May 11, 2013
by Ariel Adams
Mondaine is a brand that I quite like from a design and price standpoint, but unfortunately, the last several years have seen very little new from the typically strong brand. A few years ago they started to test with sport models, and had even started to include tritium gas tubes into the hands of a lot of their watches. You can see an aBlogtoWatch review of a Mondaine Sport Chronograph here, and a review of a more subtle Mondaine sport model here. These are both low-priced, but high-value timepieces with a look that is all about the traditional Swiss SBB Railways clock.
If you recall from last year, there was pretty big issue regarding this iconic Swiss clock. Mondaine I believe is a licensee able to use the design from the Swiss Railways. Apple however decided to use this iconic design as a clock face in its iOS 6 operating system which is available on devices such as the iPhone and iPad. Apple never asked for permission to use the design which was not exactly in the public domain. I imagine that when SBB learned about this they sort of saw dollar signs flashing in front of their eyes. Apple was clearly in the wrong, infringing upon their intellectual property and the company isn’t exactly known for insolvency. The two entities quickly came to an agreement where Apple would license the design for about $21 million. I am sure they would have gotten a much better deal if they would have just asked properly from the beginning. Looks like Apple isn’t crossing all of their Ts and dotting all of their Is as people tend to expect.
Anyhow, one of the new 2012 models from Mondaine is a new limited edition version with a mechanical movement married to the classic legible clock design. Components are upgraded and I like the brushed metal dial which is a nice touch. This watch has a simple and not very distinctive name which is the Mondaine SBB Vintage Limited Edition (ref. A112.30353.16SBB). I am getting pretty sick of watches that aren’t actually vintage with “Vintage” in the name. When brands (many brands) use terms irresponsibly it is not only unfair to the consumer, but acts to erode language and the meaning of words. Marketing and product departments need to be more responsible in my opinion. I am not picking on Mondaine as they are hardly the biggest offender, but taking this opportunity to share my thoughts with you.
The Mondaine SBB Vintage Limited Edition watch has a 41mm wide steel case that is brushed and quite comfortable on the simple leather strap. This model has a sapphire crystal, which is not really common on the lower-priced Mondaine models. There isn’t any lume – which is really just part of the design. Gas tubes in the hands work, but they do change the look of the dial. As you know, the dial was designed for clocks and not watch faces originally.
Inside the SBB Vintage is a manually wound Swiss ETA 2801-2 mechanical movement that you can see through the display caseback. This older movement is not commonly used, but you can see it here. It sort of looks like a smaller UNITAS. Personally I would have liked the watch to contain an automatic, but I suppose that wouldn’t have been “vintage” enough. Manually wound watches to do have their fans however. Mondaine claims that the piece will be limited to just 400 pieces – though the watches are unfortunately not individually numbered it seems. What I would like to see is Mondaine to step it up a bit and have some nicer watches that have quality on par with say Movado. I think that a very slick, refined version of the classic SBB Railways watch in the $1000 range on a nice bracelet would get a lot of takers. Price for this piece is about $724.