Trainspotting: Hands On With The Mondaine Retro Automatic Watch

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This weekend’s watch review is focused on the Mondaine Retro Automatic, a mechanical model that hovers right about the $600 price point — a rare departure into the bargain section for this series. The model I tested is unique for a few reasons although, in the end, this watch is less about the feature set and more about the iconic design.

First, Mondaine is styled on the famous Swiss railway clocks found in stations throughout the country. The bold black hands and clever red seconds hand with the bright red pip at the end are instantly recognizable and, more important, instantly readable. There is no lume on this watch because the assumption is that the contrast between the dark hands and the white face will be sufficient for the weary evening sojourner.

It has a nice 40mm case and exhibition back so you can see the movement and rotor. It comes on a basic leather strap and is ostensibly Swiss-made (a term that can end up being nebulous) but is, at the very least, assembled in Switzerland.

It runs a Sellita SW 220-1 automatic movement, a capable replacement for the traditional ETA movements used in this sort of piece and it has a day/date register in English and German.

I’ve been a fan of Mondaine for a while and like my other favorite, Xetum, it is one of the few three-handed, non complicated watches that I actually enjoy. The design is iconic and hardly polarizing and the legibility and style are classic without being stuffy. This is a designer’s watch and expresses a certain symmetry and careful consideration for legibility in various harsh conditions. Surprisingly you can, at a glance, tell the exact time thanks to the large hands and bold chapter ring. This is unique in a wristwatch because most watches bury the minutes pips by making them too thin or too light.

Is this a special watch? Yes and no. Given its price and simple movement it’s now more a fashion timepiece than anything else. However, given the design pedigree and readability, I would argue that it deserves a bit more attention than it has thus far gotten. The MSRP is $589 but I’ve seen it pop up at about $500-$550 online. This is far less than similarly outfitted “nice” watches. It’s even cheaper than the excellent Le Locle from Tissot, another contender for the inexpensive, but high-quality, timepiece crown.

Again, if you like this particular design then this is a capable, solid, and attractive timepiece. The leather band and the 100-foot water resistance mean that this thing isn’t for beach play. But if you’re going to be wearing it to business meetings or while handling the Wacom tablet, you could do worse.