Certina Watches Review: History and Highlights from the Modern Collection
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Certina Watches Review: History and Highlights from the Modern Collection

Certina is a watch brand that may be fairly new to you, especially if you live in the United States, where distribution has been limited to non-existent over the past several decades. In actuality, however, Certina is among the oldest Swiss watch brands currently in operation and today represents an appealing and perhaps underrated option in the arena of stylish sports watches that are solidly built yet priced affordably.

The Kurth Brothers, Grana, and the Dirty Dozen

Grenchen Switzerland

Certina has its origins in 1888, when two Swiss brothers, Adolf and Alfred Kurth, set up a watchmaking workshop in an annex to their family home in the town of Grenchen (above). Initially, the brothers made movements and parts that they supplied to other watch companies in the region, but by 1906 they were making enough of their own complete timepieces that they introduced a brand name: Grana, which was a shortened version of the Latin word “Granatus,” referring to Grenchen. The early Grana watches found success, but for several years the Kurth brothers continued to also make and supply movements to other companies; the name “Certina” — another Latin-derived word, from “certus,” for “sure” or “certain” — began appearing on the company’s timepieces throughout the 1930s. The name, which was also easier to pronounce than “Grana” in more languages, was registered in 1933 and eventually became the company’s sole name in 1949. 

Grana Dirty Dozen watch

Few Grana watches are remembered as milestones today, if the brand is remembered by most watch aficionados at all. However, the brand that would become Certina does claim a historical distinction, as the maker of the most coveted member of the series of World War II-era military watches today referred to as the Dirty Dozen. As I explore in much greater detail in this article, the Dirty Dozen were 12 watches, made by 12 watch manufacturers, that were built for the British military to a specific set of criteria and are regarded as the template for the modern-day field watch. Produced only from 1944 to 1945, these watches are exceedingly rare and collectible. Grana’s model is the rarest, and for collectors of vintage military timepieces, the Holy Grail of Holy Grails. No one’s sure how many were produced, but the number is almost certainly fewer than 5,000 and maybe as few as around 1,000. In April 2022, a Grana watch from the Dirty Dozen sold at auction for 12,000 GBP. Certina, during its Grana days, is also recognized for creating the first mechanical watch with an all-digital time display, which used a series of spring-driven numerical disks, in 1939. 

The Birth of Double Security and 1960s Milestones

Certina DS watch advertisement

A decade after Certina became the brand name, the company introduced the concept that would define its modern identity. Called “DS” for “Double Security,” it referred to the innovative structure that Certina developed to make its cases more robust and water resistant: the watch’s movement is suspended inside a shock-absorbing rubber ring within the main case, which is also equipped with a proprietary sealant system for the screw-down crown. The rubber ring, similar to an O-gasket, with the movement inside, essentially floats behind the dial within a cushion of air, absorbing the kinetic energy of shocks and impacts. 

Certina caseback Turtle logo

The DS design, for which Certina filed a patent in 1958, was the most important symbol of Certina’s new strategy entering the 1960s under the management of the next generation of the Kurth family, brothers Hans and Edwin Kurth, which was focused on watches built for sports and outdoor activities. Another was the adoption of its now-famous turtle logo (above); the turtle shell, according to the company, symbolizes “robustness and longevity” and has graced most every Certina timepiece since its debut in the 1960s. 

Certina Muhammad Ali

Certina was eager to put its DS watches to the test in challenging situations. In 1960, Certina DS watches accompanied an international team of mountaineers on the first successful ascent of Mt. Dhaulagiri in the Himalayas. In 1965, they were worn on the U.S. Navy’s Sealab II underwater marine expedition. An early model of one of Certina’s toughest purpose-built divers’ models, the DS-2 Super PH 500, was worn by scientists in the 1969 Tektite project, an underwater habitat and laboratory overseen by NASA. In perhaps the most audacious example of a watch torture test, a Japanese skier named Yuichiro Miura wore a Certina D2 Chronolympic watch as he skied down Mount Everest from an altitude of 8,000 meters — after his team had successfully scaled the summit with Certina watches among their gear. In the 1970s, world-famous boxer Muhammad Ali (above, right) became one of the first recipients of Certina’s DiaStar timepiece, developed in partnership with Rado, a watch that pushed the boundaries of toughness even further with a scratch-proof tungsten carbide case.

