WATCH HISTORY LANDMARKS
Below is the key information you need to start planning your own tour, whether you have half a day, or half a week. I'll try to expand this section over time, both with more places and additional content about the main ones.
OMEGA MUSEUM (CITÉ DU TEMPS)
Perhaps the most outstanding watch tourism attraction in Bienne and one of the very best watch brand museums in the world. From the early days to landing on the Moon, James Bond and the recent underwater depth world record, the history of the legendary brand is brought to life through top of the line experiences and the display of hundreds of very special timepieces, including the one worn by JFK during his inauguration.
PLANET SWATCH (CITÉ DU TEMPS)
Along with the Omega Museum, Planet Swatch forms Swatch Group's "Cité du Temps". At the junction of both brands' headquarters, the two museums, while offering radically different vibes, are in the same building. With over 6,000 models exposed, and all running on time, Planet Swatch is an incredible journey into the unique engineering prowess and creativity so unique to the brand that made plastic cool, and saved the Swiss watch industry during the quartz crisis.
WHERE THE FIRST ROLEXES WERE MADE
The venue, now hosting a university, is where the first Rolex watches were made, at the beginning of the 20th century. For reasons you will understand if you read our blog post on its history, it is not explicitly advertised as such. While no official visit is available, you can explore the outside of the building and its surroundings, which include other, beautiful, former Rolex production facilities. It is all located in a lovely part of Bienne near the old town, which has a lot of nice lunch options.
ROLEX MOVEMENT PRODUCTION FACILITY
While Rolex's headquarters and final assembly are in Geneva, its largest production site, where all its movements are made, is in Bienne. The facility, hosting 3,000 employees over multiple buildings, is highly impressive. While it cannot be visited, the glass windows enable an insight into Rolex that is almost surprising given the brand's reputation for secrecy. While not worth it for everyone, die-hard fans will enjoy a stroll around, especially on a weekday when the teams are at work.
A 15 minute bus ride from main train station. Here is the location on Google Maps. Go on a weekday to see the activity inside.
Expected visit time: 30 min for a walk around the outside.
NOUVEAU MUSÉE DE BIENNE
Bienne's main history museum is not limited to watches, but it has a neat, permanent section dedicated to the city's horological past, with a few particularly interesting old Rolexes on display. It is located in a nice area, a 10 min walk from the lake, a 5 min walk for the old town, and right next to a great antique clock store with a great selection of JLC Atmos. The museum has a pleasant garden where you can have a drink or ice cream when the weather is nice.
Estimated visit time: for the watch section only, no more than 1 hour. A walk alongside the canal to the lake is recommended if the weather is nice.
SHIGERU BAN'S SWATCH HQ
The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is one of the most talented of his generation, recipient of the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious award in modern architeture. Known for his work on paper, cardboard and wood, he created a new HQ for Swatch. The uniquely shaped building, locally referred to as "the snake" or "the dragon", made of local wood and running state-of-the-art sustainable cooling and heating methods, is an inspiring tribute to the past and present creativity of the brand. Located alongside the Cité du Temps, into which it extends, it can be admired while visiting the Swatch and Omega museums. If the weather is nice, a riverside walk along it on the Suze Island is highly recommended.
A 10 minute bus ride from the main station. Here is the location on Google Maps. More info about the building can be found in this press release. If you're a fan of Swatch a photo in front of the main entrance is worth it.
Estimated visit time: 5 minutes, in combination with a museum tour, or 45 minutes if you take the walk alongside the river.
Conveniently located right next to the museum, the Omega HQ is a beautiful set of buildings, on the historical site where the brand has been for over 150 years. The most recent addition, the new production facility, is also the work of Shigeru Ban. On the outside left of the building is a full-size rendering of the Apollo 11 capsule that landed on the Moon. The building will soon host an Omega boutique. The restoration centre is also there, for those who want to bring in a vintage timepiece in need of professional attention. Just behind the building, alongside the river, is an industrial chimney from the early days with the original Omega writing.
A 10 minute bus ride from main train station. Here is the location on Google Maps.
Estimated visit time: 10 minutes to walk around the buildings.
THE LAKE, THE PARK AND THE PIRATE FLAG
Bienne has a very nice lake, surrounded by nature while being a 10 minute walk from the city centre. What relates it to our topic is first that the park that gives onto the lake is named after Nicholas G. Hayek, the founder of Swatch Group, known for having saved the Swiss watch industry from the 70s quartz crisis. Right around the corner is the Swatch Group HQ, governing the 18 brands part of the group (including Omega, Breguet, Blancpain, Tissot, Longines, to name a few) and its many other industry affiliates, among which ETA, the world's largest movement manufacturer. Swatch Group is the leading watch group globally by revenue. The office of its CEO, Nick Hayek Jr., can be easily recognised from the outside: there's a pirate's flag hanging outside the window!
Expected visit time: 20 minutes if just to see the lake (and the flag if you're interested), a lot longer if you have time to enjoy the water or nearby restaurants, weather permitting.
OTHER WATCH BRAND HQS
While Omega, Rolex and Swatch are the kings of Bienne watchmaking, many other fantastic brands also have their HQ here. Some have a beautiful building, like Ubran Jürgensen, pictured here, or Glycine, in the old town (which I will cover in the sopping section, as it is co-located with their boutique). Others, such as Hamilton, Doxa, have a more common external façade. The Movado building, shared with its brands Ebel and Concord, cannot be missed if you are arriving by train. Hermes is just outside of Bienne city itself. Some other brands that used to be based in Bienne no longer are, such as Heuer, which spent over 100 years here before going to La-Chaux-de-Fonds - the Heuer Bienne days will be the topic of a dedicated blog post.
Links to the Google Maps location of the different HQs are provided in the paragraph above.