It’s not every day that we get to travel the world, that’s why we all cook up a hectic itinerary to make sure that we can cover as much ground as we possibly can. However, between all the dynamics, touristy activities, and food crawls, it’s almost impossible to find time for a laid-back moment, like visiting a museum or art gallery. And while most immediately think about the Louvre or The MET, there are other places that can lead us relatively closer to time travel than we think — the watch museums. These expanses bring us back to the beginning, not only of the brands such as Patek Philippe, Omega, and Seiko but also of horology itself. So on our next trip — from the far east to the great big west — let’s explore all the amazing museums by luxury watch brands and institutions.
What to Expect from Watch Museums
To travel and explore the history of horology is not always on the itinerary of everybody. When you’re a tourist, watch museums often get sidetracked by other places such as art museums and galleries, nature trips, and a whole other bunch of activities. I mean, it’s not every day that you get to go paragliding either! But watch enthusiasts usually take some time to explore horology and its roots through the museums built and established by storied brands we all love. These places will give you a quick history lesson with the most iconic watch models and their very roots. Surely, every watch enthusiast will enjoy every bit of it! Eager to find out what awaits you on your next trip to a watch museum? Here are some things you can expect when you visit a museum dedicated to watches.
1. History of Time
Every museum not only has artefacts but also stories of how each came to be. Just like in any other museum, watch museums have great stories about the time that can only be explored when you visit them. Trips to watch museums can give you a first-hand account and experience of time’s history in itself. Most people have watch brands — especially luxury watch brands — to thank for all the innovations we have on watches today. And to see and hear about them in the flesh will be like taking a front seat on a quick trip beyond time.
2. Brand Heritage
Aside from the history of time, every museum established by a brand can be seen through their museums. For instance, if you take a quick trip to the IWC Museum, you’ll get an in-depth glimpse of the conscious beginnings of IWC Schaffhausen, where they utilized renewable energy to power the first and only watch manufacture in the north-eastern part of Switzerland. From there, the manufacture grew to what we know today as one of the most respectable watch brands that even newer generations look up to. Just as with this brand, other watch brand museums hold a key to the company’s rich legacy that will make you appreciate your timepiece even more than you already do.
3. Most Iconic Models
With every brand’s history comes the iconic models that put them on the map. In museums by brands such as Audemars Piguet, Longines, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, you’ll find the first Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Lindbergh Hour Angle watch, and Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, respectively. While these museums offer a ‘by appointment only’ tour, it wouldn’t be a waste to schedule ahead of time for a glimpse at the models that made the brands we know and love today.
4. Names to Know
These models wouldn’t come to life without the people working behind the scenes to bring each design to fruition. A lot of brands and watch models were established by storied names, known not only to the brand but also to all of watch history itself. For instance, Breguet was founded by Abraham-Louis Breguet, master horologist, who invented the tourbillon escapement and was watchmaker to royalties. Meanwhile, acclaimed designer Gerald Genta designed and crafted historic watch models such as the IWC Ingenieur, Omega Constellation, and Patek Philippe Nautilus. Visiting museums will not only get you to understand the roots of each model but also get to know the people behind them.
5. Home of Innovations
Every watch brand was established in their respective hometowns where their humble beginnings started. It’s a part of the place’s tourism efforts to promote every aspect that makes the place known. And as every museum carries the legacy of each watch brand, we also get to learn how each place is recognized for the ingenious innovations that took place in it. Through museum trips, we get to understand why and how Switzerland thrived with watchmaking and how Japan made huge waves across the globe with the invention of the ‘Quartz movement’. These museums share a history of its hometown that, in part, was contributed by these notable brand names.
How to Plan Your Visit
Just like any trip or touristy activity, a watch museum visit has to be planned perfectly for one to enjoy it entirely. It takes time and some even require appointments before you can get past their front door. To make sure that your visit is worth every second of your precious trip, here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Guided vs. Unguided Tours
Just like art museums, watch museums have guided tours available for groups of people. If you’re travelling with a group, a guided tour is definitely a smart choice. It will keep the group together and focus on the information, making sure that no detail gets missed out. However, guided tours can cost more than non-guided ones. But if you’d like to freely explore the museum, unguided tours are for you. You’ll have more time to yourself and get to appreciate any facet of the museum at your own pace. The only downside? You might get lost in the moment and ultimately push your schedule.
