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Watch industry hands in Unesco bid

The main road and a tower block belonging to the local authorities in La Chaux-de-Fonds

(Keystone)

Switzerland's renowned watch industry area in the northwest of the country has officially applied to be included in the Unesco World Heritage list.

The bid was handed in at Unesco headquarters in Paris on Friday. The United Nations cultural agency will decide on this latest Swiss candidature by summer 2009.

It is one of five Swiss bids on a shortlist; seven other sites have already been awarded World Heritage status.

The 500-page dossier was presented by the Swiss ambassador to Unesco, Ernst Iten, and a senior representative of the Federal Culture Office.

La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle - two towns with a population of 37,000 and 10,000 respectively and situated in the Jura mountains on the French border – are spearheading the Unesco campaign.

The bid aims to highlight the rich architectural and technological legacy that has been generated by watchmaking.

As well as being home to famous brands such as Tissot and Swatch, the region supports countless smaller watchmakers and watch-related companies.

The centuries-old industry is currently flourishing, but it was not always the case. In the 1980s it underwent a crisis after the market was flooded with cheap quartz watches from Asia.

It first managed to revive its fortunes through mass production, such as with the highly successful Swatch, and then through a turnaround in the luxury watch sector.

Around 1900 La Chaux-de-Fonds was the centre of watchmaking with more than half of the global production coming from the town.

Swiss sites

Switzerland is no stranger to the Unesco list. Lavaux, the spectacular wine-growing region on Lake Geneva, joined earlier this year.

There are six other recognised sites, natural and architectural, including the Abbey of St Gallen, the old town in the Swiss capital Bern, and the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn mountain area.

Unesco is due to pronounce next year on whether the Albula and Bernina railway lines in southeastern Switzerland have made it onto the list.

Several other bids, including the Glarus Overthrust natural site and buildings by Swiss architect Le Corbusier, are also shortlisted.

There are more than 850 Unesco World Heritage sites worldwide.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The seven Swiss sites already on the World Heritage list:

Old Town of the capital, Bern; St Gallen Abbey; Castles of Bellinzona ,Monastery of Mustair; Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region; Monte San Giorgio; Lavaux vineyard terraces.

Shortlisted:

The Albula and Bernina railway lines; Buildings by Swiss architect Le Corbusier; Watchmaking urban area of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle; Prehistoric lake-dwelling sites; Glarus Overthrust.

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