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Design Lovers, This Is the Automatic Swiss Watch For You

Reviewed: The Mondaine EVO2 Automatic watch, updated and refined for 2021.

mondaine evo2 auto watch
Zen Love

If you arrive in a Swiss train station today, you'll be greeted by bright, highly legible clocks. These have helped railways run smoothly for decades, and have even come to symbolize the country famous for its punctual trains and watchmaking industry (among other things), but you'll no doubt be struck first by their design: A bright red seconds hand stands out against a snow-white dial, seeming almost chromatically matched to the Swiss flag, and the stark black lines of its hands and indices appear crisp like Alpine air.

It's a design that feels like Swissness condensed, and it feels even more so in the form of a wristwatch powered by an automatic movement. That's what you get in the Mondaine EVO2 Automatic, with a tried-and-true formula updated and refined for 2021 — but how does a clock design from 1944 fare on a modern wrist? And is it worth paying more for a Swiss automatic movement to power it?

Key Specs:

Case Diameter: 40mm
Case Depth:
~10mm
Water Resistance:
50m
Movement:
Sellita SW200 automatic
Price:
$655-$720

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Notable

The Swiss Federal Railways' station clock is a Bauhaus icon and national symbol of Switzerland, of which Mondaine makes the "official" wristwatch. If you knew nothing about this watch's origin, it might simply strike you as a fresh-looking, extremely legible design — but this is one of those times where learning an object's backstory makes you see it in a whole new light. This is true of most Mondaine watches, as all are some interpretation of the station clock, but the EVO2 Automatic (the brand's highest-end offering) represents the latest upgrades and technical refinements, like a Swiss automatic movement, a sapphire crystal and 50m of water resistance.

mondaine evo2 automatic watch
Zen Love

Who It's For

Design fans, first and foremost, are going to appreciate the history represented in the classic station clock, not to mention the design itself. Recognized by the likes of London's Design Museum and New York's Museum of Modern Art, it's got an eye-catching minimalism that anyone who appreciates simple lines, basic colors and bright, bold looks will love.

Again, most of this is true of Mondaine's lineup in general, but this particular version with its automatic movement offers a bit more interest for watch enthusiasts — especially those who specifically appreciate a Swiss automatic movement. As this watch feels particularly Swiss in multiple ways, it also offers a good option for anyone with a connection to the country they want to celebrate — or anyone who's super into trains.

Alternatives

It's hard to find another watch with the historical railway connection of Mondaine. The brand itself, however, has a range of variations on the theme, with options of different colors, sizes, etc. — almost all of which run on quartz movements and are more affordable than the EVO2 Automatic. Try the Stop2Go ($550) for an option that's quartz and more affordable but equally of interest to horological snobs.

mondaine evo2 automatic watch
Zen Love

If you generally like the Bauhaus aesthetic, there are a lot of options — but most, from affordable Braun watches (~$100+) to the iconic Junghans Max Bill (~$600+) range (also a wristwatch adaptation of a clock design) offer thin lines, svelte hands and a dressy aesthetic that contrasts with the bold, blocky elements of Mondaine's Official Swiss Railways watches. If you like that pragmatic, legibility-first approach, try Defakto's Transit Standard (~$925) — or even a tool watch from Italian microbrand Unimatic (~$500).

Review

The design you're looking at was created in 1944 by Hans Hilfiker, an engineer then working for the Swiss Federal Railways — but this was a clock meant to outfit train stations around the country. Schedules and timing are everything for railroads, of course, so employees and passengers alike are dependent on clocks that need to be as visible, legible and accurate as possible. You can see that pragmatic origin in Hilfiker's design.

It wasn't until 1953, however, that a splash of color made the clock into an international design icon. Until this time it lacked the distinctive red "lollypop" seconds hand that takes it from something monochrome and solemn to a truly striking design. Hilfiker took the color and shape for the seconds hand from the handheld red paddles used by train dispatch staff for signaling. The original clocks were made by the Swiss company Moser-Baer which continues to make them today under the name Mobatime.

