Earlier this month, I asked on Instagram if folks preferred a post about cool unknown Bienne watch facts, or one about what makes Bienne the legit capital of watchmaking. As the vote was pretty close, I decided to do both, but it’s only fair to start with the topic that actually won, so here we go.
The aim here is to make it a quick and easy read, so rather than going deep on each topic, I’ll just include some links so that those interested can explore. I’ll be really curious to know how many of those facts you already did or did not know. And if anything noteworthy was left out, please let me know in the comments!
1. Bienne Mean Time was a thing, and its physical line is in front of the Omega HQ. That’s what you can see in the picture above (the paint in the middle of the little wall). Also known as Swatch .beat or Internet Time, it was the brand’s attempt to create a universal time that is not dependent on timezones. Launched in 1998, it’s still being used today on the Swatch Group corporate website (just hover over the clock at the top right). You can learn more about .beat time on the Swatch website.
2. The first ever Rolex watches were produced here in Bienne, and you can check out the original building. Before Rolex moved its HQ and final assembly to Geneva, everything was done in Jean Aegler’s workshop, on Bienne’s Jura hills. The building is now used for higher education but has preserved the original Rolex signage. While the indoor parts can’t be visited, you can walk into the complex. Because it’s in a lovely neighborhood and so close to Bienne’s beautiful old town, I definitely recommend checking it out if you are a fan of the brand. More on the history and how to visit can be found in this blog post.
3. The Federation of the Swiss Watchmaking Industry is here. They’re the ones who define “Swiss Made” regulations and share Swiss watch export figures. There’s a neat clock outside their building. Here’s their website.
4. The Omega and Swatch boutiques are open 7 days a week. This is unique in Switzerland, where basically every store outside of aiports and train stations is closed on Sunday. You can read more here about watch shopping in Bienne.
5. Cool brands that left Bienne over their history include Heuer, Bulova, Mido, Eberhard and Victorinox. Here is a pic of Heuer’s former HQ, right near the train station.
7. Rolex is the largest employer in the city, with an estimated 3500 employees. This should further increase, with the ongoing expansion of their production site. You can read about that here.
8. The largest publicly available vintage Rolex collection is at the NMB city museum. It consists of 46 watches, as many movements, and a lot of very neat memorabilia. I wrote a blog post about it, and highly recommend visiting!
9. There is a full size replica of the Lunar Module outside Omega HQ. It commemorates the brand’s rich lunar history, and specifically how the Speedmaster played a key role in saving the Apollo 13 crew on its way back to earth. The replica is accessible 24/7 and even lights up from the inside at night. It was actually the topic of the first ever blog post published on Made in Bienne.
10. The reason Bienne is bilingual is due to the French-speaking watchmaking population who joined in the second half of the 19th century. The ability to school their children in French was part of the “deal”, an effort made by local authorities to attract workers at a time when the watch industry was starting to boom. The Mayor of Bienne himself explains this in this interview he gave earlier this year.
11. You can live in a former Rolex, Omega, Heuer or Bulova production site. They’ve all been converted into apartments. Pretty cool if you’re a fan of the brand! In this post, I specifically go into the history of the original Omega site in Bienne, and how it’s been converted. The Rolex one is right next to the original site, the Bulova one is covered in this post, and the Heuer building is the one mentioned above. Those are just a few examples, as many other former manufacture, ateliers and factories have been converted into housing.
12. The office with a pirate flag hanging outside of it near the lake is no less than the Swatch Group CEO’s, Nick Hayek. Here’s a post I wrote about the flag, if you want to learn more and maybe take a selfie in front of it. Mr Hayek also explained the spirit behind the flag in a recent interview with Robert-Jan Broer of Fratello Watches (and you can read RJ’s interview with me here – small world!).