La Chaux-de-fonds : the Town
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The 'Carillon de la Chaux-de-Fonds' : Click to enlarge picture
© Vincent Bourrut

La Chaux-de-Fonds’ main draw is the admittedly impressive Musée international d’horlogerie, 29 Rue des Musées (Tues–Sun: June–Sept 10am–5pm; Oct–May 10am–noon & 2–5pm; Fr.8; SMP), about 500m east of the station, set back 150m from Avenue Robert. Even if you don’t find clocks and watches the height of inspiration, there’ll be something in this award-winning subterranean museum to divert you for an hour or two. There are hundreds of items on display, tracing the art of keeping time from the very beginnings up to the most recent models, with a concentration of exceptionally beautiful pieces from La Chaux’s heyday in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Upstairs you’ll find various atomic and electronic clocks, including one with all the design flair of a disk drive that is accurate to a millionth of a second per day. Even this kind of technology is now of course ancient history – a more modern piece beside it keeps time to within 0.000,000,000,0001 of a second per year. There are also various videos which show the history and technical side of horology, as well as a few diversions such as a machine which tests reaction times in fractions of a second. In one corner local watchmaking firms, which are also the world market leaders, put their latest bejewelled creations on display – without price tags, however. In the park outside is a giant tubular-steel carillon with digital readout (all the rage when it was built in 1980) that chimes every quarter-hour.

Immediately adjacent is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, 33 Rue des Musées (Tues–Sun 10am–noon & 2–5pm; Fr.8, or Fr.6 for the permanent collection only; free on Sun morning; SMP), housed in an impressive neoclassical building with an annexe for temporary exhibits that’s refreshingly light, open and airy. The permanent collection takes in a Modigliani, a couple of Van Goghs, Delacroix and Renoir among a selection of mostly little-known early modern works. The troubled face of local artist Léopold Robert in a portrait by his son Aurèle, hints at his disturbing fate: Robert cut his own throat in 1835 at the age of 41 after the failure of an unhappy relationship with Charlotte Bonaparte. Plenty of Robert’s own romantic images of Venetian sailors, exotic peasant women and rogueish mountain bandits – as well as mawkish works on death and impending mortality – cover the walls.

Perhaps La Chaux’s most famous son was the modernist architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier. He was born in 1887 at 38 Rue de la Serre; dotted around the town are several examples of his work, including the Villa Jeanneret, 12 Chemin de Pouillerel (not open to the public), built in white following a journey aged 25 to Eastern and Southern Europe. The Mediterranean-style Villa Schwob, also known as Villa Turque, 167 Rue du Doubs, is a private house open for public visits, though only by prior arrangement on 032/912 31 31. The tourist office has a brochure outlining an 11-point Le Corbusier itinerary through the town.

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