REVIEW: Simonin/Fallet: The Ten Swiss Watchmaking Schools and their Masterpieces(2010

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
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Sep 23, 2001
The Watchmaking Schools of Switzerland and their School Watches

Dix Ecoles d’Horlogerie Suisse – Chef-d’Oeuvres de Savoir-Faire. (The Ten Swiss Watchmaking Schools and their Masterpieces of Horological Know-How) By Antoine Simonin and Estelle Fallet. Published 2010 by Editions Simonin, Neuchâtel (Switzerland). ISBN 978-2-9700573-3-8. Hardcover, 568 pages, 30 x 24 cm, over 1400 illustrations, most of them in color. The book is written in French. With a preface by Jean-Claude Biver. Includes 2 appendices, picture credits, bibliography, index. Available from the publisher for Swiss Francs 180 (ca. US$ 170) plus postage or borrow from the NAWCC library.

The ten watchmaking schools of Switzerland have been pillars of the horological know-how and tradition of Switzerland from the time the first one (Geneva) was founded in 1824 to the present. Six of them are still operating today (Geneva, Le Locle, Bienne, Porrentruy, Solothurn/Grenchen, Le Sentier), while four (La Chaux-de-Fonds, St. Imier, Neuchâtel, Fleurier) have merged into larger regional schools. The history of these schools has been told once before: In 1929 the Association of Swiss Watch School principals published a 272 page volume (with over 130 additional pages with advertising) describing - in a somewhat self promoting format - the seven schools then operating. In spite of its limitations that long out of print book [Linder (Editor): Les Ecoles Suisses d’Horlogerie – Die Schweizerischen Uhrmacherschulen, Zurich 1929] is much sought after by horological collectors, and if it can be found at all sells for over $200 a copy.

The new book (originally planned to coincide with the special temporary exhibit on the same subject in Geneva in 2008) is dramatically different and much more informative. It deals not only with the schools as institutions, but devotes a substantial portion of its space to the surviving artifacts of the schools, specifically the unique ‘School Watches’ the graduates of all schools were required to design and build themselves (based on an ebauche) in order to gain their certification as watchmaker. The ten main chapters of the book deal with the ten schools in the order they were founded, and vary in length from 20 to 70 pages. Each of these chapters has two sections, a historic section describing the history of the school, written by local experts (Estelle Fallet, Claude-Alain Künzi, Pierre-Yves Donzé, Hélène Pasquier, Maurice Evard, Anne-Marie Cruchaud, and Vuk Djurinovi) and a ‘Catalog’ section describing selected surviving school watches. The catalog sections vary from 15 to 40 pages per school, with each page describing and illustrating one to three objects per page. The majority of these are highly customized and individualized pocket watches with unique movements, some with complications (and in some cases also unique cases), but the catalog also includes wristwatches, clocks and one of kind horological tools.

Most of these objects are currently in private collections and many have never been published before. A large number of them where exhibited in the 2008/2009 special exhibit at the Museé d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva. The combined catalog sections amount to nearly 200 pages, and in the opinion of this reviewer are reason enough to purchase this weighty volume. Each artifact is shown with a superb illustration of the movement, often accompanied by additional pictures of dial, case or technical details.

The historical sections on the individual schools are also richly illustrated, with portraits of key people, reproductions of gorgeous vintage technical drawings, facsimiles of regulations and curricula, workshop images etc. In some cases the book includes short specialized essays by additional authors relating to a particular aspect of a school’s history. These ten schools, solidly rooted in the last decades of the 19th century, with their insistence of training ‘complete watchmakers’, people able to produce an entire watch from scratch, were a key element in forming the culture of the Swiss watchmaking industry. Understanding the history and values of these institutions will enhance the readers understanding ofor the Swiss watch industry as a whole. A short chapter on the future of horological professional education and several appendices (including a massive index and a substantial bibliography) conclude the book. The book – like all titles by Editions Simonin - is well made, strong paper, well bound, great photography (mostly by Bernard Muller), and printed in high resolution.

Does the book include references to all known Swiss school watches? Of course not. Weighing it at over 10 pounds (4.8 kilograms) it already is a massive volume. The selection of objects ultimately shown reflects the contacts and know-how of the publisher, who has collected Swiss school watches for decades, and is probably the foremost expert on Swiss school watches, one of the more intreaguing and interesting sub-sectors of watch collecting. While most serious collectors of pocket watches will enjoy studying this book (even those whose knowledge of the French language is far from fluent), I consider it a ‘must buy’ for anybody with a particular interest in individually made and customized watches, and for horological scholars focusing on the role of horological education in horological history.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki (Sussex, NJ) August 2010


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Apr 9, 2009
Re: REVIEW: Simonin/Fallet: The Ten Swiss Watchmaking Schools and their Masterpieces(

I would like to say thanks for Mr. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki's review of this excellent book!!!

Before I purchase I contact Simonin about this book and ask if they have English version because I can't read French without a dictionary, they told me the photos worth everything even I can't read French!

I got this book from Simonin last month. Wow, it is out of my expectation!!!

Except the many school project watch, and demonstration devise (escapement model) for teaching shown in this book, I can also see many professional technical drawings by the students,(by hand, using only ruler and pen, maybe drafting table but not computer! Some are even color rendering) these drawings comes with complete dimensions and some even showing the tolerance, especially useful for studying the detent escapement. By looking at the many photos, it just like I am visiting the classroom of the 10 different horology school of Swiss.

Again, please don't blame that I "rehash" here, the book are of very high quality, the hi-resolution photo (not pixelized!!!), the professional technical drawings, the high quality printing, the book-binding.....especially the contents.........I believe the author use many year's time to collect all the stuff and hire a professional photographer to prepare the photos.
I really want to dig out something that I can complain about this book, but sorry, the more I dig, the more I love/praise this book!!!
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