A great fan of the Bauhaus approach to industrial design, I always liked the beautiful simple layout of the Swiss Railway Clock and its numerous more compact reincarnations currently sold by the Swiss watchmaker Mondaine. Thanks to the people from the U.S.-based WatchCo.com online retailer, I finally have the pleasure to review one of the recent additions to the growing family: the simple, yet elegant Mondaine Classic Big Date (Ref. A669.30008.11SBO).
Like many local watchmakers, the Swiss-based Mondain has a history behind its iconic “Official Swiss Railway Watch” family.
You see, the timekeeper’s simple, efficient, highly-legible design was inspired by the legendary Swiss Railway Clock that was designed almost 70 years ago by a Swiss Federal Railways (Schweizerische Bundesbahnen, SBB) employee Mr. Hans Hilfiker. Besides the laconic, the readily recognizable layout of the dial that features clean, bold lines of black and red color that look especially contrast on the bright white background, the clock also featured the signature “Stop to Go” functionality.
Right after reaching 58 seconds, the red seconds hand instantly jumped to 12 o’clock and stayed there waiting for the central control system to release an electrical impulse that would simultaneously reach all clocks on all SBB stations. This relatively simple system allowed perfect synchronization of the entire railway system at a little cost. In a sense, the system designed by Mr. Hilfker anticipated modern radio time signal stations that wirelessly broadcast correct times for millions of radio clocks throughout the world.
Almost instantly after the electric clock was introduced, it became a living classic of Bauhaus design and an unofficial symbol of the Swiss Railways.
Almost twenty-six years ago, in 1986, the Swiss watchmaker Mondaine Group (a conglomerate that came to being in 1951 and now encompasses such well-known brands as Mondaine Watch Ltd., Luminox, and Camel Active) approached the operator. Soon, both brands reached an exclusive license agreement with Swiss Federal Railway and officially licensed the design of the clock’s dial, the “Stop to Go” functionality, as well as the right to use the famous SBB CFF FFS logo on the timekeeper’s face.
Since then, Mondaine wristwatches enjoy steadily growing popularity among enthusiasts.
For this hands-on review, I chose the fairly recently introduced Classic Big Date (Ref. A669.30008.11SBO) model that adds to the simple three-hand design nicely executed Big Date functionality.
The watch comes in a mid-sized, circular-shaped case 30 millimeters in diameter. Crafted from polished stainless steel and sporting a thin bezel, the body is as simple as it could possibly get.
Although I have heard people saying that the exterior is too simple, I would argue that it was the only way to match the understated elegance of the dial. On the other hand, the decision to make the piece as simple as it was practically possible slightly reduced the usability: its setting crown, which is, too, crafted from polished steel, is so smooth that it makes it somewhat difficult to operate the mechanism.
I was also a little confused while setting the big date indicator. While the owner’s manual indicates that one should turn the crown counter-clockwise to change the date reading, I had to do quite the opposite. Or, perhaps it was the pictogram that was too difficult for me to understand.
Otherwise, the timekeeper leaves an impression of unexpectedly high build quality (at least, for the price of $175.00 that it is currently offered at WatchCo.com) and attention to detail. Well, perhaps the black genuine leather strap was a tad too tough to my, ahem, taste, but you can’t expect to get a Hermes strap in this range, can you?
According to official specs, the A669.30008.11SBO sports a simple, yet reliable Ronda 509 quartz movement. Featuring only one jewel, the caliber is popular among Swiss brands thanks to its reparability and energy efficiency (the movement will run for 45 months on a standard cell.) It is also accurate gaining or losing around no more than 20 or 10 seconds per month respectively.
The only thing that you wouldn’t like about this caliber is the way the calendar is changed: being a “Big Date” movement, it features two calendar wheels instead of one meaning that you will have to change the date manually every damn month by clicking through all 10 digits on the second wheel. Add into account the mirror-polished setting crown and the task becomes annoying rather fast.
I asked my wife to wear this watch for a small photo session and she says that the Classic Big Date feels comfortable on a wrist. She was also pleased with its thinness, lighter weight, and, of course, the easily readable dial.
She promised me to wear this timekeeper at least two days per week, so I hope to come to update this review closer to the end of the year to tell you how the timepiece fared. Yes, the watch is cheap but looks more expensive than it is. If you search for a Bauhaus timekeeper, you probably should look no further.
Build Quality: 5/5
Overall Legibility: 4.5/5
Nighttime Legibility: 1/5
Value for Money: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
Photos: WorldWatchReview.com, tenthirtyclub.blogspot.com, Mondaine
Mondaine Classic Big Date Ladies (Ref. A669.30008.11SBO) specification
Price: Around $175.00
Movement: Quartz, Caliber Ronda 509, 23.90 x 3.00 mm, reparable, Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 1
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, big date
Power reserve: 45 months
Case: Stainless steel
Size: 33.00 mm
Hour markers: Black
Water resistance: 30 meters
Strap: Black genuine leather with polished stainless steel pin buckle
Crystal: Hardened mineral glass
Back: Solid, pressed