In 1986, Mondaine obtained the license from the Swiss Federal Railways to produce "official" consumer versions in wristwatch form. This gave the brand rights not only to use the original design but also the Railways' logo, which you'll find under the Mondaine wordmark on the dial — and the letters "SBB CFF FFS," which might look cryptic and technical to anyone who's not Swiss. They're acronyms for the same thing, in fact —"Swiss Federal Railways" — but in three of Switzerland's official languages: Schweizerische Bundesbahnen in German, Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses in French and Ferrovie federali svizzere in Italian, respectively.

mondaine evo2 automatic watch
Zen Love

The watch's overall concept and design are simple, and the resulting product is engaging, but it's the story that lends it interest and a sense of purpose. "Story" might sound like marketing fluff, but it can offer actual value when you get another level of use and enjoyment from a watch as a conversation piece — and that's worth considering as part of the whole package you're paying for. This is much of what makes a watch like the Mondaine EVO2 Automatic cool: its "talking points."

Mondaine's entire brand is essentially built around the Official Swiss Railways clock design, and it's come in numerous wristwatch (as well as wall and table clock) versions and variations over the years. The EVO2 name refers to "evolution," as this collection is meant to be a modern update to the classic look. The most notable trait of the EVO2 collection is its rounded, almost bowl-like case shape that makes it feel sleek and modern (and even a little Apple Watch-reminiscent).

mondaine evo2 automatic watch
Zen Love

The EVO2 redesign was previously applied to other models, but the Automatic version is new for 2021. It includes some refinements that previous variations notably lacked, including increased water resistance up to 50m (from 30m), sapphire crystal and a grippier crown. While previous automatic watches also offered a day-of-the-week display, it's been jettisoned here, leaving only the date at 3 o'clock and a cleaner face that fits its generally minimalist character. The basic dial design is otherwise untouched.

On the wrist, the stark-white dial grabs your attention, just as it was designed to do. With no bezel to speak of, the dial is nearly as wide as the 40mm case itself, so it has a slightly larger visual footprint than the watch's dimensions would suggest. Turn the watch over, and you can see the Sellita SW200 automatic movement ticking away through a case back window. (The red enamel-filled crown with the Mondaine "M" is another nice touch.) This particular model comes on a mesh bracelet and features an all-brushed case finishing, but note that some models are fully polished.

It might seem like a Mondaine watch is all about the dial, and that the case and strap should merely support it. True, they shouldn't distract from the dial, and the mesh and leather straps Mondaine watches come on are sufficient, but don't really contribute much. I was surprised to find that a black Tropic-style rubber strap like those made for 1960s dive watches gave this watch a refreshingly modern feel and an elevated look. All kinds of black straps would work well, but you might even try something with a pop of red, like B&R's Elastic Parachute MIlitary bands — or even solid red or white, if you dare to have that much fun.

mondaine evo2 automatic watch
Zen Love

This is a minimalist watch, yes, but in some respects it's perhaps too minimal: The signature dial is paper-flat with printed elements under a flat crystal, sometimes making it feel so basic that it seemed like a watch a cartoon character could wear. (That's something I've never said that about a watch before.) A couple refinements here and there would help this clock design transition better to the wrist:

Applied, three-dimensional components for the indices would give the dial a bit more of a dynamic and deliberate feel. Further, a gently domed sapphire crystal (instead of a flat one) would be an elegant match to the curves of the EVO2 case. While they're at it, why not give this model Mondaine's own "Backlight" treatment as found in other collections, featuring lume on the undersides of the black hands that glows and reflects off the white dial. All that would be nice, but might increase the price slightly, and it's hard to complain too much about a Swiss automatic watch with an iconic design in this price range.

Verdict

Despite its extreme simplicity, there's a lot going on in a Mondaine watch — and even more so in this top-of-the-line version. It's simultaneously got a toe in the wider world of design, touches on the Swiss national character, and also harkens back to the ways that watchmaking and the railroad historically influenced one another. You've got abundant choices for Swiss movements and sapphire crystal at this price, but Mondaine offers a lot of story and cool-factor for the money.

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