current exhibition
Conferences, events and information
hide text

Historical Background

the site

In 1778, Jeanne-Marie Sandoz-Gendre, whose maiden name was Bersot, gave the domain of Les Monts above Le Locle to her daughter, Marie-Henriette. Marie-Henriette was the wife of Samuel DuBois (1739-1820), who was an officer, small volume watchmaker and sworn assayer of the Bourgeoisie of Valangin. Between 1780 and 1790, Samuel DuBois had a residence built on his wife’s estate, onto which he added as years went by. It is supposed that the architect chosen by DuBois might be Gabriel DeLaGrange, an inhabitant of Lausanne, originally from Burgundy. The locals quickly dubbed this beautiful, aristocratic, Louis XVI-style dwelling the “Château des Monts”. In 1820, Samuel willed his home to his grandchildren, Frédéric-William and Julie-Françoise. According to the notarized act, the estate consisted of “meadows, fields and pasture land, a garden, a water reservoir, a cellar and water troughs, three houses located on the property, as well as a laundry building…”

Frédéric-William DuBois (1811-1869), talented watchmaker and an expert in precision watches, was also a forward-thinking man. A Socialist with Fourier sympathies, he headed a sectarian community and signed part of his watchmaking production under the name of «The Workers Association.”

Until 1912, the Château des Monts stayed in the DuBois family. It was then bought by Georges Ducommun (1868-1936), the founder of Doxa. He brought about a certain number of modifications to the buildings, and in particular, did away with the farm and its annexes. He also landscaped the park in the English style. Since then, the Château has changed very little. Its interior remains much as it was in the beginning of the 20th century and as such, it is evidence of what the homes of the great bourgeois families of the Neuchâtel mountains were like. After the death of Georges Ducommun, the estate passed to his daughter Hélène, the wife of Jacques Nardin (1892-1950), a member of the Le Locle family of chronometre makers. In 1954, Hélène Nardin, then a widow, sold the estate, which was purchased by the city of Le Locle to be transformed into the Museum of History and Watchmaking.


the museum

The Watch Museum of Le Locle is the offspring of a curio collection begun in 1849. The objective of this first institution was to gather all the historical, archeological, natural and mechanical curiosities of the region. In 1858, these collections were transferred to the brand new Industrial School – the precursor to our present secondary school. At this point in time, the museum contained a reputable collection of natural history including mammals, birds, reptiles and insects, etc. It also exhibited antiquities, primarily fire arms and monies of all sorts. Notable for its absence was any form of art, and objects from the watchmaking industry, paradoxically, were rare. In those days, the museum was open to the public only once a year, on graduation day.

The year 1868 marked the opening of the Watchmaking School of Le Locle. For pedagogical reasons, the watch collections of the Museum of Le Locle were transferred to the new school.
From that point on, the Watch Museum was subject to the relocations of the School. After a period of rapid growth in 1902, when the watchmaking school was transformed into a Technical School, the Museum itself fell into dusty neglect. At the beginning of WWII, the Museum collections were boxed and stored away as a precautionary measure. At the end of the war, a lack of space made it impossible to house the works in a new location.

Finally, in 1951, a small group of enthusiasts decided to revive the Museum, but were faced with a critical problem, finding an appropriate “home” in which to exhibit the existing collections. The purchase of the Château des Monts was the fulfillment of all their dreams. In this magnificent estate, the Watch Museum could undergo a rebirth and enrich its collections.

The inauguration of the Watch Museum of Le Locle took place on May 23, 1959 at the Château des Monts.