Once a year, the watchmaking industry from its suppliers to its crafters takes a vacation from the pressures of work. An age-old tradition created to support the welfare of workers, where does this convention stand in a world motivated by consistency?
For an industry notoriously so inextricably linked to the measures of time, it’s somewhat surprising that once a year, in the forested canton of Switzerland bordering France, the clocks are symbolically stopped as the industry takes a pause.
“Les vacances horlogères” is the annual tradition whereby the network of engineers and subcontracting workers cease all activities for an allotted period assigned by the Employers’ agreement. Founded in 1937 by the CPIH (Convention patronale de l’industrie horlogère), the arrangement was set up to support and defend the interests of the workers and ensure social peace amongst companies.
As Switzerland has proved itself to be an advocate of firsts in the watchmaking world, one of these accolades came about as the watch industry grew to become the first area of work in the country to grant paid holidays. The emphasis on the welfare of staff and the industry at large remained precedent and while the initial recess lasted for one week, it later increased to two in 1953, three in 1961 and four years later grew to 4 weeks for workers over the age of 55 or demonstrating 25 years of service towards their company.
Dubbed as the epicentre of artisanal design and construction, the watchmaking industry has long been a major generator of jobs and employed over 60,000 people last year alone. Deserting their vocations for the summer period, the infamous hub of horologists – from the streets of Biel (canton of Bern), La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle (canton of Neuchâtel) or Saint-Imier (canton of Bern) – would be deserted while the industry refreshed for the new season ahead.
The custom of the grande vacances is still customary today, as Europeans set aside time for their holiday, posting signs in shop windows to share their absence. Even today, restaurants and stores take advantage of this period to close their doors during the vacations, post offices reduce their opening hours, taking time to decompress from the chaos of our quotidian lives.
While folklore prevails in the 21st century, it isn’t as popular as it once was; the pressure of consistent consumerism and the perpetual access to digital resources online. Motivated by the passage of time, the respite seems idiosyncratic in today’s society, where demand is instant and eternal.
But as true partisans of time, not only to measure it, but to narrate it to the highest quality, the annual vacation poses a strong impact on the welfare of its people, ranked with the 4th highest life expectancy in the world. With the eternal hubbub of white noise we’re so accustomed to, it’s difficult to do nothing when you’re so used to doing something. Particularly as culture dictates busyness. The perpetual feeling of burnout lingering over our shoulders, perhaps it’s time to embrace the idleness, even if only for a little while.