The Swatch Group Era and the Dawn of Powermatic

In 1971, in response to the Quartz Crisis that was ravaging the Swiss watch industry, Certina joined the entity known as ASUAG (Allgemeine Gesellschaft der Schweizerischen Uhrenindustrie), a consolidation of Swiss watch companies. ASUAG, at the behest of the Swiss banks that had created it, later merged with another conglomerate, known as SSIH, to become the larger holding company known as SMH, which in 1998 became the Swatch Group. Alongside not only its erstwhile partner Rado, but also a plethora of historical watch maisons including Longines, Omega, and Breguet, Certina remains a part of the group today. Its mission statement in the 21st Century is in many respects similar to the one that guided the company in  the 1960s: producing reliably robust Swiss-made sports watches at prices that are attainable to just about everyone. 

Swatch Group Powermatic 80 movement

Certina reached its milestone 125th anniversary in 2013, and celebrated appropriately by integrating into its lineup of watches the Powermatic 80 series of automatic calibers. Developed by ETA, the movement-making giant within the Swatch Group, and previously used by Certina’s sister brands Hamilton, Rado, Mido, and Tissot, the Powermatic 80 movement is named for its uncommonly lengthy 80-hour power reserve (most comparable movements offer power reserves around 42 hours). To achieve this feat, ETA’s engineers optimized the rate of energy consumption of the base caliber (an ETA 2824-2) by reducing the frequency of its oscillations from 4 Hz (28,800) to 3 Hz (21,600 vph), and added a friction-reducing synthetic material to the escapement. They also added a Nivachron hairspring for enhanced performance and shrunk the diameter of the barrel arbor’s core to allow for a stretched mainspring and thus a longer power reserve. 

The Powermatic 80 movements are a perfect technical complement to the “DS” concept that is still at the core of Certina’s product families, which now lean heavily on the enduringly popular dive-watch genre. Here are some of the highlight pieces from Certina’s modern-day lineup.

DS-1 Big Date

Certina DS-1 Big Date

Price: $890 - $985, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 10.98mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Powermatic 80.651

Sporty and yet still dressy enough for formal occasions, the DS-1 Big Date models joined the DS-1 family in 2020, drawing attention with their gradient, curved, colorful dials and classically understated silhouette (41mm diameter and approximately 11mm thickness). The dial’s faceted, triangular indexes are joined by sharply angled Dauphine hands and the model’s signature feature, an ultra-legible date display in a dual window at 6 o’clock. Inside the stainless steel case is a Powermatic caliber, modified to include the “panorama” date function. DS-1 Big Date models currently come with either a blue (pictured) or anthracite gray dial, on a five-link bracelet or a leather strap.

DS Action Diver 38

Certina DS Action Diver 38 Titanium

Price: $795, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 12.2mm, Lug to Lug: 44.9mm, Lug Width: 19mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 200 meters, Movement: Automatic Powermatic 80.611

The DS Action Diver, despite its professional-grade 300-meter water resistance, is regarded as Certina’s entry-level dive watch, due to its very understated 38mm diameter (compared to the 43mm model that preceded it) and its newbie-friendly sub-$800 price point. The steel case has a mostly brushed finish on its various surfaces and facets and its 120-click, coin-edged, unidirectional bezel uses an anodized aluminum insert for its graduated dive scale. Baton-shaped hands reveal the time on the dial’s geometric hour indexes, all treated with a high level of lume for underwater legibility. Connected to a three-link steel bracelet with a diver’s extension, and outfitted with a Powermatic 80 caliber, Action Diver 38 watches (which now include the titanium-cased model pictured) meet the ISO 6425 standard for dive watches, a talking point for serious diving enthusiasts.

