Just beyond the Joux Valley (about another half hour from LaChaux-de-Fonds), sits Biel, home to the Omega museum, and an absolute must for watch-history buffs. Omega, the official timekeeper of the Olympics and the choice of James Bond, has had so many important horological moments, it is hard to track them all, and, as the watch chosen by NASA for Apollo missions, its Speedmaster (above) remains the only watch ever worn on the moon. The first Omega in space, and one worn on the second moon landing, are here in the museum, along with Lawrence of Arabia's pocket watch, and most importantly in the watch world, the first minute-repeater wristwatch ever made, from 1892, capable of chiming the time, to the minute, at the push of a lever.

To see such watches being made by hand is to witness the blending of tradition and old-fashioned craftsmanship with the finest modern workplaces - something that both the ardent fan and the least-­knowledgeable visitor can enjoy equally. But be forewarned, witnessing the creation of these timepieces will only make you want one all the more.



IF YOU GO...
GETTING THERE AND AROUND

The Geneva airport is very close to the city center, with an efficient rail link that runs several times an hour. Downtown is compact, and much of it can be seen and explored on foot or by taxi. However, despite the highly regarded Swiss rail system, mountains guard the valleys of the Jura, and you need a car to explore the region. For this reason, the best time to visit is spring through fall, before the snow falls.

MUSEUMS AND FACTORY TOURS
The larger museums are open to the public on a regular basis, though most attractions in the area are closed on Sundays. These include:

Espace Horloger (011-41-21-845-75-45,
www.espacehorloger.ch)

The International Watch Museum (011-41-32-967-68-61, www.mih.ch)

Omega, (011-41-32-343-9211, www.omegawatches.com)

Patek Philippe (011-41-22-807-09-10,
www.patekmuseum.com)

Factory tours and smaller museums require appointments, and some are limited to certain days and hours, so you'll want to call ahead. These include:

Audemars Piguet (011-41-21-845-1401,
www.audemars­piguet.com)

Blancpain (011-41-21-796-3636, www.blancpain.ch)

Ebel Villa Turque (www.ebel.ch). Note: Ebel Villa
Turque, which houses Ebel's Public Relations Center, is open to visitors from 11 a.m. to four p.m. on the first and last Saturday of each month. Admission is free.

Franck Muller Watchland (011-41-22-959-8888,
www.watchland.ch)

Jaeger-LeCoultre (www.jaeger-lecoultre.com)

Vacheron Constantin (011-41-22-930-2005,
www.vacheron-constantin.com)


WHERE TO STAY
The top hotel in Geneva, the Des Bergues, recently reopened after a nearly year long refurbishment and conversion to the Four Seasons des Bergues (www.fourseasons.com). It has a fantastic location in the heart of downtown on the banks of Lake Geneva.

In the Joux Valley, lodging is very limited, but the best choice is the Hotel des Horlogers (011-41-21-845-0845), within walking distance of several watch firms.

Another option is to stay in Lausanne, a gorgeous resort city nearly equidistant (about 45 minutes) to the watch-centric towns of Le Sentier, La Chaux-de-Fonds, and Biel. It is also home to the fabulous Olympic Museum (www.museum.olympic.org) and perhaps the grandest hotel in Switzerland, the Beau Rivage Palace (www.brp.ch).

For more information, visit www.geneva-tourism.chwww.myvalleedejoux.ch, and www.watchvalley.ch.