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From its humble beginnings as the brainchild of a Swiss man looking to ease the suffering of many of his soldier friends returning home after the second World War, Mondaine has ascended to the pedestal of Swiss watchmaking. Its vision of taking an iconic clock design and transforming it into something that could be worn on the wrist, along with the release and subsequent re-release of one of most unique timekeeping movements in industry history makes this brand much more than just the official Swiss Railways watch.
As the official watch of the Swiss Railways, accuracy and precision within a clean dial are of the utmost importance for Mondaine watches.
Founded in 1951 by Erwin Bernheim in Zurch Switzerland, Mondaine watches were the answer to Swiss railway engineers’ request for a reliable timepiece to keep each of their trains on time. It is now the staple of Swiss minimalist watches.
After returning home from World War II, Bernheim discovered that high-end Swiss watches were in demand, and he began manufacturing timepieces for his friends and family. But the demand for his watches grew, and his business greatly expanded. The design for the railway-style watch was actually inspired by Hans Hilfiker’s Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) clock, which grew into a national icon. The SBB and Mondaine finally partnered in 1983 to create the official SBB watch based upon the original prototype developed by Hilfiker.
An SBB watch or clock can always be easily identified by its unique movement activity. Instead of 60 seconds being spread equally over the dial, the SBBs divide the analog face into 58 sections. As a result, the second hand stops at the 12 marker for two full seconds. Then the minute advances one full tick mark forward to start the next minute. While this type of movement was discontinued in 2001, it was re-released under the name “stop2go” in 2013 by Mondaine to the adulation of many watch fanatics and collectors.
Obviously you’d be hard-pressed to meet a Swiss Railways engineer—or even a Swiss citizen—that does not have at least one Mondaine watch in his or her timepiece collection. But given the uniqueness of the movement and the iconic design, Mondaine watches have become a worldwide brand that millions of people now love. Whether it’s a collector in his golden years or a hipster flashing some nostalgia, the Mondaine watches have a distinct set of wearers. And because these watches are sporty enough for weekend wear and sleek enough for adornment at a 9-5 job, they truly redefine the multifunctional modifier. So buckle it on before you head out for a gorgeous walk through the botanical gardens, but don’t replace it before your dinner out at Spago—you’re just creating unnecessary work for yourself.
Over the years, Mondaine has expanded its influence on the watch industry itself. Mondaine released the industry-changing M-watch in 1983 after much anticipation to compete with the more traditional Swatch watch. After only a few short years, more than 5 million M-watches were sold within Switzerland alone. Less than a decade later, it became the official wristwatch of the Tour de Suisse bicycle race, and in 2006 it acquired 50 percent of the Navy SEAL watch brand Luminox so it could distribute those models all over Europe as well.