The SSC has been faithful to its values for a century

The foundations of the SSC were laid in 1924, in the heart of the Palais de l’Athénée in Geneva. In the space of a century, they have not aged a bit. As a platform for information, knowledge sharing and development, the SSC is an invaluable link between the various training institutions and the watch industry.

The new Geneva Board of the Swiss Chronometry Office (SSC) took office on 1 January this year. As Chairman, Olivier Kuffer has the daunting task of organising the society’s centenary celebrations, with the support of his team. This technology enthusiast unveils the first commitments of this three-year term of office, including an unprecedented participation in the EPHJ trade fair in Geneva this June.

On 5 October 1924, to mark the centenary of the Geneva School of Watchmaking, the SSC was founded in the heart of the Palais de l’Athénée in Geneva, for the purpose of standardising the systems deployed around the concept of precise time. The idea of setting up such a society originated with the Swiss Chamber of Watchmaking and was spearheaded by Léopold Defossez, then director of the Le Locle Watchmaking School. In order to operate as freely as possible, the society was to be independent of professional, employers’ or workers’ groups, and open to anyone interested in measuring time (mathematicians, physicists, technicians, watchmakers and company directors). The first directors therefore set about their task with a genuine concern for impartiality. Initially, they laid the foundations of an association capable of uniting national endeavours and, in a second phase, of defending the country’s interests on the international stage.

From then on, the SSC worked constantly to bring together scientific, technical, artistic and historical circles (scientists working in physics and chemistry laboratories, professional training) as well as practical circles (technicians, timers and industrialists). In this respect, the composition of the members of the first committee reflects the desire for neutrality on the part of the society, which includes both representatives of industry and people active in the field of training.

In the days before computers, data was shared mainly by means of written documents. At the 1925 General Meeting, the decision was taken to create a “chronometric library”, consisting of periodicals received and works donated or purchased. In order to enhance this library, the society set about developing a “patent repertoire”, which did not exist at the time. This mammoth task involved assembling some 120,000 documents, manually indexed in 60 filing cabinets that were to be constantly updated.

At the end of these major advances, the SSC concentrated on harmonising the scoring of chronometers’ gains or losses during timing contests. It also focused on the definition of the word “chronometer”, which was defined in 1952 as “a precision watch, adjusted in different positions and at various temperatures, having obtained an official rating certificate”.

The Study Days were born in the late 1980s. These meetings between peers have gradually come to cover an increasingly wide range of topics, from process innovations (machining) to product innovations (materials, movements and casings). This popular annual event is still going strong today. Every autumn, some 800 people come together to share the latest technological and scientific advances linked to timepieces.

100th anniversary festivities
The SSC festivities will kick off on 13 June at the heart of the Palais de l’Athénée, in the very place where the society was founded a century ago. The building, which was completed in 1864, is the work of Jean-Gabriel Eynard and his wife Anna, who commissioned the construction at their own expense to house the Société des arts de Genève, founded in 1776. The inscription “La Société suisse de chronométrie a été fondée à l’Athénée le 5 octobre 1924” still appears above a door. What more symbolic place to commemorate this centenary?

The celebrations will continue on 24 September with a gala evening in the Bâtiment des forces motrices in Geneva, followed the next day by a Study Day in the heart of CERN’s new science portal. This year’s theme will be “Artists of Time”. These two encounters – one with history and the other with science – will bring this important stage to a close. Retracing the past will enable the SSC to better look to the future.

Although it will not be a festive but profoundly professional occasion, the SSC will be taking part in the EPHJ trade fair in Geneva for the first time in its existence. The booth will be located opposite that of the Geneva School of Watchmaking, and the two entities will linked by graphic unity. This event will give the society an opportunity to present its activities to a wide audience and also to expand its membership.

Throughout its centenary, the SSC has rewarded the work of its members with various prizes: SSC Prize, Emulation Prize, Distinction for Outstanding Practical Work, Honorary Membership and Gold Medal. While the latter – honouring a career or a strong technical role – still exists, it is not necessarily handed out every year. To date, 18 people have received it and the 19th will be awarded this year. François Habersaat, former President of the FH, was appointed an honorary member of the association in 2005.

The highly popular Timing Contest challenges around 20 training centres, watchmaking schools, apprenticeship centres and private workshops each year. The SSC attaches great importance to this collaboration with schools, which brings a great deal of positivity to young people and creates links between them. In some schools, the competition is even part of the curriculum.

While the Timing Contest rewards future watchmakers for their skill, it is time to relaunch a prize that would salute the ideas or work of young engineers. The Board and the Committee are currently reflecting on instating the SSC Innovation Prize.

Chronometry database
Ever since its founding the SSC has consistently shared information and served as a link between the worlds of research and technology. While this was previously done in paper form, a BDchrono database was created in 1993. It lists all the historical writings, the proceedings of the Study Days and the annual Chronometry Congress, along with scientific and technical articles from other watchmaking information sources. This well of unpublished science, which technicians describe as incredibly fascinating, is continually updated.

SSC Bulletin
To mark this anniversary, the SSC Bulletin, published twice a year, will feature the new SSC logo. This rich source of information invites readers to share their knowledge and discoveries in the form of articles – whether on technical subjects, training-related issues or aspects of watchmaking history. It also provides information about the society, its news and activities, as well as offering an overview of the watchmaking world, its stakeholders, innovations, history and challenges.

SSC Board
As the SSC’s governing body, the Board operates on a triennial basis and by rotation according to four defined regions: Bern-Jura-Basel-German-speaking Switzerland, Neuchâtel, Vaud-Valais-Fribourg-Tessin and Geneva. The Geneva Board, which took office on 1 January this year, is headed by Olivier Kuffer, SSC Chairman and Deputy Director of Research and Development at Rolex; Philip Barat, Vice-Chairman of the SSC Scientific Committee and Director of Research and Development at Patek Philippe; and Daniel Bolognesi, Vice-Chairman of the SSC Historical Committee and Head of the Watchmaking Department at Chopard. This is the first time that a historical commission has been created within a Bureau, as has a double Vice-Chairmanship. This innovation proved necessary within the context of the society’s centenary, along with all the associated research.

SSC Chairs
Before taking up his post at the head of the SSC, Olivier Kuffer was keen to meet the nine Chairmen who had preceded him. Representing a wealth of experience, they account for a total of 27 years at the helm. Keenly aware of what each of them could bring to the society, Olivier Kuffer wishes to reflect with them and with the Committee on the best path for launching the SSC into its second centenary.

While the SSC has remained faithful to its original foundations for a century, it is no less forward-looking, attentive to the expectations of its members and the watch industry. It approaches this new centenary with confidence, ready to take on the challenges and questions that await watchmaking.

June 06, 2024