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La Chaux de Fonds in September 2005
La Chaux de Fonds in September 2005

La Chaux-de-Fonds (French pronunciation: ​[laʃodəfɔ̃]) is a Swiss city of the district of La Chaux-de-Fonds in the canton of Neuchâtel. It is located in the Jura mountains at an altitude of 1000 m, a few kilometers south of the French border. After Geneva, Lausanne and Fribourg, it is the fourth largest city located in the Romandie, the French-speaking part of the country, with a population (as of December 2018) of 37,952.[3]

The city was founded in 1656. Its growth and prosperity is mainly bound up with the watch-making industry. It is the most important centre of the watch making industry in the area known as the Watch Valley. Partially destroyed by a fire in 1794, La Chaux-de-Fonds was rebuilt following a grid street plan, which was and is still original among Swiss cities, the only exception being the easternmost section of the city, which was spared of fire. This creates an interesting and obvious transition from the old section to the newer section. The roads in the original section are very narrow and winding, which then opens up to the grid pattern near the town square. The famous architect Le Corbusier, the writer Blaise Cendrars and the car maker Louis Chevrolet were born there. La Chaux-de-Fonds is a renowned centre of Art nouveau.

In 2009, La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, its sister city, were jointly awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for their exceptional universal value.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The watch making cities of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle have jointly received recognition from UNESCO for their exceptional universal value.

The Site's planning consists of two small cities located close to each other in the mountainous environment of the Swiss Jura. Due to the altitude (1,000 m [3,300 ft]) and the lack of water (porous sandstone underground) the land is ill-suited to farming. Planning and buildings reflect the watch-making artisans need of rational organization. Rebuilt in the early 19th Century, after extensive fires, both towns owe their survival to the manufacturing and exports of watches, to which, in the 20th Century, was added the minute micromechanical industry.

Along an open-ended scheme of parallel strips on which residential housing and workshops intermingle, the town's planned lay-out reflects the needs of the local watch-making culture that dates back to the 17th century, and which is still alive today. Both agglomerations present outstanding examples of mono-industrial manufacturing-towns, which are still well-preserved and active. The urban planning has accommodated the transition from the artisans’ production of a cottage industry to the more concentrated factory production of the late 19th and 20th centuries. In 1867 Karl Marx was already describing La Chaux-de-Fonds as a “huge factory-town” in Das Kapital, where he analyzed the division of labour in the watch making industry of the Jura.[4]

It is the tenth Swiss Site to be awarded World Heritage status, joining others such as the Old City of Bern, the Rhaetian Railway and the Abbey and Convent of St. Gallen.


The region was first inhabited around 10,000 years ago (Mesolithic). A skull and other traces have been found in caves nearby.[5]

In the middle of the 14th century, the region was colonized from the southern Val-de-Ruz. La Chaux-de-Fonds is first mentioned in 1350 as la Chaz de Fonz. In 1378 it was mentioned as Chault de Font.[5]

The region was under the authority of the lords of Valangin. In the 15th and 16th centuries, a second wave of colonization came from the so-called Clos de la Franchise (the valleys of Le Locle and La Sagne). Agriculture was the main activity but the village remained small. In 1531 there were only about 35 people living there. The first church was built in 1528. By 1530, La Chaux-de-Fonds, like the rest of the Valangin lands, converted to the new Reformed faith. The Lord of Valanginian, René de Challant, fixed the boundaries of the parish in 1550. The church and parish provided a political structure and a small community of Valanginian citizens, free farmers and peasants grew up around the church. By 1615 there were 355 people living in the village. In 1616, the low and middle jurisdiction over La Chaux-de-Fonds moved to Le Locle and La Sagne, while the high court remained in Valanginian. The agriculture, supplemented by mills on the banks of the Doubs, continued to dominate. However, at the end of the 16th century, the city became an important crossroad between Neuchâtel, Franche-Comté and the Bishopric of Basel.[5]

The community grew during the Thirty Years' War, mainly because of its strategic position for trade. Economic activity accelerated in the 18th century with the development of the city's lace and watchmaking industries. Pierre Jacquet-Droz, best known for his automata, was a particularly prominent watchmaker of this era.

In 1794, the city was devastated by fire. Charles-Henri Junod created the new city's plan in 1835, and the city is now known for its "modern," grid-like plan, in comparison with most European cities' meandering streets.[6][7] The central avenue is named the Avenue Léopold Robert.