DS Action GMT

Certina DS Action GMT

Price: $995, Case Size: 43.1mm, Thickness: 12.6mm, Lug Width: 21mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 200 meters, Movement: Automatic Powermatic 80.611

Watchmakers have lately been embracing the challenge of creating affordable watches with GMT or other dual-time functions, and Certina is near the front of the pack in this category with its DS Action GMT model, which hits the rare sweet spot of a “true” GMT complication in a watch priced under $1,000. Based on the core Action Diver, the GMT versions can claim a similarly robust water resistance (200 meters), with another version of the Powermatic 80 movement inside the 43mm case, which is in either polished and brushed stainless steel or black-PVD-coated steel. Surrounding the large, geometric hour markers on the dial is a bicolor 24-hour scale, divided into day and night sectors, which can be used with the central GMT hand to read the time in a second time zone simultaneously with the local time on the main hands.

DS PH200M Certina DS PH200M

Price: $970 - $995, Case Size: 42.8mm, Thickness: 11.9mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: ETA Powermatic 80.611

The DS PH200M, which takes its vintage aesthetic from a watch made in 1967 (and its “PH” from the French term “Pressure Hydrostatique” for water pressure), boasts an impressive 200 meters of water resistance while also offering a larger case size. The stainless-steel model featured here, just shy of 43mm in diameter and a smidgen below 12mm thick, is mounted on a supple steel Milanese bracelet. The dial’s hallmarks include a sword-shaped handset, a 3 o’clock date window, and a crosshairs motif in the center. The Powermatic 80 movement inside features a magnetic-resistant Nivachron hairspring. Edging the DS PH200M above the Action Diver in price is not only the expanded size but the use of ceramic, rather than aluminum, for the insert of the slightly domed divers’ bezel.

DS Super PH500M

Certina DS PH500M

Price: $920 - $960, Case Size: 43mm, Thickness: 14.95mm, Lug-to-Lug: 48mm, Lug Width: 20mm,Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 500m, Movement: Automatic Powermatic 80.611

Occupying the highest level of underwater utility and rigor is the DS Super PH500M, which reimagines the watches worn during the 1969 Tektite missions and features a 43mm steel case with a fairly thick profile (just below 15mm, making it a bit bulkier than the PH200M). This orange-dialed model of the PH500M, which is in most respects a faithful replica of the vintage model that inspired it, has been updated with a sapphire crystal, improved luminous elements, and a modern Powermatic 80 caliber. The steel case, topped with an aluminum rotating divers’ bezel, can withstand a phenomenal 500 meters of “Pressure Hydrostatique,” hence the model’s name.

DS Chronograph Automatic

Certina DS Chronograph Automatic

Price: $2,045, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 13.9mm, Lug Width: 21mm,Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Automatic ETA A05.H31

Certina dug into its extensive archives to find the inspiration for this handsome vintage-look chronograph, which packs a lot of functionality into a fairly streamlined package. The steel case measures a modest (for a chronograph) 42mm in diameter and is topped by a thin, sloping bezel that frames the classical bicompax dial. On the dial, we find blued hands in the center as well as smaller ones in the subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock, echoed by blue details throughout the dial’s multiple tracks and scales, which include both a tachymeter and a telemeter on the outer periphery, which can by used in coordination with the built-in stopwatch, operated by the push-buttons on the right side of the case, to measure speeds and distances, respectively. The movement inside is made by ETA, but it’s the tried-and-true automatic A05.H31 rather than the Powermatic 80; the power reserve is a still-respectable 60 hours.


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Scott H.

I remember the Certina brand, but haven’t seen them in years. These watches look fantastic! Thanks for bringing them back to our attention.

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