2. Know the museum hours
If you don’t want to mess up your whole itinerary because of a museum tour, make sure that you know the updated hours of the watch museum you’re visiting. Most museums post their business hours on their websites for everyone’s reference. However, to ensure that you get the updated hours, double-check on their social media accounts as well. This will save you the trip if you’re planning to visit as a walk-in visitor.
3. Research the guided tour lengths
Every guided tour eats up a lot of time than one could imagine. With all the history and stories you’ll learn from it, every tour definitely takes quite some time to complete. So before signing up and to make sure that you have ample time for it, do a quick research about how long each tour usually takes. You can ask someone who’s been there before on forums and other communities or the museum staff themselves through social media or email.
4. Find out admission and tour costs
A lot of watch museums are free, like the Seiko museum in Japan; while some have different fees depending on the age and number of visitors coming per batch. To make sure that you have enough money to get you on the tour, find out all the fees required beforehand.
No one wants to come home empty-handed after a watch museum tour. If you want to bring home some souvenirs, make sure you have extra cash with you (or your credit card!) for purchases at the museum shop. Who knows? You might get to bring home a new timepiece on your way back from your trip.
5. Get the exact location of the museum
Every trip itinerary includes the exact location of the place they’re visiting. To keep you from getting lost, verify your mode of transportation, and know where the museum is exactly located. This will save you a ton from transportation to time going back and forth for nothing. Some museums are specific with the routes you’re supposed to take before you can reach them. Know the most efficient routes before going out on your adventure.
6. Set an appointment if necessary
Unlike most museums, there are certain watch museums that require an appointment before you can make your visit. This helps the staff manage the crowd better and allows a deeper, more interactive tour around the vicinity. While you’re on your research, take your time to find out whether or not a schedule can be arranged before heading to your watch museum of choice. If possible, an appointment will assure you a slot, skips a lot of hassle, and get on with the tour immediately!
7. Ask about accessibility features beforehand
Some people require accessibility features to enjoy museum tours. That not only includes step-free access, print guides, and audio guides but also various language accessibilities. All these come together in giving you an unforgettable tour. To make sure you won’t encounter any hassle before the trip, you may ask the museum staff before the tour for special accessibility features you may avail of or message them beforehand for the preparation of such features. If you are scheduling a guided tour, make sure that you’re signing up for the right language of the tour. Some museums offer tours in other languages such as French and German apart from English. You wouldn’t want to get lost in translation during the tour!
8. Observe proper museum etiquette
Once you arrive at the museum, just like in art museums, proper etiquette is required for any visitor. We’re talking about the ground rules that most guides reiterate before the tour begins. Don’t touch artefacts, don’t take photos or videos if told not to, etc. These rules vary per museum. We know how exciting it can be to see all these horological wonders, but proper decorum must be observed at all times.
12 Best Watch Museums Around the World for Watch Lovers and Tourists Alike
There are a lot of watch museums spread all over the world. From Japan to the United States, you’ll surely find one that will take you back in time. Here are the best watch museums around the world to visit on your next trip.
1. Patek Philippe Museum (Geneva, Switzerland)
There is nothing — and we mean nothing at all — that can compare to the vastness and greatness of the Patek Philippe Museum. Revered by Philippe Stern and enthusiasts themselves as a ‘temple to watchmaking’, the collection this museum holds not only the brand’s legacy but of time in itself. Separated into two grand collections, Patek Philippe houses an antique collection that dates as far back as the 1700s with the earliest watches ever made and a collection of Patek Philippe watches from 1839 onwards. Moreover, the museum has a library with more than 8,000 publications about time and time measurement. This horological haven also includes automata and enamel miniatures that boosted Geneva’s reputation and tourism even more!
Some notable parts of the collection include the Supercomplication ‘Duke of Regla’ and the ‘The Grand Vase’ that is a double-faced clock in the shape of a vase that includes eight singing birds and music. You’ll also find the Patek Philippe Ref. 1527 gifted by Charles Henri Stern to his son Henri Stern. The Patek Philippe Calibre 89 will astound you with 33 complications made to commemorate the brand’s 150th anniversary. Patek Philippe’s collection includes pocket watches as well as wristwatches with notable models such as the Patek Philippe Calatrava and World Time. You’ll discover rare Patek timepieces that are inspired by Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso and Franck Muller watches. It will also be a pleasure to sight the TV Screen Pateks or Ellipse Jumbos Ref. 3604 in the brand’s collection of watches.
