Mondaine: Keeping Up with the Times

The iconic Mondaine watch face may hail from the 1940s, but the brand has always been a leader in innovation, all without compromising its heritage.

Decades before Mondaine became famous for its hallmark watch design, founder, Erwin Bernheim, had successfully taken his business from an idea to a global, high-demand product that spoke to the previous tailor’s concept of creating watches that were affordable, reliable, and of quality craftsmanship.

Bernheim’s innovative spirit eventually led him to collaborate with Hughes Aircraft to apply the latest technologies to Mondaine timepieces, going on to launch the world’s first LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) wristwatches in the 1970s. It was a business venture that proved prosperous for over 15 years, until Asian manufacturers flooded the market with similar products.

Affordable, Reliable, Quality

As a new generation of the family-owned business emerged, Mondaine pointed itself in direction that would allow the brand to reinvent itself once again. Bernheim’s sons, Andre and Ronnie, were determined to carry on the Mondaine legacy, while providing both timeless and modern designs that their clients desired. Their next creative decision indisputably solidified the Mondaine brand as an industry front-runner. And it all started with a genius, yet simple design by a Swiss engineer that inspired the pair.

In 1944, Hans Hilfiker, a Swiss engineer and designer was tasked by his employer, the Federal Swiss Railways, to create a clock for the stations that would synchronize the schedules of arriving and departing trains. His clever idea was realized in what came to be known as the ‘Official Swiss Railways Clock.’ Not only did the clock do exactly what it was meant to—by way of a “delayed” timing model controlled by an electric motor—but, equally importantly, its design captured the essence of the Federal Swiss Railways, becoming a sort of symbol synonymous with the institution.

The round interface showcases bold, sleek rectangular shapes for the hour and minute hands and marks, with a bright red sweep second hand. And it’s that red sweep that really makes a statement and gives the design a quintessential railway character. For those of us who travel infrequently by train, the red sweep may actually conjure up a lollipop instead of the red “baton” used by railway personnel to communicate departure, but we assure you, the latter is in fact the true inspiration behind it.

The Red Sweep

Of course, Mondaine was careful to acquire and maintain explicit licensing from the Federal Swiss Railways. And it’s a good thing they did, because the classic design quickly became their bestselling products, leading the watchmaker to expand the line into desktop clocks, and even putting a femine, more delicate spin on the classic introduced through designs such as the Aura Quartz Ladies Watch available in both black and white. 

Forever moving forward, Mondaine has successfully added to their classics as they did in 2014 with the launch of the Mondaine Helvetica No1 collection that takes its name from the sans-serif typeface developed by yet another Swiss designer of the Mondaine inception era.

There’s no doubt that the brand has made quite a name for itself since its bootstrap beginnings in the 1950s. So much so that companies such as Apple followed in their footsteps, seeking the use of the trademarked railway clock design for their own proprietary software.

Mondaine continues to lead the way into the future, both in the world of watch design and in industrial sustainability, now proudly producing their watches in a solar-powered factory in Biberist Switzerland with reliability and craftsmanship remaining a top goal to this day.

Mondaine Helvetica No1