It was back in the 1940s when Hans Hilfiker, Swiss engineer, designer and employee of the Federal Swiss Railways, was asked by his company to create a highly visible clock that would not only form the basis of their corporate and national identity but that would also guarantee on-time train departures.
The product of his invention was the Official Swiss Railways Clock, a bold, easy-to-read modernist design that Swiss commuters were treated to in 1944, whilst the rest of Europe struggled amidst the chaos of the Second World War.
Although the Swiss have been fighting against the incorrect claim made by Orson Wells in his film noir The Third Man that their major contribution to Western Society was the Cuckoo Clock (those are native to Germany’s Black forest), Switzerland did make an iconic contribution to the world of timekeeping with its functional and well-designed masterpiece, The Official Swiss Railway Clock.
A distinctive feature of the clock was the unique red second-hand that was nicknamed the “Rote Kelle” or “Red Signal” because of its red disc - a small replica of the station manager’s hand-held departure signal.
The "Rote Kelle" was designed to complete its rotation in 58 seconds before pausing at the 12 o’clock mark for two whilst the black minute hand jumped forward, starting its next rotation. This ensured the smooth and absolutely precise departures of Swiss trains on the full minute and as it could be seen from great distances, it allowed passengers to know exactly how much time was left before the minute was up and the train would leave the platform, demonstrating punctuality in a highly visible and iconic fashion.
Historically, Swiss trains were and still are timed to the second. Seventy years on, the unique second-hand feature on railway clocks across Switzerland continue to delight and intrigue travellers from all over the globe, and Hillfilker’s second hand has become the symbol of Swiss punctuality.
However, that’s not the clock’s only legacy. The Official Swiss Railway Clocks are now found not only in Switzerland but also around the word at train stations, airport terminals, offices, homes and more.
They are notably sold as watches under the world-famous watch brand Mondaine, stocked by Utility. In 1986 the Mondaine watch company, owned by the Bernheim family, took the blueprint of the iconic design of the Railways Clock and turned it into a watch collection with official license from the Federal Swiss Railways. The simple designs, easy-to-read faces, and distinctive hands have made Mondaine timepieces uniquely recognised all over the world. The Mondaine Official Swiss Railways watches embody ingenuity and simplicity whilst proudly exemplifying iconic 20th century design, and since the first Mondaine collection launched in 1986, new lines have been introduced.
The Evo watch line features a gently rounded case topped by a slightly domed mineral crystal with a magnifying effect.
The Stop2go watch line has incorporated the unique second-hand motion into its design.
Helvetica Mondaine watches, choosing the Helvetica font as their muse, exude quintessentially Swiss values and style in being discreet and simple yet strong in the conviction of providing efficient time keeping in a recognisable form.
The different types of Mondaine watches have their own little quirks, but all combine form and function in historical design masterpieces that originally and authentically capture a pristine and punctual look.
Shop our full collection of Mondaine watches here