Swiss Railway Clock

Swiss Railway Clock


Design Classic with Unique Movement

The official Swiss Railway Clock, also known as the "SBB clock," is a clock design that was created for use in railway stations in Switzerland by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) in 1944.

The design, created by engineer and SBB employee Hans Hilfiker, features a red second hand in the shape of a railway guard's signaling disc, along with a simple, easy-to-read face with white numbers on a black background. Just the thing for people running along platforms and needing to see at a glance how much time they've got left to hop on the train.

Today, almost 5,000 of these clocks, made by clock manufacturer Moser-Baer AG ("MOBATIME"), adorn every railway station building across Switzerland.

The clock has become a cultural icon in Switzerland and is considered a global design classic. It is included among examples of outstanding 20th century design by both the Design Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The clock is also known for the unique movement of its hands. Station clocks in Switzerland are synchronised by receiving an electrical impulse from a central master clock at each full minute, advancing the minute hand by one increment to that minute in time. The second hand is driven by an electrical motor independent of the master clock. It takes only about 58.5 seconds for the red hand to circle the face; then the hand pauses briefly at the top of the clock. It starts a new rotation as soon as it receives the next minute impulse from the master clock. (See base of page for an animated demonstration.)

The clock face design is notably used in a line of officially licenced Mondaine watches and clocks since 1986. It is also licensed for use on certain Apple devices such as iPads and iPhones.

Apple initially used the clock design without permission for their iOS 6. Although the exact details of the licensing agreement are confidential, it was reported that Apple ultimately paid Swiss national rail operator SBB about CHF 20M (about US$22.4M as of January 2014) to license the use of the clock design. Apple later removed the design from its operating system with iOS 7.

Swiss Railway Clock Movement


Reuters 2012: Apple gets OK to use Swiss railway clock design


1. Swiss Railway Clock
2. Swiss Railway Clock in Situ
3. Hans Hilfiker at an exhibition on pioneers of Swiss design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Zurich, October 1984
4. Railway Guard's Signaling Disc
5. Clock at Zurich Station
6. MOBATIME Clock Manufacturing in 1972
7. Mega Station Clock in Aarau
8. Mondaine 40mm Swiss Railways Classic Watch

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