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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.

One model from the Mondaine Essence collection.

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.

Ronnie Bernheim (left) and Andre Bernheim, co-managers of Mondaine.

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.

Mondaine uses castor bean oil in Essence cases and in many straps.

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).

Since September 2019, Mondaine has utilized its own photovoltaic solar plant on the roof of its Swiss factory.

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.

Mondaine’s Essence White collection features white cases and straps of three different pastel colors.

 

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.

 

By Gary Girdvainis

First of all I do want to say that I am an absolute fan of the Baselworld fair and have benefited from my attendance in one way or another since my first fair in 1991. During both boom and bust years I always found it an invaluable event to discover new ideas and designs as well as re-connect with industry contacts.

Having said that I will also point out that at my very first World Watch Clock & Jewelry Show in Basel (not distilled into “Baselworld” at that time) a friendly Canadian watch distributor named John Keeping gave me a piece of advice that rings truer today than ever. He said, “Gary this is your first Basel Fair, so what I’m about to say may not make sense right now, but you will come to understand it if you continue in the wristwatch industry.” He said; “no money, no Swiss”. 

Although not quite perfect English, John’s salient bon mot has proven over the years to be more a truism than I could have ever imagined at that early stage of my watching career.    

While accurate on a brand and manufacturing level, Baselworld’s recent offer to PAID exhibitors for the cancelled 2020 event reaffirms why so many industry veterans make reference to the unmitigated gall and Swiss arrogance within the watch industry. Read below an excerpt from the recent Baselworld press release and ponder how you might react with your own money on the line.

From Baselworld press release dated April 3rd 2020:

“In this challenging environment, Baselworld is very conscious of the stakes for all exhibitors and is absorbing a significant portion of costs due to postponing the show by offering to carry forward 85% of the fees for Baselworld 2020 to Baselworld 2021 (the remaining 15% will serve to partially offset out-of-pocket costs already accrued). If needed, exhibitors can alternatively request a cash refund which will be of up to 30% of the fees, with 40% carried forward to Baselworld 2021.”

Now if this was offered up on April 1st I would have immediately called April Fool’s, but in this case the only fools were those brands that thought that Baselworld was going to evolve into a more welcoming event. Basically stick with us and we’ll stick it to you, or don’t stick with us and we’ll stick it to you worse.

 

Outside View

Understanding the caveats of force majeure (and who could have predicted 2020’s turn of events?) have to be considered, and to be fair, Baselworld does have a staff of year-round employees that need to be paid, but this offer is really a slap in the face to their clients – at a time when the image and future of the fair was already under duress.

At this stage it may have been better to take the lumps now and work with the local canton and Swiss government for some kind of relief. The above “offer” will certainly alienate the existing brands and may be cause for pause to others that were on the fence and thinking of coming back to the annual event.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that major hotels, including some of the most expensive in Basel, are denying refunds and generally treating their upscale clientele to a shit sandwich. That, after charging exorbitant fees 3-5 times the usual rate, insisting on seven-night commitments, and demanding dinners and events be held on premises to bulk up the payola for the one week of the Baselworld Fair.

As a thirty-year veteran of the evolving halls of Basel’s watch & jewelry fair I appreciate the density of product and personnel that Basel embodies. It creates a target-rich environment for both editorial and marketing like no other event. That said, it needs to evolve; director Melikof has announced new digital activations embracing and developing the potential and reach in the digital age, but without the brands there is no show.

Baselworld’s managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff

What will Basel become if Rolex, Patek Philippe – or both – withdraw? Having already lost the Swatch Group, Breitling, Bulgari, Gucci, and others, the management is on thin ice. Treating their existing exhibitors like this does not help.

Maybe moving the show to January will give it the chill it needs to make it safe to skate…..