COMPASS CAMERA LTD, 1938, n° d'inv. 3650, collections MSAP.

Research in progress

Research in progress

Photography & Watchmaking


For several months, the Swiss Museum of the Camera and the University of Lausanne have been working together on a research project: links between photography and watchmaking in Switzerland. This research was the theme of a seminar at the Department of Film History and Aesthetics – UNIL and  at the Centre for Historical Sciences about Culture between February and May 2020 under the direction of Professor Olivier Lugon. It will culminate in an exhibition at the museum and a publication in the winter of 2022.

In an effort to diversify, taking advantage of their mastery of precision micromechanics, Swiss watchmaking companies have at times in their history launched into the manufacture of cameras. Like Jaeger-LeCoultre (Le Sentier) with the Compass, Pignons (Ballaigues) with the Alpa, Siegrist (Grenchen) with the Tessina or Adrian Michel (Walde) with a camera for carrier pigeons. Not forgetting the still current example of Omega (Biel) with devices for photofinishing in sports.

The links between photography and watchmaking are not only technical or industrial. Each in their own way, a camera and a clock are timepieces. Their proper functioning depends on a fine mastery of the division of time. Both of them isolate an instant in the temporal flow to show it in an image or to give a time. According to Roland Barthes, a camera is above all a “clock to see”.

The research project is based primarily on the museum’s collections and archival holdings in Switzerland.