La Chaux-de-Fonds has an area, as of 2009, of 55.7 square kilometers (21.5 sq mi). Of this area, 30.46 km2 (11.76 sq mi) or 54.7% is used for agricultural purposes, while 15.52 km2 (5.99 sq mi) or 27.9% is forested. Of the rest of the land, 9.28 km2 (3.58 sq mi) or 16.7% is settled (buildings or roads), 0.3 km2 (0.12 sq mi) or 0.5% is either rivers or lakes and 0.11 km2 (27 acres) or 0.2% is unproductive land.[8]

Of the built up area, industrial buildings made up 1.6% of the total area while housing and buildings made up 8.4% and transportation infrastructure made up 4.6%. while parks, green belts and sports fields made up 1.1%. Out of the forested land, 24.2% of the total land area is heavily forested and 3.7% is covered with orchards or small clusters of trees. Of the agricultural land, 0.4% is used for growing crops and 40.0% is pastures and 14.2% is used for alpine pastures. All the water in the municipality is flowing water.[8]

The municipality is the capital of the district of the same name. It is located in the Jura Mountains near the French border at an elevation of about 1,000 m (3,300 ft).

Coat of arms

The blazon of the municipal coat of arms is Tierced per fess, Azure three Mullets of Five Argent in fess, Argent a Hive Or surrounded by seven Bees of the same, and chequy [of 7x3] Argent and Azure.[9]


La Chaux-de-Fonds has a population (as of December 2018) of 37,952.[3] As of 2008, 29.1% of the population are resident foreign nationals.[10] Over the last 10 years (2000–2010 ) the population has changed at a rate of 1.3%. It has changed at a rate of 1.4% due to migration and at a rate of −0.2% due to births and deaths.[11]

Most of the population (as of 2000) speaks French (31,653 or 85.5%) as their first language, Italian is the second most common (1,335 or 3.6%) and Portuguese is the third (1,173 or 3.2%). There are 900 people who speak German and 32 people who speak Romansh.[12]

As of 2008, the population was 48.0% male and 52.0% female. The population was made up of 12,444 Swiss men (33.2% of the population) and 5,578 (14.9%) non-Swiss men. There were 14,513 Swiss women (38.7%) and 4,988 (13.3%) non-Swiss women.[13] Of the population in the municipality, 15,164 or about 41.0% were born in La Chaux-de-Fonds and lived there in 2000. There were 3,778 or 10.2% who were born in the same canton, while 6,962 or 18.8% were born somewhere else in Switzerland, and 9,651 or 26.1% were born outside of Switzerland.[12]

As of 2000, children and teenagers (0–19 years old) make up 22.5% of the population, while adults (20–64 years old) make up 58.9% and seniors (over 64 years old) make up 18.6%.[11]

As of 2000, there were 14,380 people who were single and never married in the municipality. There were 17,285 married individuals, 2,573 widows or widowers and 2,778 individuals who are divorced.[12]

As of 2000, there were 17,207 private households in the municipality, and an average of 2.1 persons per household.[11] There were 7,087 households that consist of only one person and 747 households with five or more people. In 2000, a total of 16,833 apartments (88.8% of the total) were permanently occupied, while 1,376 apartments (7.3%) were seasonally occupied and 756 apartments (4.0%) were empty.[14] As of 2009, the construction rate of new housing units was 1 new units per 1000 residents.[11] The vacancy rate for the municipality, in 2010, was 2.05%.[11]

Historical Population

The historical population is given in the following chart:[5]

Heritage sites of national significance

La Chaux-de-Fonds is home to 23 Swiss heritage sites of national significance along with the UNESCO World Heritage Site of La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle.

Library/museum/theater: Bibliothèque de la Ville de la Chaux-de-Fonds et Département audiovisuel (DAV), Musée des Beaux-Arts, Musée d‘histoire naturelle, the Musée international d’horlogerie «l’homme et le temps» and the Théâtre et Salle de musique on Avenue Léopold-Robert 27–29 Religious: Synagogue on Rue du Parc 63 Farms: Ferme des Brandt at Les Petites-Corsettes 6, Ferme Haute Fie and Maison Carrée at Le Valanvron 9 and Ferme les Crêtets on Rue des Crêtets 148 Companies: Spillmann SA on Rue du Doubs 32 and Usine électrique at Rue Numa-Droz 174 Houses: Villa Anatole Schwob on Rue du Doubs 167, Villa Fallet on Chemin de Pouillerel 1, Villa Gallet on Rue David-Pierre-Bourquin 55, Villa Jaquemet on Chemin de Pouillerel 8, Villa Stotzer on Chemin de Pouillerel 6 and Maison Blanche at Chemin de Pouillerel 12 Other buildings: the slaughterhouse (Abattoirs) on Rue du Commerce 120–126, the Ancien Manège (collective house from 1968), the crematorium on Rue de la Charrière, the Domaine des Arbres, the Grande Fontaine on Avenue Léopold-Robert and the Loge l‘Amitié. After the horrid mudslide that occurred which destroyed the city of La Chaux [15]


In the 2007 federal election the most popular party was the SP which received 28.18% of the vote. The next three most popular parties were the SVP (25.73%), the PdA Party (14.2%) and the Green Party (12.03%). In the federal election, a total of 10,293 votes were cast, and the voter turnout was 47.1%.[16]


As of  2010, La Chaux-de-Fonds had an unemployment rate of 8.2%. As of 2008, there were 260 people employed in the primary economic sector and about 95 businesses involved in this sector. 10,594 people were employed in the secondary sector and there were 550 businesses in this sector. 11,813 people were employed in the tertiary sector, with 1,290 businesses in this sector.[11] There were 17,870 residents of the municipality who were employed in some capacity, of which females made up 46.1% of the workforce.

