Recognised as the producer of the Official Swiss Railway watch, Mondaine was founded in the year 1951 and has produced a watch face that is arguably one of the most instantly recognisable in the entire world. The manufacturer is based in Switzerland and has become synonymous with affordability, reliability and, above all, its iconic clean white face adorned by the famous red sweeping seconds handcrafted in the shape of a railway guard’s signalling disc. The Swiss Railway watch has become recognised all around the world and was designed by a well-known Swiss engineer, Hans Hilfiker who, at the time, was an employee of the Swiss Federal Railways. The archetypal railway clock was patented during the 1940s yet it would take a further 4 decades before the design was put into wristwatch form by Mondaine.
When Mondaine created the famous Railway Clock wristwatch it was awarded the German Design Plus Award and received the bronze award by the Art Directors Club of Switzerland. Today there are more than 3000 Mondaine clocks at every train station throughout Switzerland. In addition to the wristwatch iteration, the successful Swiss company also developed table clocks, wall clocks and desk clocks, as well as pocket watches. Over the years, it expanded its range to chronograph world time watches and big date watches for the wrist.
History of Mondaine watches
When Hans Hilfiker designed the clock face that would synchronise the departure time for all trains leaving Zurich, little did he know it would later become one of the most easily recognisable faces within the history of the watch industry. When Mondaine opened its doors in 1951, collectors were intrigued by the clean and minimalist design of its watches, but also attracted by its reputation for reliability. Mondaine watches were also cheap to repair and were made accessible all over the world. In 1967, founder of the company, Erwin Bernheim, partnered up with Howard Hughes – an aviation pioneer, to produce its first watch with a digital display and created an innovative LCD watch. Once the Asian market began specialising in digital watch screens, timepieces became even more affordable due to a quicker production process and cheaper parts, which gave Mondaine the push it needed to begin focusing on classically-styled timepieces instead. During this time, sales dropped whilst Mondaine took on this different approach to watchmaking. Erwin and his sons, Andre and Ronnie decided to create a wristwatch based on the functionality and legibility of the Swiss Railway Clock. Having gained the necessary licenses from SBB, Mondaine released its very first station clock wristwatch in 1986, available in three different sizes; 26mm, 33mm and 35mm.
There is one particularly unique element to the Mondaine Railway Watch that echoes the design of the sweep seconds hand seen in the original Swiss Railway Clock created by Hans Hilfiker. The hand gently sweeps over the watch face in a special way on the brand’s quartz-driven Stop2Go watches. One complete rotation across the watch face is completed every 58 seconds. When it reaches the 12 o’clock location it then pauses for 2 seconds, which enables the minute hand on the dial to advance. For the second hand to jump a full stop whilst the minute hand jumps forward, Mondaine had to create a quartz movement with two separate motors – one for the minute and hour hands and one for the second hand. This innovative concept, which featured a pausing second hand that enables the minute hand to advance in this way, is seen on all Federal Railway Clocks which work in the same way. It enables railways clocks all over the country to synchronise, allowing trains to run on time throughout Switzerland. Echoing the same aesthetics of these clock faces, which were launched in 1953, Mondaine watches boast the same red second hand with two-second stop function, inspired by the signalling disc held by a railway guard.
Popular Mondaine watches
Today, Mondaine watches are grouped into two categories that are easy to differentiate from one another. The SBB watches which boast the iconic Railway Wall Clock face and the Helvetica collection, inspired by Helvetica font. The watches from this latter series come in light, regular and bold options and like many Mondaine watch designs, are characterised by the their crisp, clean dials, appealing to lovers of minimalist designs.
In addition to the Helvetica Hybrid Smartwatch, the Helvetica watch collection is also home to classic-looking timepieces. Helvetica became a hallmark of contemporary Swiss graphic design since it was designed by graphic artist Max Miedinger and Haas business manager Eduard Hoffman during the 1950s. The typeface was originally inspired by the Helvetians – the tribe who first inhabited the country Helvetica. The Helvetica No1 sub-category to the collection is home to a clear, concise styling that still remains faithful to the minimalist design that Mondaine has become so recognised for today. Bold, Regular, and Light variations represent the three font weights, while other elements like the thickness of the font on the dial, the stitching on the leather straps and the thickness of the band itself are all carefully proportioned to correspond to this special typeface. There are also other discreet design elements of the Mondaine Helvetica No1 watch, notably the slightly off-centred position of the date aperture and the number 1 which can be seen in the design of the case lugs.
Another popular Mondaine watch is the Evo, known for its impeccable style, its comfort and its superior functionality. Bold markings, a red hand and a classic white face characterise the Mondaine Evo watch series. Models from this collection feature a large and legible date window and were instantly met with resounding success, spurring Mondaine on to create its next evolution of the design - the Mondaine SBB Evo2 watch. The Evo2 features a cleverly proportioned case, designed to sculpt around the shape of the wrist more ergonomically. Compared to the original Evo watch design, the Mondaine Evo2 watch has a larger crown to grant easier time adjustments and a set of smaller lugs. A slightly rounded caseback and a sapphire crystal glass as opposed to mineral glass is stronger and offers better scratch resistance. With a wide variety of textures, colours and sizes to choose from the Mondaine Evo2 watch range is remarkably versatile for all collectors and will appeal to both contemporary and classic watch lovers.
Why Mondaine watches
There are several reasons why Mondaine watches make such stylish and affordable timepieces to collect. Every timepiece bearing the manufacturer’s name across its dial is developed and distributed from Solothurn, Switzerland. These wristwatches are consistently valued for their high-quality materials, guaranteeing longevity on the wrist, as well as their signature standout dial. In addition to this, Mondaine watches also tell a story of the brand’s history through their eye-catching and distinct dials. The SBB Railway Clock was, of course, one pivotal point in the company’s heritage when in 1986 it transitioned from a wall clock to a wristwatch, yet Mondaine has innovated several other recognisable designs and collections since then. They exemplify a value-for-money watch in more ways than one. The brand sources high-quality materials like its anti-reflective and scratch-resistant sapphire crystal glass and its robust stainless steel case constructions, which house both automatic and quartz-powered movements inside. Polished or brushed options are available throughout the Mondaine catalogue, as are choices between classic calfskin straps and steel bracelets. Eco-friendly models featuring straps developed from recyclable plastic bottles are also available from the brand’s SBB range of wristwatches. Mondaine’s range of different case sizes appeals to a large audience also, ranging from a discreet 26mm size for the female to a comfortable and standard 40mm. Male collectors with slender wrists can therefore enjoy the clarity and bold look of a Mondaine watch without the risk of its case overbearing the wrist.
Today, Mondaine continues to innovate new varieties of its most popular collections whilst retaining the same clean and simple aesthetics true to its manufacture The company will always be revered for its development of Switzerland’s iconic Railway clock in wristwatch form but has forged an identity that now represents a very distinct type of Swiss watchmaking. The entire Mondaine watch collection on offer at Watch Direct, along with the details and spec list of each timepiece, can be viewed on this page.