Watchmaking Tourism Saga – The Biel and St-Imier Region
We are here in the city of Biel, in German, or Bienne in French, to continue our saga concerning the regions where Swiss watches are made. Biel can’t be described as the sexiest city in the country, but from a watchmaking point of view it plays major role.
Indeed, the headquarters of the Swatch Group, the most powerful industrial conglomerate in the watch world, which also owns 18 watch brands including Breguet, Harry Winston, Omega and Longines, is located here.
Speaking of Omega, its main building including the new METAS laboratory for precision in chronometry and its museum, is located in Biel. This is situated in the center of the city, but the industrial zone hides bigger secrets – in particular the Rolex production unit for movements. The new building inaugurated in 2012, extending the existing facility, is a giant with three sublevels and 92,000 square meters.
Roger Federer might have been inspired by the brand with the crown in its logo as the national training center for young tennis players is just a few hundred meters away from the area.
Hermès’ watch division has been at home in the next village, Brügg, since 1978. Biel also plays the role of the administrative capital for the Swiss watch industry as the office of its federation is located there. The Federation of the Swiss watch industry is the representative of the brands and suppliers to the Swiss government located in Bern, the Swiss capital, which is only half an hour away. Among its activities, the federation is in particular in charge of fighting against global counterfeiting, defending the interests of its members, and providing statistics about watch exports.
But one great advantage of Biel is that it is a bilingual city where people speak German or French, and often both. Playing the role of a cultural interface between the two main regions of Switzerland is a great advantage; people working for the federation usually understand people from both language regions.
But why does Biel speak two languages? There is an historical explanation. Indeed, in 1842 the economy was not going well and the local council decided to bring watchmakers from the Jura to start new activities in Bienne. To convince them, housing taxes were abolished. Within 15 years, 1700 workers came to the city, doubling the population.