It took more than 4 years of searching to find a worthy companion to the Mondaine SBB Swiss Railways Watch, one of the most recognizable and popular faces in the horological world. The concept had to be simple, ingenious, and, of course, quintessentially Swiss. When the design team discovered an old ad for the Neue Haas Grotesk typeface - known today as Helvetica - they realized the right inspiration had been found.
"Neue Haas Grotesk: Perfectly elaborated, well balanced, and tempered. Discreet, essential, soft and fluid, with a sophisticated, harmonious and logically structured shape, the type font for the daily needs of the modern printing plant."
As designer Martin Drechsel told Fast Company, "We realized that when we replace the word ‘font’ with the word ‘watch,’ this exactly describes the core values of the Mondaine brand." The pairing was perfect; "Helvetica" is even the Latin word for "Swiss". And so began the journey to translate the essence of Helvetica to an equally effective watch.
The result is a masterpiece of minimalist design that features font-inspired details to a deceptively simple effect. Most obviously, the numerals of the watch face are set in Helvetica - in fact, this is Mondaine's first watch to feature numerals on the face at all.
Three styles make up the family, based on the three different weights of Helvetica: Light, Regular, and Bold. With varying choices of size, finish and strap, this creates a total of 15 styles, each with its own particular feel.
Helvetica itself is no less versatile and appears everywhere in daily life from the corporate logos of American Apparel or BMW, to restaurant menus, even to the New York City subway signs. The design's beautiful functionality makes it above all effective.
The basic structure of every watch in the family is unified with lugs based on the Helvetica numeral 1, famous for its curved crossbar. This detail also celebrates the fact that the watch family is the first of its kind. Raised in slight relief from the rest of the case, the lugs are subtly highlighted, complementing the canted edges of the case.
All models also feature left-justified typography on the watch face, including the numerals and date. This small feature pays homage to Helvetica's nature as a typeface and distinguishes the collection in a world of center-set watch faces. The watch's streamlined arms also correspond in thickness to the weight of the design.
Featuring the thinnest case, the Light model matches the elegance of the correlating Helvetica font.
Only the 12 and 6 numerals are present, while the other numbers replaced with dots and batons. The open space of the watch face highlights the typography for a feeling that's both airy and perfectly balanced.
The Regular model features all twelve numerals in a high-contrast presentation. Its legibility is unsurpassed, with a functional beauty that feels mid-century modern.
Clean and classic, this model is also eye-catching, with an almost architectural feeling.
Confident in its expression, the Bold model combines a thicker case with only the 12, 3, 6, and 9 numerals. The layout recalls the cardinal directions and an adventurous spirit.
True to Helvetica, the watch face is not overly adorned. Strong numerals and batons are balanced by a series of raised markers subtly notating the seconds. Even in its heaviest weight, Helvetica defines finesse.
About the collection Andre Bernheim, CEO, says: “The watch collection is brand new, yet will appear familiar to most people around the world. The key to being an icon lies in immediate recognition. The Mondaine Helvetica goes beyond mere visual identification; it is instinctive.” The Helvetica No. 1, a restrained, sophisticated ideal of Swiss design, might just become as ubiquitous as the font by which it's inspired.