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Monday November 28 2016 / Science & Technology - Art & Design - Horology

While not all cities are strongly associated with iconic art or architecture, those that are have powerful bonds: New York City and the Statue of Liberty; Paris and the Eiffel Tower, Rome and the Colosseum, Sydney and the Opera House . . .  and Geneva and its Jet d'Eau (water jet).

Geneva wraps around the south side of Lake Geneva (aka Lac Léman), where the lake narrows as it funnels into the Rhône, one of Europe's major rivers.

Shooting up to 140 metres (460 feet), the Jet d'Eau is one of the world's highest water jets. Over 500 litres per second (130 gallons) shoot through a 10-centimetre (4-inch) nozzle at 200 kilometres per hour (120 mph). At any given moment, 7,000 litres of water rush through the air.

In 2016, the Jet d'Eau celebrates 125 years in its present location, but its inspiration is five years older: Geneva's first Jet d'Eau was installed in the Rhône river rather than the lake, at the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices de la Coulouvrenière, now known simply as the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices or BFM.

The Bâtiment des Forces Motrices was designed and constructed to harness the flow of the Rhône to provide water pressure for Geneva's water supply and to power a pressurized hydraulic network primarily for small businesses, many of which were clock- and watchmakers.

The water flow spun turbines that pumped high-pressure water to factories up to ten kilometers away, with the energy powering lathes and machines during the day, many of them making components for Geneva's vibrant horological industry. But at the end of the day when the machines were switched off, the water pressure in the network spiked; so to avert damage, a valve was opened and excess water pressure was diverted into a jet that shot 30 metres into the air.

 While essentially just a safety device, this tall jet of water in the centre of Geneva quickly became a landmark, inspiring the purely symbolic Jet d'Eau that visitors to Geneva as so familiar with now.

But perhaps of more interest to watch aficionados is the fact that at its origin, the Jet d'Eau signalled the time that watchmakers stopped work.


Suggested by
Ian Skellern