Jaeger-LeCoultre Goes ‘Modern Times’ At Charlie Chaplin’s World
In April 2016 a new attraction opened its doors in Switzerland, one that has attracted a lot of attention in the Helvetic country due to the unusual touristic nature of its existence: Chaplin’s World.
These days, entering the 3,400-person village of Corsier-sur-Vevey near Lausanne in Switzerland is very slightly reminiscent of going to Disneyworld. You begin to feel where you’re headed a couple of miles away from the location when you see a hotel at the highway exit called Modern Times – after which you encounter a pair of tall apartment buildings whose outer walls are decorated with depictions of Charlie Chaplin.
Charlie Chaplin, who is also commemorated by a beautiful statue in Vevey, a gorgeous town right on Lake Geneva, seems to be everywhere in the area.
Previously, I would have thought that elements like these could only be found in the U.S.A. near large theme parks like Disneyworld.
But unlike such commercial locations in bigger places, these Swiss examples remain rare and in good taste. Switzerland is not usually such a commercial place, and other such tourist attractions are generally of a historical (think Chillon castle) or natural (think mountains) nature.
Also unusually, the story of Chaplin’s World’s creation is quite organic, stemming from the environment of the popular movie star himself.
How Charlie Chaplin ended up living in Switzerland
It’s easy to forget how loved he was until you step into Chaplin’s “world” and relive some of the life and times you remember from the silver screen. And unless you are a huge fan of this comedic genius born in London, you may not have even realized he spent the last 20 years of his life in Switzerland.
For a two-hour recap of Chaplin’s life and times, I can highly recommend the film Chaplin, directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Robert Downey, Jr. as the silent film star. The Hollywood production is told largely in flashbacks by Downey’s character from his home in Switzerland (Manoir de Ban).
Chaplin’s slow move back to Europe – he was born in South London, but relocated to the United States as of 1914 at the age of 24 to begin a career in movies – started in the 1940s when Chaplin faced a few personal and professional controversies. Quite disturbed by the rise of militaristic nationalism, Chaplin satirized Adolf Hitler and attacked fascism in 1940’s The Great Dictator, which was also his first sound film.
Though The Great Dictator was Chaplin’s most popular movie, as well as his most commercially successful, and is viewed as a historically important work of satire, it was considered controversial at the time since the United States, where Chaplin had been living, was formally at peace with Nazi Germany at the time.
Following that, Chaplin found himself in some legal trouble stemming from an affair with aspiring actress Joan Barry, who filed paternity claims. This was enough to aid FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who was suspicious of Chaplin’s politics anyway, in tacking four indictments on to the Barry paternity case in a smear campaign targeting Chaplin’s image. He was frequently the subject of newspaper headlines between 1942 and 1945, and not in a good way.
The controversy ramped up when Chaplin, now 54, married his protégée, 18-year-old Oona O’Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill) in 1943. The couple had eight children and stayed together until Chaplin’s death in 1977.
In the 1950s’ McCarthy era Chaplin was accused of Communist sympathies and investigated by the FBI. Then in 1952, while traveling with Oona and the children between the United States and London for the premier of Limelight on board the Queen Elizabeth, his re-entry to the United States was revoked. The family decided to move to Europe permanently.
They arrived in Corsier-sur-Vevey in January of 1953 and moved into the 35-acre estate Manoir de Ban, which was built in 1840 by Vevey-born architect Philippe Franel on behalf of Charles Emile Henri de Scherer.
Chaplin died there at the age of 88 on Christmas in 1977, but not before traveling to Los Angeles in 1972 to receive a lifetime achievement Oscar to the sound of a standing ovation at the Academy Award ceremony and to London in 1975 to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in his native England.
Both Charlie and Oona (1925-1991) are buried in the cemetery in Corsier-sur-Vevey.
How Manoir de Ban turned into Chaplin’s World
Once Chaplin’s grown children decided to leave the area, they put the manor up for sale. But Swiss architect Philippe Meylan – who also happens to be a member of the horological Meylan dynasty as well as having long-friendly ties to the Chaplin family – decided that it would be a shame to lose this valuable example of Switzerland’s heritage and bought the property himself without quite knowing what to do with it at first. The purchase had been an emotional decision.
