How (and why) Mondaine railway clocks stop time?

Posted on October 26th, 2015

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For a nation that’s known for being precise, the Mondaine Swiss railway clocks seem to show a slapdash attitude to every passing minute. Because in railway stations across the land, the distinctive red second hand reaches the 12 and then stops. For two seconds.

Let us explain…

In around 800 Swiss railway stations, you can see iconic Mondaine railway clocks. You’ll know it’s a Mondaine by its classic black and white face, geometric design and the iconic red second hand. The tip of the second hand is shaped to look like a railway guard’s signalling disc.

And as we described above, the red second hand reaches the 12, pauses for two seconds, the minute hand moves to the next minute, and the second hand jumps forward two seconds. It is an unusually cool feature, but why do Mondaine clocks do this?

It’s all thanks to Hans Hilfiker

The Mondaine clock was the brainchild of Hans Hilfiker. In 1944 he designed a system to synchronise all the railway clocks in Switzerland via an electrical impulse from a central master clock. So at each full minute, all the minute hands on all the Mondaine railway clocks in Switzerland, advanced forward one minute at the same time. Ingenious. And it still happens in railway stations across the land every 60 seconds. Or should that be every 58 seconds?

From railway clocks to watches: The Mondaine Watch Company

10 years after Hilfiker designed the Mondaine railway clock, Erwin Bernheim and Egon Frank founded the Mondaine Watch Company. Their mission? To take the iconic design of the Mondaine clock and turn it into an achingly stylish, classic unisex watch. Their idea worked. Since 1954 Mondaine watches have been synonymous with style, precision engineering and exquisite design.

In 1984 the Mondaine stop2go model was introduced which featured the trademark second hand pause of the Mondaine railway clocks. Although a neat design for Mondaine purists, the stop2go does carry a price tag that might cause you to pause – like the second hand – for a few deep breaths.

Precision timing, the Swiss way

A first time visitor to a Swiss railway station could be forgiven for thinking that a Mondaine clock shows a slapdash attitude to timing. In fact the opposite is true. The need for military-like precision with their train timetabling led them to introduce the revolutionary concept of the Mondaine second hand. It’s sheer design brilliance. And it enchants tourists in railway stations up and down the land.

See the trademark pause of a Mondaine railway clock:  

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