There’s something about a watch you could actually buy with your current bank account, right now, that gets the heart thumping and the synapses firing. These watches — specifically, the ones that cost less than $1,000, many of them less than $500 — are the subject of our new series “Time Is Money“.
There are a couple of things that sober up a man. A grievous insult to one’s woman in a bar does it; cold night air is surprisingly effective; some swear by a black cup of coffee. And breaking something expensive will do it too, melt the slight warmth of the cheeks into a chilly sweat that dews the brow. I felt that recently, when I did something to mess up a Mondaine Stop2Go ($725) I’d been lent for testing.
The Stop2Go is a true revisiting of the original muse of Mondaine’s watches, which is, without any argument, putting the famous design of Swiss Railway clocks on the wrist. Those have been around in chilly rail stations since 1944; in 1953 their bulbous red seconds hand was introduced, inspired by a railway guard’s signaling disc. This seconds hand had a peculiar feature: it ran around the dial’s 60 seconds in only 58 seconds. Then it paused for the final two seconds before starting up again as the minute hand ticked over to the next minute marker simultaneously. The idea was that all the clocks could tick over the minute synchronized for the ultimate in precision and efficiency (you know how those Europeans are about their public transport). Mondaine has had the rights to make miniature versions of these Swiss Railway clocks since 1986; but the Stop2Go, a quartz watch, is the first one since 2001 to imitate this 58-seconds-then-pause quirk.
This was the feature I was fiddling with when I lost my cool. The watch’s crown is unconventional, a flattened “rocker” that can be pressed in easily but pulled out only through sticking a fingernail into a small slot on the backside of the watch. Attempting to change the time, I made the bulbous second-hand spin around the face several times in quick succession. Cool.
Then the namesake “Stop2Go” pause was suddenly happening at 13 seconds rather than 0 seconds, at the 12:00 mark. I couldn’t make it go back. My palms became clammy.
Turns out it’s an extremely simple fix, detailed clearly in the owner’s manual. (I didn’t get one with my tester, hence my increased anxiety.) In fact, all of the odd crown’s functions are very easy and logical — they’re just a bit unsettling because they’re so unlike any other watch.
The aggressive aesthetic (black dial, black case, black rubber strap) is definitely cool, but because of the odd seconds hand and stark, blocky white hands and hour markers, it also, in certain lights, has an air of the cartoonish.
And that quirkiness perpetuates itself in the Stop2Go. The watch’s size, 41mm, seemed about right, but the case is considerably thick for a quartz watch; the rubber strap has a deployant clasp and adds to the watch’s atypical look, but it was uncomfortable on the wrist, at least at first, and especially as my wrist expanded and retracted in size between the summer heat and the AC’s chill. Soon after I started wearing it, the watch’s minute hand lost its alignment with the minute markers, a small problem exasperated by the watch’s blunt styling; but it turned out to be another very simple fix with the owner’s manual.
That aggressive aesthetic is definitely cool — mine had a black dial, black stainless steel case, and black rubber strap — but because of the odd seconds hand and stark, blocky white hands and hour markers, it also, in certain lights, has an air of the cartoonish. (“It’s the watch ‘Johnny Bravo‘ would wear”, my girlfriend confided.) Still, I came to appreciate its look once I realized what exactly it wasn’t: sporty. This has always been a draw for me in watches, and it was lacking from the Mondaine. In its place was a clinical cool, one that fit less with shorts and a t-shirt and more with a slim-fit button-down, a pair of smart-looking glasses and skinny jeans. Really, it’s Mondaine’s variation of the clean, cold look Swiss watches are so proud of.
Yet despite this decidedly Swiss look, Mondaine is at the core of an interesting debate over what is “Swiss-made” — their watches just meet the requirement because a 1971 law defines a “Swiss-made” watch as having over 50 percent of its parts made in Switzerland. But then, this allows them to keep their prices relatively low (their other watches, without the Stop2Go function but with the same unique styling, cost anywhere from $195 and upwards and have many different variations). It’s also worth noting that Apple paid 22.5 million Swiss Francs in 2012 to the company after Mondaine threatened to sue, because Apple devices had apparently lifted their own clocks from Mondaine’s unique design. Being coveted by Cupertino can only be a great sign.
They might be aped, but the prominent facet of Mondaine’s watches remains their uniqueness. All the Stop2Go’s minor peccadilloes were the price paid for a truly unconventional watch. Nothing else on the market is going to tick for 58 seconds, pause, and then leap to the next minute; little else exudes such minimalist, Nordic chic. And, if you want that look without the gallop-pause movement of the Stop2Go, Mondaine has plenty of other watches, at a good clip less than this model.