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Heritage & Savoir-faire

07 BIO NM JF Erard. The watchmaking farmer : medieval methods, modern contraints 3-7

Le 25 August 2015
Malik "Pifpaf" Bahri

Hi everyone,

It should be borne in mind that until the industrial revolution (and contrary to common beliefs) serfs in traditional society did not work a lot.

Three days a week in avarage, according to our modern standards. The rest of the time was dedicated to celebrations, religious or not, household activities, collection in the forest, handiwork and wine (the flagship activity at that time, football hadn’t been invented yet).

  • But the farmers from Jura could not enjoy this smooth pace. The very short six months sunny season required an intense work, in order to produce and gather enough food and fodder to survive the ruthless winter.

The sunset occurs earlier in the valleys than in the lowlands as the crests hide the sun quickly. In the summertime, farmers had to get up even earlier for long days of agricultural labour : take the livestock to higher pastures,  quickly plant and collect cereals, fruits and vegetables, cut hay, bring the livestock back at the end of the season and take refuge by the hearth before the snowfalls.

Today, fortunatly we have snow plow & 4matics benz:

Le Paysan Horloger le Jura actuel (6)

By the way, you just can’t get the meaning of this term unless you’ve seen the thickness and the suddenness of mountain precipitations with your own eyes. During a real snowfall, the sky falls, literally.

Clouds in la Chaux de Fond (there a special micro-climate in la CdF):

Farmer Watchmaker actual Jura (3)

The Franches-Montagnes farmers production had to not only be intensive, but also qualitative, because the cows grazed in clearings where the future fir trees were growing; young trees thus had to be spared while allowing the cows to get fat. The agro-Silvio-pastoral balance is particularly delicate in such an hostile context. Sobriety, patience and precision became essencial virtues for the surviaval of mountain farmers, and they were also going to be valuable in precision craft, and even more in watchmaking.

From the beginning of the 15th century, our  Franc-montagnards  farmers  knew the torments of contemporary work pattern, with the stress of a “deadline”, literally!

In the wintertime, on the contrary, they had to stamp out boredom and lack of privacy. Work has the characteristic of being addictive: the more we work, the more we need to work intensely.
At this beginning of the Renaissance, we were still miles away from the leisure society.

  • The future watchmaking farmers were thus about to spend their wintertime making crafts.

Jurassian modern farm with tractor launch pad, a local branch of NASA:

Farmer Watchmaker actual Jura (6)

And as the constraint makes the man, Franc-Mountain craftsmanship adapted  to logistic contraints, in a typical Darwinian logic. It should be remembered that in this time, there was no powerful V8 400hp engines to plow moutain roads, or even 2 hp…  By the way, there was no tarred or paved road nor moutain bike or other paraglider. It was necessary to walk down and trudge 15km in the moutain. A daylong journey.

  • This difficulty of access weighed against any manufactured product of consequent size. The production of  oxcarts, cannons, dressed stones or boats was excluded.

The best friend of the farmer-watchmaker: the cow

Farmer Watchmaker actual Jura (5)

Francs-Montagnards therefore specialized in small accessories with high added value. From the 15th to the 18th century, as there was plenty of raw material, they mainly worked the wood of conifer.
They began to excel at the following fields : turnery, white coopery (fabrication of spruce boxes), pipe, toy, salt (some salt deposits have been discovered in the valleys), and the agricultural production, wine & cheese…

But despite the durability of the craftsman-farmer model, history gatecrashed  even the Jura moutains, through the invention of printing…

Thanks for reading.

A steep terrain:

Farmer Watchmaker actual Jura (9)Farmer Watchmaker actual Jura (15)