In 2008 the total number of full-time equivalent jobs was 19,692. The number of jobs in the primary sector was 208, of which 198 were in agriculture and 10 were in forestry or lumber production. The number of jobs in the secondary sector was 10,153 of which 9,063 or (89.3%) were in manufacturing and 903 (8.9%) were in construction. The number of jobs in the tertiary sector was 9,331. In the tertiary sector; 2,287 or 24.5% were in wholesale or retail sales or the repair of motor vehicles, 680 or 7.3% were in the movement and storage of goods, 571 or 6.1% were in a hotel or restaurant, 150 or 1.6% were in the information industry, 372 or 4.0% were the insurance or financial industry, 573 or 6.1% were technical professionals or scientists, 816 or 8.7% were in education and 2,078 or 22.3% were in health care.[17]

In 2000, there were 8,916 workers who commuted into the municipality and 3,481 workers who commuted away. The municipality is a net importer of workers, with about 2.6 workers entering the municipality for every one leaving. About 19.3% of the workforce coming into La Chaux-de-Fonds are coming from outside Switzerland, while 0.1% of the locals commute out of Switzerland for work.[18] Of the working population, 21.4% used public transportation to get to work, and 52.8% used a private car.[11]


From the 2000 census, 11,320 or 30.6% were Roman Catholic, while 10,258 or 27.7% belonged to the Swiss Reformed Church. Of the rest of the population, there were 205 members of an Orthodox church (or about 0.55% of the population), there were 300 individuals (or about 0.81% of the population) who belonged to the Christian Catholic Church, and there were 2,365 individuals (or about 6.39% of the population) who belonged to another Christian church. There were 129 individuals (or about 0.35% of the population) who were Jewish, and 1,369 (or about 3.70% of the population) who were Islamic. There were 90 individuals who were Buddhist, 83 individuals who were Hindu and 45 individuals who belonged to another church. 10,059 (or about 27.17% of the population) belonged to no church, are agnostic or atheist, and 1,960 individuals (or about 5.30% of the population) did not answer the question.[12]


In La Chaux-de-Fonds about 12,347 or (33.4%) of the population have completed non-mandatory upper secondary education, and 3,943 or (10.7%) have completed additional higher education (either university or a Fachhochschule). Of the 3,943 who completed tertiary schooling, 51.7% were Swiss men, 28.5% were Swiss women, 12.0% were non-Swiss men and 7.7% were non-Swiss women.[12]

In the canton of Neuchâtel most municipalities provide two years of non-mandatory kindergarten, followed by five years of mandatory primary education. The next four years of mandatory secondary education is provided at thirteen larger secondary schools, which many students travel out of their home municipality to attend.[20] The primary school in La Chaux-de-Fonds is combined with Les Planchettes. During the 2010–11 school year, there were 38 kindergarten classes with a total of 728 students in La Chaux-de-Fonds. In the same year, there were 113 primary classes with a total of 2,042 students.[21]

As of 2000, there were 754 students in La Chaux-de-Fonds who came from another municipality, while 644 residents attended schools outside the municipality.[18]

La Chaux-de-Fonds is home to 2 libraries. These libraries include; the Bibliothèque de la Ville and the Haute école Arc – Arts appliqué. There was a combined total (as of 2008) of 670,267 books or other media in the libraries, and in the same year a total of 342,720 items were loaned out.[22]


La Chaux-de-Fonds is the home of the Musée International d'Horlogerie (International Museum of Watch Making), originally constructed with funds donated by the Gallet watchmaking family in 1899.[23] The Museum is considered as an important showcase for the history of the timekeeping arts.

Art Nouveau had a great influence on architecture and culture in the city during the late 19th century.

The daily newspaper L'Impartial has been published in La Chaux-de-Fonds since 1880.

The Wakker Prize was granted to La-Chaux-de-Fonds in 1994.

La Chaux-de-fonds is considered as a hockeytown in Switzerland and is home to HC La Chaux-de-Fonds, a professional ice hockey team that competes in the Swiss League (SL), the second highest league in Switzerland. Their home arena is the 7,200-seat Patinoire des Mélèzes. The team had a successful stint in the National League (NL) where they played for a few years and won the championship six times in a row, from 1968 to 1973.

La Chaux-de-Fonds also has an amateur football team FC La Chaux-de-Fonds.


The city's economy is based on industry and watch manufacturers.


The city is served by La Chaux-de-Fonds railway station, Les Eplatures Airport, and the La Chaux-de-Fonds trolleybus system.


Notable people

Watch companies

Many watch companies started in La Chaux de Fonds:

Twin Town

La Chaux-de-Fonds is twinned with

  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Belgium|h15|w23|thumbborder flagicon-img flagicon-img]] Frameries, Belgium [28]
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