A new line of watches by Mondaine is based upon Helvetica. Yes. The superstar Swiss typeface has become a Swiss timepiece.
“Deciding to use Helvetica as the inspiration for our new family of watches was more difficult than designing the watch itself,” designer Martin Drechsel tells Co.Design. “The decision process that ended with Helvetica ultimately took about four years of intense discussions.”
Odd, given that there may be no better representation of Swiss design than Helvetica. It was developed largely by a Swiss designer Max Miedinger. It’s on Switzerland’s government documentation and their currency. In fact, Helvetica actually means “Swiss” or “Switzerland” in Latin. It seems almost inevitable that Switzerland’s other great design hallmark–its watches–would eventually merge with Helvetica.
The design team’s first a-ha moment occurred when they came across an old Swiss ad for Neue Haas Grotesk (the original name of Helvetica). It read:
Neue Haas Grotesk: Perfectly elaborated, well balanced, and tempered. Discreet, essential, soft and fluid, with a sophisticated, harmonious and logically structured shape, the type font for the daily needs of the modern printing plant.
“We realized that when we replace the word ‘font’ with the word ‘watch,’ this exactly describes the core values of the Mondaine brand,” Drechsel says. With that Venn Diagram of branding, they began exploring Helvetica’s glyphs themselves, and the best way the inconspicuous nature of the typeface could make its way to the watch. They cut characters from styrofoam to explore the shapes in 3-D. Then they noticed that if the number “1” were turned sideways, it would no longer be a 1, but instead what Drechsel calls “a perfect and functional shape to link the case and the watch strap.”
The base characters made their way to the watch face, both literally (the Helvetica watch line is Mondaine’s first to have numbers on the face at all) and figuratively (the dial is actually rendered with an eye toward Helvetica’s narrow lines and negative space). The overall effect, Drechsel hopes, is one that evokes the feeling of Helvetica, even if a customer has no clue that Helvetica is a famous typeface.
Could Mondaine pull off the same stunt with another famous typeface, like say, Comic Sans?
“A Comic Sans watch is of course possible,” says Andre Bernheim, Mondaine’s CEO. “But not for Mondaine.”
The Helvetica watch line is available now, starting a bit over $400.