While Stephan Beyer repaired watches in Feuerthalen, the executioner presided over the Pestalozziwiese in Zurich.

Love can be a bumpy ride. Just ask Stephan Beyer. During his journeyman years, the clock and watchmaker from Hondingen, near the border to Switzerland, found work first in Basel, then with Wildberger Clockmakers in Schaffhausen. And it was here, at the Munot, that he met Katharina Gärtner. “To please her, I want to stay,” he wrote in his application for Swiss citizenship.

The pair had no chance where she was living at the time – Feuerthalen in the canton of Zurich: Schaffhausen’s neighbouring village, which was located on the other side of the Rhine river, was Reformed and would not grant citizenship to a Catholic. So, Stephan Beyer tried his luck in Rheinau, his fiancé’s home town. They were also sceptical, however. Ultimately, the municipal assembly narrowly decided to accept him with a vote of 30 to 27. Stephan Beyer was able to marry Katharina. She was already five months pregnant, which was not unusual at the time. She would bear her husband 13 children, but only five would reach adulthood. The family continued to live in Feuerthalen and ran a “spice shop” – a general store that sold foo stuffs, especially spices, but also watches. Like his father and grandfather, Stephan preferred to be sitting at his workbench, his loupe strapped to his forehead, repairing his customers’ watches. As the Rhine river reflected the sunlight through the window of his workshop, he looked forward to one day introducing his children to the secrets of watch movements, telling them about his travels, and about the rural population’s current struggles against the paternalism of the aristocratic authorities from the city.

“There, in Zurich, that’s where I should open a watch shop,” he may have sighed in his workshop. “But first, times have to change.” And change they did! Inspired by the July Revolution in France in 1830, liberal thinkers in the canton of Zurich also demanded religious freedom, freedom of the press, free trade and freedom of the individual. They decided that the people should be able to make important decisions as a sovereign. On 22 November 1830, a crowd of more than 10,000 in Uster protested against the powerful masters from the city – an unfathomable number.

The Cantonal Council felt compelled to dis solve itself – a temporary council drafted a new constitution. At the first cantonal referendum on 10 March 1831, it was ratified 40,500 votes to 1,700. The canton of Zurich was now a democracy. 


Zurich was also changing at this time. While business and trade blossomed on Niederdorfstrasse and Rennweg, across the Limmat, the old fortifications of Zurich were being torn down. Soon, the Fröschengraben and the Rennwegtor would be the only remnants of the ramparts. Paradeplatz, which at that time was still called Neumarkt, was home to Europe’s largest stagecoach centre, turning it into an important transport hub for the city. In 1838, the Austrian Johannes Baur would open Zurich’s most elegant hotel here – the Baur en Ville.

The canton built new armouries on the remnants of the old city walls. The meadow in front of these armouries would become the location for public executions by guillotine: Executioners carried out death sentences there until around 1860. These executioners were quite respected within the community. Nevertheless, it proved difficult to sell this blood-soaked parcel later on. The small patch of land would remain undeveloped, and is now the Pestalozziwiese – a place to pause and relax under tall, old trees.

And Stephan Beyer? He remained in Feuerthalen until his death in 1863. His second son, Karl August, took over the spice shop, turning it into a watchmaker’s shop. At the same time, the first-born son, Theodor Beyer, made his father’s dreams a reality and moved to Zurich. He would go on to open a watch shop at a top address on Niederdorfstrasse, thus laying the foundation for the ex tremely successful history Zurich’s oldest chrono metrie.

Beyer Chronometrie