In this review, we’ll take a look at the Mondaine Simply Elegant to help you decide if you should purchase it.
When you think of Swiss-made watches, you probably think of horological titans like Rolex and Patek Philippe. (Or, if your budget doesn’t stretch that high, Tissot and Longines.)
You probably don’t think of Mondaine. In fact, you’ve probably never heard of this brand. But this Swiss watchmaker has a rich history full of accolades, cementing them as one of the most important Swiss watch companies.
Most notably, Mondaine is known for its eye-catching watches that bear the same design as the official Swiss railway clock, which appears on every railway platform across the country and ensures the trains run on time.
It’s so iconic that both the Museum of Modern Art and the Design Museum recognize it as an example of outstanding 20th-century design.
So what exactly is the deal with Mondaine? Let’s take a trip back to the 40s to find out.
Mondaine: The Brand
In 1944, a Swiss Federal Railways engineer named Hans Hilfiker designed a station clock for the railway system.
Because this clock needed to facilitate precise timekeeping by train guards, it had to be clear enough to read from a large distance. And, of course, it had to reflect the Swiss aesthetic.
Hilfiker’s resulting design met those criteria by foregoing numerals and using bold black tick marks to denote the hours.
These tick marks (along with the smaller ones that signify 5-minute intervals) pop against the pristine white of the clock face for a design that’s plainly legible from far away.
In 1953, the clock received an important update. The Swiss railways needed even more accurate and precise clocks to ensure the trains would always run exactly on the minute.
Thanks to the invention of the master and slave clock system, they were able to dramatically improve the precision and efficiency of the clocks.
However, the clock face now needed a seconds hand, so Hilfiker added a bright red stem with a disc on one end. He modeled it after the signaling paddles once used by train guards to signal that a train could leave the station.
Ever since that 1953 update, the same clock has been used in every Swiss station, and it’s become an emblem of the country’s dedication to efficiency and design.
Mondaine entered the picture in 1986 when they licensed the famous design from Swiss Railways. Their first watch collection debuted that year.
Ever since, the company has made the railway clock design a mainstay in their lineup. For many, Mondaine is now synonymous with the railway clock.
Dimensions & Specs
The Mondaine Simply Elegant A400.30351.11SBB is part of the brand’s SBB railway clock collection, which offers the design in various forms and sizes.
Whereas most watches in the SBB range come in at 40mm or 41mm, the Simply Elegant has a decidedly more petite 36mm stainless steel case. However, its lug-to-lug measurement is about 41 mm, so it looks a little larger on the wrist.
Its strap width of 20mm makes it easy and convenient to swap out the stock strap. It also has a water resistance rating of 30 meters.
The Simply Elegant really stands out in the weight and thickness departments. This watch is a mere 1.27 oz, and—get this—it’s only 6 millimeters thick. You’d be hard-pressed to find a slimmer timepiece.
For its movement, the Simply Elegant uses the ETA 902.101. This is a reliable quartz movement that Mondaine uses for other watches in the SBB line.
The crystal is a synthetic sapphire crystal, and the band is a plain genuine leather strap that matches the watch nicely.
Mondaine Simply Elegant Watch Review
Obviously, the Mondaine’s design is its major selling point. Thankfully, the railway clock face translates well to the smaller surface area of a wristwatch.
The boldness and clarity of the original are just as prevalent here, and it’s easy to tell the time with nothing more than a passing glance.
The 36mm size really complements the design. Even though the watch wears a little larger due to the lugs, it’s still a great size that will benefit the slender-wristed.
I’m also a big fan of the cherry-colored seconds hand and the way it pops against the monochromatic dial. Despite its relative brightness, it doesn’t get in the way of reading the time.
Another nice touch is the red crown with an etched M that reveals the chrome beneath. It’s not something you’ll see often, but it’s impressive that Mondaine went to the effort to make even the smallest details count.
I’ve found that the Simply Elegant pairs well with most of my wardrobe. While I wouldn’t categorize this as a dress watch, I do think it’s on the dressier side. If you usually dress smart casual (or even business casual), the Mondaine will fit right into your wardrobe.
The stock strap is fine but nothing to write home about. It’s admittedly better than a lot of stock straps, and the black matches the watch nicely. That said, you’ll probably want to mix and match straps with this watch anyway.
Visually, the only qualm I have lies with the polished stainless steel bezel and lugs. The steel is quite reflective, so it can be a bit distracting in bright lighting.
It’s not too obstructive, but I have found myself noticing it on a handful of occasions. That said, Mondaine does offer railway watches with matte bezels.
Now let’s talk about the thinness. This is by far the thinnest watch I own, and I often forget that it’s on my wrist! At 6mm, it’s about half as thick as an average watch.
The case back barely protrudes, and the crystal is also flat, so it’s barely thicker than a strap. This lanky watch will slide under even the tightest of sleeves.
Initially, I thought its slender profile looked weird. After wearing it for a while, however, the weirdness dissipated. It does have a tendency to look fairly two-dimensional on the wrist, but this probably isn’t something you’ll notice unless you’re looking for it.
Of course, the slimness also provides the obvious benefit of being lighter. Its 1.27 oz (~36g) weight is definitely a plus, and if you’re used to chunky divers or even field watches, you’ll notice a big difference here.
All of these factors make the Mondaine Simply Elegant one of the more unique watches in my collection, and it’s already gotten many hours of wear. Its timeless design and stylistic flexibility make it a good go-to option.
Final Thoughts: It’s Worth the Price
Overall, the Mondaine Simply Elegant is a fantastic watch that gets my recommendation, and it definitely lives up to its name. There’s an undeniably appealing aesthetic to Hilfiker’s railway clock design.
It’s understated yet attractive, and it provides a nice balance of form and function that results in a solid value for the money.
And speaking of money, the Simply Elegant will run you about $265 on Amazon. Given the watch’s iconic design and respectable specs, that’s really not a bad price.
Ultimately, if you like the design, then the Mondaine Simply Elegant is probably right for you. The craftsmanship is what you expect from a Swiss made watch, and the clock face looks just as good on the wrist as it does on the platforms of Switzerland’s railway stations.