In 1944, a Swiss engineer and employee of the Federal Swiss Railways named Hans Hilfiker created a clock that became the Official Swiss Railways Clock.
If you have ever traveled by rail in Switzerland you’ve seen the clocks at every station. Each is exceptionally easy to read with its white-dial, large black hands and markers and red seconds hand. That famous red seconds hand completes a rotation in 58 seconds and then pauses at the 12 o’clock mark for two seconds while the black minute hand jumps forward, starting its next rotation.
In 1986, this clock inspired the Bernheim family, which owns the Mondaine watch company, to turn the design into a watch collection — with official license from the Federal Swiss Railways. In 2013 Mondaine launched its Stop-to-Go watch collection comprised of watches that mimic the two-second-stop clock feature.
In 2017, Mondaine launched Essence, a so-called ‘watch of the future,’ with timepieces made with the latest in watch technology, along with seventy percent of the parts built from reusable materials.
International Watch recently interviewed Mondaine CEO Andre Bernheim about his company’s far-reaching sustainability programs. He offered updates on this topic with particular attention to Mondaine’s expansion of its Essence collection.
Below is our full interview.
International Watch: Mondaine is among the few brands with an easily identifiable and iconic design with the Swiss Railway watches. What strategies do you use to maintain and possibly increase the brand awareness and keep momentum in the business?
Andre Bernheim: The Mondaine station clock design is a Swiss icon and has remained unchanged since 1944. It first launched as a wristwatch and wall clock in 1986, and thanks to the minimalistic design is as modern as it was then. Mondaine continues to expand the collection, without jeopardizing its design.
For example, the Backlight technology, offering at-a-glance visibility in any lighting, on our Stop2Go and Giant series, is a simple but very effective and useful patent. SuperLuminova is applied on the back of the hands, so that it does not affect the design but allows the viewer to read the time in darkness, like a ghost light.
The other strong pillar of Mondaine is sustainability. Mondaine has been active in sustainability for almost fifty years. Our Essence collection is made of a castor-compound material (case and strap), alternative straps are made of recycled PET bottles and the gift box is made entirely of rPET bottles and can be used as a handy pouch.
All Mondaine watches are being produced in our own Swiss factory, where we generate up to eighty percent of the electricity needed for production with our photovoltaic system on our roof.
Our second family, Mondaine’s Helvetica collection, is another icon with a clean, minimalistic design paying homage to Latin word for Swiss (Helvetica is the Latin word for Swiss – what can be more Swiss than Swiss? Beside that it is the most used font in the world, created in Switzerland, of course).
Another innovation is our pay chip, a contactless chip, which consumers can insert easily into the strap, or a patented loop that allows them to have a hands-free payment device on their wrist.
The technology has been implemented in Switzerland, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Belgium since 2016, and we hope to introduce pay chip in the United States soon now that more and more consumers use contactless payment terminals in shops and department stores.
The new Essence collection integrates up-cycled and/or recycled materials. How and when was the decision made to use a more eco-friendly approach and assign this a unique line within the Railway series?
Mondaine has been focused on sustainability for over fifty years, so the Essence collection was simply an evolution of efforts. We saw the opportunity to expand on our sustainability efforts in 2015. We then produced the line and launched the Essence collection in 2016.
The cases are made of a castor oil compound, which is made up of seventy percent natural materials. The straps come in different but sustainable materials, such as a castor-compound, recycled PET, cotton. Production of the watches is done using up to eighty percent solar energy. The gift box is made of recycled PET bottles as well and can be used as a mobile phone pouch afterwards.
With your new carbon neutral certification as well as the solar array producing eighty percent of Mondaine’s electricity, it’s clear that you’re addressing environmental concerns. With this in-mind, have you considered a rechargeable battery system (induction or port supplied) for your quartz watches to eliminate one-time use batteries?
Yes, indeed! The issue is that there has been no such movement available in Switzerland since the mid 1990s. However, back in the 90s we did produce a Mondaine railway design watch with solar cells. But we are working on something better and newer to continue our commitment to sustainability.
Are there other sustainability goals that Mondaine is working on?
We will always continue our path of becoming better, step by step. We are constantly reducing our CO2 footprint by improvements in the supply chain, using longer-lasting materials with lower footprint and more natural matter, reducing weight and volume of our gift boxes and using more sustainable packaging.
In 2020, we became entirely CO2 neutral, as one of the first watch companies worldwide, thanks to our reduction efforts and CO2 compensation by reforesting with Fairventures. One of our goals is to phase in the use of a leather alternative for straps, even though we are using leather from the meat production and not from so-called ‘leather cows’ which are bred for its leather only.
We do have many straps made of other materials already, such as rPET, cotton, rPET felt, and are currently testing alternative materials made of natural products which come extremely close to the touch and feel, and quality, of leather.
Is it more expensive to use up-cycled or recycled materials to make your cases?
It is, but cost increase is minimal. Our goal is to produce watches that are affordable, like our Essence collection, which is below $200, and prove sustainability doesn’t always need to be more expensive than materials that are not good for our planet.
Besides using better materials, we are also on our path from cradle to cradle – from raw material to the end of product lifecycle. Therefore, we introduced a watch-recycling program, probably again as one of the first watch brands to do so.
Consumers can return their old watches to our factory, and we will dismantle and dispose the components of the watch to recycling plants as good as possible. We not only take our watches back, but also other brands, except their plastic watches. We are planning to expand this service to the United States as well.
Other brands have developed straps made from various “trash” plastics using fishing nets or plastic bottles. Do you see this as an option for Mondaine?
We are looking at these developments, too. For the Mondaine brand, we are currently using recycled PET bottles for making nylon straps as well as felt. For Luminox, the other brand I own alongside my brother, we launched a watch last summer with a case and strap made of recycled ocean waste developed by the Swiss company TIDE.
Does Mondaine have any conservation or charitable partners that you’d like to highlight?
As mentioned above, we are supporting reforesting with Fairventures, which is doing really fantastic work, not only by reforesting in a bio-diverse way, but also involving the local people in a very economical way so that they can earn money now and in the future. For more information on who we support, please see our sustainability report.
I would like to add a word about green washing in the watch industry if I may, please. I am the head of sustainability at the Mondaine Group, beside the president of the board. I am deeply passionate and involved in this area. Unfortunately, the watch industry is far behind many others in this area but many realize that there is a need to be part of it.
With modern consumerism and pressure to be sustainable, consumers need to be wary of companies green washing. Green washing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound which happens often in our industry, unfortunately.
I am not saying we are the best or even good, but at least we are doing efforts to become better and better, step by step, along the supply chain, within our factory and headquarters for almost fifty years.
For this reason, I do strongly believe that we are one of or the most sustainable watch groups, and since 2020, we are CO2-neutral, again, probably as one of the first ones worldwide.
This is not only in some parts of our business. Our CO2 balance is calculated for all watch parts used, our factory operation, headquarters energy and our business travels.
We are continuously improving our CO2 emissions, along with the 3 R’s of sustainability, and compensate any CO2 we still create. Our sustainability report explains more about our sustainability path.
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