It wasn’t long before it was decided to turn it into a museum, but to do so both investor help and family approval and assistance would be needed. So in a meeting in 2000 with Canadian museographer Yves Durand, ideas began to form. Later Musée Grévin (the “Madame Tussaud of Paris”) joined as well as regional stakeholders and Genii Capital.
Michael, son of Charlie, became the president of the Chaplin Museum Foundation established in 2001, speaking for the family and aiding the project with invaluable insight, memories, and memorabilia.
This was a project that took lots of time to complete from start to finish: in fact, sixteen years of reflection, maturity, and haggling with local bureaucracy were invested before it could be realized.
Chaplin’s World officially opened on April 17, 2016. Divided into two distinct buildings, the first is the refurbished 500-square-meter manor house, which now exemplifies how Chaplin and his family lived using film (some of which is personal and never before seen), period-furnished rooms, and Grévin’s wax figures. This part of the property provides the visitor with the opportunity to fully immerse him- or herself in Chaplin’s life, including the ability to gain insight into the reasons he came to Switzerland.
The second part comprises a new building on the lot: a 3,000-square-meter thematic tour that begins in a movie theater and continues in a Hollywood-style studio recreating various film scenes in a most original and entertaining way.
The four-hectare park surrounding the buildings offers serenity and incredible views of Swiss scenery with the ever-present Alps off in the distance.
I’m not going to spoil everything else you will see inside the museum – I can highly recommend anyone visiting this fun, hands-on museum, even if you are not a big fan of Charlie Chaplin. Therefore, I’ll leave the fun stuff for you to discover.
I will only comment that the wax figures are extremely well done, the exhibits so funny that you will burst out laughing, and when you leave hours later you will feel a sort of joyful presence inside.
Jaeger-LeCoultre and Chaplin
When Jaeger-LeCoultre partnered with Carmen Chaplin several years ago, the brand was not aware that her grandfather Charlie had owned two of the brand’s timepieces. It was Jaeger-LeCoultre’s burgeoning involvement in the world of cinema that was the binding factor between them.
When Jaeger-LeCoultre signed on as one of three corporate sponsors of Chaplin’s World, it was because the brand was convinced that it fit the current marketing strategy. And both entities have nailed this partnership: it is an amazingly worthy subject to spend so much energy and financial resources on.
“Jaeger-LeCoultre was seduced by the idea that it could help pay tribute to Charlie Chaplin,” said brand spokesperson Isabelle Gervais.
Jaeger-LeCoultre signed on to support the project – which is estimated to attract 300,000 visitors per year, though from April through June 2016 this average was far exceeded – for three years.
A tour of the manor at Chaplin’s World reveals two Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces.
One is the Memovox Chaplin was presented with by the canton of Vaud in 1953, the year he arrived in Switzerland to stay. Housed in a yellow gold case, the back of the legendary alarm watch was inscribed with the following message: “Hommage du gouvernement Vaudois à Charlie Chaplin – 6 octobre 1953.”
Michael Chaplin inherited it in 1977 following Charlie’s death and gave it to his wife on their wedding day. Michael’s daughter Carmen, who by then had a working relationship with Jaeger-LeCoultre, used it as the subject of a short film, A Time for Everything, as symbolism for heritage and generations.
Recently restored at the Jaeger-LeCoultre factory in Le Sentier, the 183-year-old brand created a short film about this special Memovox (below).
Chaplin was gifted with an Atmos in 1972 when he was awarded the Caméra Souriante (“smiling camera”) prize by a Swiss press photographers’ association honoring the artist for his kind attitude toward national journalists.
The original clock has unfortunately been lost to the sands of time – or perhaps gone the way of one of his three Oscar statues (which was stolen) – but Jaeger-LeCoultre found another example of the exact reference of Atmos that was given to him in its archives.
This Atmos Classique is on permanent loan to Chaplin’s World, where its beauty can be enjoyed by the interactive museum’s many visitors. It will eternally provide the time without winding.
For more information please visit www.chaplinsworld.com.
Quick Facts Charlie Chaplin’s Memovox Reference 3151 from 1953
Case: yellow gold, 34.5 mm
Movement: manually wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber P489 beating at 2.5 Hz
Functions: hours, minutes, sweep seconds; alarm
Price: an example of this reference was recently sold at Christie’s for $2,287; however, because Charlie Chaplin owned this one, it is nearly priceless
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