Why is it that the second hand on the SBB station clock always pauses for a bit at 12 before setting off on a new minute? With the clocks about to go back, we are taking the opportunity to reveal this secret and show you where our station clock comes from.
Sumiswald, a community of 5,000 or so inhabitants deep in the Emmental valley, is where Moser-Baer produces what is arguably the most iconic clock in Switzerland. Its distinctive feature is the red disc on the end of the second hand, which takes a little breather when it completes each minute. We paid a visit to the manufacturer and saw for ourselves how the SBB station clock is made.
How it all began.
In 1944, electrical engineer, designer and SBB employee Hans Hilfiker designed the timeless SBB station clock. His idea for the second hand was inspired by the signalling disc used by the traffic controllers who dispatch trains at the stations.
Moser-Baer, an industrial clock manufacturer based in Sumiswald, provided the sophisticated technology for this and, having been granted a licence by SBB, produced the SBB station clock as we know it today. The clock’s design remains the same as it has always been. In terms of technology, however, it has undergone a few upgrades.
The secret behind the pause in the second hand.
Back in 1947, it was not yet possible for a mechanical clock to run precisely with second-by-second pulses – but SBB was insisting on a second hand. This was a tricky task for Moser-Baer. The solution was to produce a master clock that triggered the minute pulse for all station clocks in Switzerland, which in turn set off the second hand. For this to work, the second hand has to make its way round a full minute in 58½ seconds. It then waits at 12 until the next minute pulse. This principle ensures that all the station clocks work precisely.
Time for a short break.
Nowadays clocks are provided with a signal that is accurate to a tenth of a second. However, the brief pause in the second hand has long since achieved cult status. That is why the SBB station clock still retains this unique feature, which has even gained worldwide fame and been put on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).