There certainly is a lot to unpack when it comes to the Patek Philippe Museum, that’s why it wouldn’t be such a waste to drop by for a visit if ever you’re in Geneva. They offer a private tour in either English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian, and public tours in French or English. Tours take two to three hours depending on the collection you so decide to explore.
The Patek Philippe Museum is located at Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 7, Geneva, Switzerland.
2. German Watch Museum by Glashütte Original (Glashütte, Germany)
On over a thousand square metres of exhibition space, the German Watch Museum displays the history of the Saxon art of watchmaking through exhibits and first-hand experiences. This museum, funded by Glashütte Original, presents not only the history of local watchmaking but also the precision mechanics from the 1800s to the present day. What sets this museum apart is the multimedia approach that will engage its visitors to be part of the museum instead of just being mere spectators of it. It also makes the whole tour a perfect trip for the whole family.
The building that houses the museum is an 1878 German watchmaking school that’s not too far from the Glashütte Original manufacture. Here, you’ll find the earliest Glashütte pocket watches and wristwatches, as well as early models of a 3/4 plate pocket watch movement. As it’s built in an old watchmaking school, escapement models and jewels used for teaching are also part of the tour. You’ll also find collections of pocket watches, wristwatches, and clocks from A. Lange & Söhne, Adolf Schneider, and Moritz Grossmann. Aside from this, a glass room where people can observe watchmakers on the job can be found inside the facility. Earlier versions of the brand’s collections such as the Glashütte Original Pano and the Glahsütte Original Senator can also be found in the museum.
The German Watch Museum takes its motto — “The Fascination of Time – Bringing Time to Life” — into account when crafting the activities and planning its tours. It evokes emotions and a sense of belongingness despite one being a visitor to the German region.
The German Watch Museum is located at Schillerstraße 3a, 01768 Glashütte, Germany.
3. Seiko Museum (Tokyo, Japan)
On your next trip to Japan, make sure to visit the Seiko Museum. Seiko was founded in 1881 by Kintaro Hattori in Ginza. And as part of the 100th-anniversary project of the brand, the Seiko Museum was built in 1981. The goal of the museum was to gather, preserve, and study different materials and samples that relate to time and timepieces. Established in Sumida City, the museum was relocated to the Ginza district in August 2020 in time for the 160th birthday of Kintaro Hattori.
Everything about the brand and the history of timekeeping in Japan can be found in this museum. It’s certainly an interactive experience that the whole family will enjoy throughout the tour. You will find the brand’s most iconic watches and their history in this museum, including the roots of the Seiko Prospex collection and the brand’s pursuit of accuracy with their chronographs. You’ll also find the world’s first Quartz watch that is the Seiko Astron, as well as the first Grand Seiko model.
It truly is quite a visit and a lot of information to take when you visit the Seiko museum. The higher you go, the more you learn in this place. And the best part is that it never gets boring with simple stories and traditional guides. Seiko harnessed the power of technology in allowing the museum to keep up with the times as the brand always did.
The Seiko Museum stands today at 4-3-13 Ginza District, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
4. National Watch & Clock Museum (Pennsylvania, USA)
There are very few museums in the USA that focus solely on watchmaking or horology in general. One of the few that exists in the country is the National Watch & Clock Museum located in Columbia, Pennsylvania. This museum, among the handful ones in the US, holds such great value in the country’s horological history that includes the science and art of timekeeping. As a tourist and watch enthusiast, your next trip to the US should never be complete without visiting the National Watch & Clock Museum.
This museum serves as home to many important clocks and watches in history. With about 12,000 clocks and watches in its care, there are about 3,000 displayed for viewing in this museum. It spans various timekeeping devices from the first non-mechanical clocks such as sundials, hourglasses, and fire clocks to the atomic clock and mass-produced wristwatches of today. The museum also houses a Learning Center where people can understand the basic methods of timekeeping from pendulums to mechanical escapements.
The National Watch & Clock Museum is located at 514 Poplar Street, Columbia, Pennsylvania, USA.
