Midcentury trendy design, like pure wine and classic Porsches, is a kind of issues that folks are inclined to go all-in on. It begins innocently sufficient with a Hans Wegner chair or a George Nelson coat rack, and rapidly you’re purchasing for Dieter Rams shelving models on 1stDibs and join an annual membership to the Noguchi museum. Watches are very a lot the identical sort of obsession, and what begins with a $500 Seiko desk diver can rapidly devolve into the realm of unique issues from manufacturers with hard-to-pronounce names and five-figure costs. Happily, simply as there are many inexpensive Twentieth century design grails on the market, there are additionally various examples of watches with lovely design that don’t price half a 12 months’s wage. The Mondaine Swiss Railway watch, it seems, is each.
Along with crafting the world’s most-coveted watches, Switzerland can also be identified for having one in every of Europe’s greatest railway techniques, with 90% of its trains arriving and departing on time (which, to anybody who rides Amtrak frequently, may seem to be science fiction). Within the Nineteen Forties, the Swiss Federal Railway (or SBB) commissioned engineer Hans Hilfiker to create a brand new design for a clock. The consequence was closely influenced by the form-follows-function credo of the Bauhaus—the German design faculty attended by modernist titans like Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe—and its contrasting white face and blocky black options made it as trendy because it was simple to learn.
Within the Nineteen Fifties, Hilfiker up to date the design with a vital of completion: a giant crimson seconds hand modeled after the batons utilized by the SBB’s prepare signalers—and 75 years later, the design stays unchanged. These days, Hilfiker’s clocks can now be discovered at each railway station from Appenzell to Zurich, in London’s Design Museum and NYC’s MoMA, and on numerous trendy wrists worldwide.
The Swiss railway clock made its debut in watch kind within the mid-Eighties, when Swiss watchmaker Mondaine licensed the design and transplanted it to a easy 36mm metal case. Over the subsequent 40 years or so, Mondaine expanded its lineup to incorporate dozens of creative-yet-faithful riffs on the unique design in a number of sizes and colours, with quartz and computerized actions, and a variety of strap choices from Milanese mesh to vegan leather-based. For purists, nonetheless, nothing beats the unique three-hand mannequin on a easy black leather-based band, all the higher to emphasise the clear strains of that iconic dial. At underneath $200, it’s remarkably inexpensive for a Twentieth-century design icon, however beware: as with funky wine and classic Porsches, it’s a slippery slope from right here.