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Friday, March 18, 2011

French Museum Exhibit Celebrates the Country’s Horological Contributions

Leroy 01, the museum’s masterpiece. With its 24 complications, it was considered one of the most sophisticated horological pieces that was produced in the early part of the 20th Century.

On a clear day you can look east from the French city of Besançon and see Switzerland. This proximity to the watch capital of the world has helped the city and surrounding Doubs region to become the watch and clock capital of France. There’s even a museum dedicated to the industry in the city, the Musée du Temps (Time Museum) that a current exhibit showcases the museum’s entire antique watch collection for the first time to the public.

The exhibition, Montres et Merveilles (Watches and Wonders), contains 200 pieces of horology, including watches, cases, enameled plates, horological tools and iconographic documents.

The exhibit is set up in four parts in chronological order. The first section is dedicated to watches from the early sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Their accuracy is fairly uncertain, but they are, in most cases, authentic pieces of jewelry, crafted from the precious materials, with elaborate decorations. The technical evolution of watch craftsmanship leads up to the eighteenth century, with new inventions and techniques being progressively introduced. Visitors can observe the clocks’ workings and therefore understand their mechanical principles—such as plate movements with elaborate struts and balance-cocks as well as fuse chains and springs.

A second section covers the turning point of 18th and the 19th century watchmaking, marking technical and aesthetic innovations. The shapes become more refined, the clockwork more precise, prompted by the search for maritime chronometers. This section contains the Lépine watch collection, acquired by the Museum in 1998 as well as pieces by Breguet, Berthoud and Leroy.

The third part is dedicated to the nineteenth and early twentieth century watch industry, characterized by the introduction of mass production. This part is devoted to production in the city of Besançon. Through the display of pieces produced in Besançon’s manufacturing plants up to those of the early twentieth century, the exhibition aims at showing the importance of the city as the capital of French watch and clock craftsmanship in that period.

Apart from watches, this section gives visitors an opportunity to see lesser known parts of the museum’s collections, but which relate closely to Besancon’s productive sector, such as watch cases and enameled plates that remind the visitor that a large part of the city’s activity was not the production of clock workings, but rather the assembly of clock workings within watch cases.

Finally, the last section is dedicated to watch craftsmanship in the early 20th Century, focusing on the Leroy 01, the museum’s masterpiece. With its 24 complications, is considered one of the most sophisticated horological pieces that was produced in the early part of the century. “Manufactured in Besançon, the 01 is the perfect expression of the excellence of the skills developed by local watchmakers of that time,” the museum said in a statement.

The exhibit runs through May 29. It is sponsored by the Richemont Group and the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. For more information:

Musée du Temps
Palais Granvelle,
96 Grande Rue
25 000 Besançon
Téléphone : 03 81 87 81 50
Télécopie : 03 81 87 81 60

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