5. The Clockmaker’s Museum (London, UK)
Formerly located in the Guildhall complex in the City of London since 1874, The Clockmaker’s Museum moved to South Kensington at the Science Museum’s 2nd Level in 2015. It boasts the world’s oldest clock and watches collection that spans 600 watches, 80 clocks, 25 marine chronometers, and a number of fine sundials. It also includes hand engraving samples and a chronological view of the history of innovation in watch and clock-making in London, from 1600 to the present day. Indeed, this place is a must-visit on your next trip to London!
Some of the most iconic timepieces you can find in this museum include creations of Edward East and Thomas Tompion, an astronomical table clock possibly owned by Isaac Newton made by Samuel Watson, chronometers by Thomas Earnshaw, and a whole lot more. The institution holds great weight in the industry that even notable names in the industry worked to maintain and upholds its collection. That includes George Daniels, the inventor of the coaxial escapement, who serves as an Assistant Honorary Surveyor of the Collection.
The Clockmaker’s Museum is located on the 2nd floor, The Science Museum, Exhibition Rd, London SW7 2DD, United Kingdom.
6. German Clock Museum (Schwarzwald, Germany)
The watchmaking region of Furtwangen in Schwarzwald in Germany is home to the German Clock Museum where 8,000 timepieces sit. The collection began when Robert Gerwig, Director of the Grand Ducal Baden Clockmaking School in Furtwangen, started collecting old clocks as witnesses of traditional handicrafts. This grew to be the museum we know today that is now part of the Furtwangen University.
Just like other watch museums, the German Clock Museum hosts a collection that focuses on the history of watchmaking in the region. Through the collection, one can experience time through the years as it develops to the great innovations we know currently. The museum has four major exhibits that you can explore today: History of Clocks and Time up to Industrialisation, Black Forest Clocks, Pocket Watches, and Wristwatches, and Modern Times and Mechanical Musical Instruments.
With the museum’s free tours, everyone is welcome to explore its rich collection and understand the preserved history of watchmaking in Furtwangen.
The German Clock Museum is located at Robert-Gerwig-Platz 1, 78120 Furtwangen im Schwarzwald, Germany.
7. Musée International D’Horlogerie (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland)
Every watch enthusiast would have heard about La Chaux-de-Fonds. This historic place proves one of the most prominent towns in the watch industry, located at the Canton of Neuchâtel in the Swiss Jura. This place serves as a home for luxury watch brands such as Breitling, Girard-Perregaux, Omega, and Tissot. As a distinguished town, the government of La Chaux-de-Fonds established a museum to honour the timekeeping history of the town — the Musée International D’Horlogerie. The International Museum of Horology (in English) was officially opened in 1902 within the walls of the Watchmaking School of La Chaux-de-Fonds and ultimately became a big tourism destination. The museum heralds a wide collection of horological artefacts that strengthens the status of La Chaux-de-Fonds as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the museum, you can find the rich history of time measurement in the form of watches and clocks. You also get to learn about the history of Swiss manufacturing through tools, machines, instruments, and automata. As the Swiss watchmaking industry also paved the way for artistry to thrive even in timepieces. To showcase that, the museum holds a special section for paintings, engravings, and iconographic collections from many different fields of time measurement.
You may visit the museum at Rue des Musées 29, 2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
8. Omega Museum (Bienne, Switzerland)
There’s so much to unpack about the Omega Museum given the brand’s affiliation with historic movements and occasions. From Omega’s innovations, space travel, and precision records to its deep-sea adventures, the Olympic Games timekeeping, and even James Bond – Omega holds a story that no other brand can tell. Its museum, located in Bienne, Switzerland, holds answers to every enthusiast’s question about the brand’s past, present, and future.
The brand’s interactive museum includes a 3D movie experience where one gets to walk around a Speedmaster-shaped room to better experience the infamous Co-Axial escapement first-hand. One may also experience Omega’s timekeeping tech used in the Olympics as they run on a 9-metre track. In the museum, you’ll find the most iconic Omega watch models such as the Omega Speedmaster worn to the moon by Buzz Aldrin himself, James Bond’s Omega Seamaster, as well as collections released by Omega for the armed forces such as the Omega Railmaster and Omega Constellation.
