a tradition that has been passed on through the generations in Switzerland and France.

The two countries submitted the application together, winning praise from Unesco for the cross-border effort to raise the profile of watchmaking heritage.

“The practice conveys many values such as good workmanship, punctuality, perseverance, creativity, dexterity and patience, and the infinite quest for precision and the intangible aspect of time measurement give the practice a strong philosophical dimension,” Unesco said.

The recognitions covers skills related to mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics to make time-measuring tools like watches and clocks, as well as animated objects like music boxes and songbirds.

“As well as serving an economic function, the skills have also shaped the architecture, urban landscape and everyday social reality of the regions concerned,” Unesco said. The skills, which are practiced in the Jura Arc — also known as Watch Valley — in Switzerland, join science, art and technology.

The Jura Arc is home to watch manufacturing towns Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds and brands including Girard-Perregaux, Tag Heuer, Zenith and Ulysse Nardin. The twin towns were added to Unesco’s world heritage sites in 2009, recognizing sites, which have been organized around watchmaking since the 18th century.

The recognition adds prestige to the industry, which has struggled under fierce competition from connected watches, the Apple Watch in particular. Adding to the sector’s woes, the coronavirus crisis has weighed on consumption.

Exports of Swiss timepieces have dropped 23.5 percent since the beginning of the year. November export figures, released Thursday, show a 3.2 percent decline, a slighter decrease than previous months, marking improvement thanks to brisk business in China.

This year’s crop of traditions inscribed on the Unesco list includes the art of miniature painting in Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

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