The SBB railway clock was designed by Hans Hilfiker in 1944 as an embodiment of the phrase “punctuality is the railway’s trademark”. The clock was given a sleek design and a face that was easy to read.
The now-famous pause when the second hand hits the minute mark stems from a technical necessity in the clock’s early days. Hilfiker wanted all station clocks in Switzerland to be synchronised. In order to achieve this, the clocks received a time pulse via telephone cable every minute from the master clock in the Zurich signal box. However, synchronising all the station clocks in this way took 1.5 seconds. This ultimately led to the incarnation of the second hand that only takes 58.5 seconds to complete a revolution, then pauses for 1.5 seconds before beginning its next revolution when the minute hand jumps.
Hilfiker gave this explanation for his technical solution: “The second hand provides reassurance at the last minute and makes it easier to dispatch trains on time.”
The SBB station clock designed by Hilfiker found its way onto the nation’s wrists in 1986. The Bernheim brothers, owners of watchmaker Mondaine, were looking for a new design for their watch collection. The best two design ideas both reminded the brothers very strongly of the SBB station clock, prompting them to get in touch with the Swiss Federal Railways and secure the necessary distribution licences to allow them to bring the SBB station clock to the public in the form of a wristwatch.
Hilfiker’s easy-to-read design was also perfectly suited to clock faces on small watches, and in 1988 the first women’s collection was released. Wall clocks, alarm clocks and pocket watches also appeared in the following years. The clock can also be found in prestigious settings such as the London Design Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It also hangs above the town squares in Mexico City, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Caracas. The design has since been designated an item of Swiss cultural heritage, with the Swiss Post even issuing a stamp in its honour in 2007. The clock design has also been licensed to Apple since 2012.
With the launch of its stop2go models in 2013, Mondaine finally brought the famous minute change to its wristwatches. The watches are now sold in more than 40 countries.