The Omega Museum is located at Nicolas G. Hayek Str. 2, 2502 Biel, Switzerland. Audio guides for visitors are available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese.
9. IWC Museum (Schaffhausen, Switzerland)
IWC pioneered a lot of things when it comes to the Swiss watchmaking industry. For one, it harnessed renewable energy through the River Rhine. From there, the Swiss manufacture grew to be the brand we know and love today. About 40 minutes from Zurich, the IWC Museum stands as proof of the company’s ingenuity when it comes to timepiece technology and design.
The museum showcases various exhibits and even a multimedia presentation, documenting the company’s rich history. The museum also exhibits the genealogy of its most iconic collections, such as the IWC Portugieser, IWC Portofino, and IWC Pilot. Brand archives including watch catalogues from 1900, historic tools, spare parts, and technical drawings, as well as contracts and records also have a special place for exploration in the museum. And if that isn’t enough, on display are two of the 94 ledgers with information on every IWC watch made since 1885. That includes calibre, case material, date of delivery, and name of the recipient.
The museum is located at Baumgartenstrasse 15, CH-8201 Schaffhausen, Switzerland. To better guide your trip to the museum, you may download their app on your phone.
10. Clapham’s Clock Museum (Northland, New Zealand)
On your next trip to Whangarei in Northland, New Zealand, the Clapham’s Clock Museum has to be at the top of your list. It serves as a home to a wide range of watch collections that exhibit and preserves timekeeping techniques for the new generation to experience and see. The collection includes ancient sundials, sand and water clocks, rare antique clocks, and even wacky, zany, unbelievable clocks. From the personal collection of Archibald Clapham — or Archie — these clocks include ones that have unexpected quirks, matching the collector’s fun-loving personality.
This family-friendly museum allows for a newer generation to be inspired and understand the complicated workings of a timepiece without the overwhelming technical details. It’s a fun tour with a true heart for timekeeping.
The museum stands today at Town Basin, Dent Street, Whangarei, New Zealand with affordable and admission costs for visitors of all ages.
11. L.U.Ceum — Traces of Time (Fleurier, Switzerland)
The Chopard Manufacture in Fleurier serves as a home for the L.U.Ceum — Traces of Time. This inventive museum allows its visitors to do just as the name suggests: follow the traces of time. It showcases the rich history and groundbreaking innovations in the watch industry that occurred and developed in Europe during various time periods, in different regions. Displaying a collection that spans five centuries, the museum hosts various exhibits including watches from Chopard.
Specific timepieces from certain time periods flock the museum including an 18th-century sandglass, 19th-century oil lamp clock, and even Breguet pocket watches. A nickel-cased surviving Louis Ulysse Chopard pocket watch from 1860 is also on display in the museum. This perfectly curated collection doesn’t take a long time to explore but with its fascinating artefacts, it’s impossible not to get lost in time with your visit.
You may visit the museum at Rue des Moulins 20, 2114 Fleurier, Switzerland.
12. The British Museum | Clocks and Watches (London, UK)
A favorite tourism destination, the British Museum holds all the wonders of British and even European history in general. At Rooms 38 and 39 of the museum, one can find a dedicated gallery for timepieces that trace the development of horology in Europe through its earliest samples, complex and highly decorative domestic clocks, marine chronometers, mass-market designs, and modern precision time-keeping. A lot of the clocks and watches on display still work to this day, making a rhythmic beat that resounds the room with every tick and chime.
The museum upholds accessibility during their tours with large print guides, British Sign Language guide handset, audio description guides, and even step-free access. So, no worries about making sure that your trip there will be worthwhile. Not to mention, you get to explore more about British history with its vast exhibitions on various topics.
The British Museum is located at Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom.
Museums of Time
Watch and clock museums simply are fascinating that even non-fans of horology will get to appreciate them. Most of these museums are kid-friendly with very interactive tours, perfect for early learning, and more. Moreover, it hosts not only a collection of watches that every watch nerd will enjoy but a whole history that spans the brand’s legacy and the place where it’s instituted. Through these museums, one can learn the many wonders every country has in relation to horology. You’ll get to experience firsthand how the west built and developed the watch industry and how Japan disrupted the market with the Quartz watch movement. All of this and more can be seen in these museums of time, so make sure to include them in your itinerary on your next trip.