Swatch Group-owned Certina is a Swiss watch brand that few American consumers are familiar with, but it is a company that has long specialized in sports watches, and even has an extensive history, both in the American market and among military personnel. Yet, as was the reality for many historic Swiss manufacturers, the Quartz Crisis of the ‘70s and ‘80s forced the brand to reorganize and re-strategize, in the process largely withdrawing from the United States market.
This is a circumstance that is largely unchanged today, although the brand’s surprising 2018 release of the “new vintage” Certina DS PH200M certainly caught the attention of vintage-watch aficionados across the globe, including in the States. This is a divers’ watch inspired by a 1967 model of the same name, and one using the same DS (Double Security) technology originating from 1959 and used until its discontinuation in 1970. During its time, this tech was one of the distinguishing factors of Certina dive watches, most prominently acting as a thick rubber water seal protecting the movement inside the case, but also working as a shock absorber to larger pressure changes common in deep sea diving.
Today’s modern variant is a 42.8-mm diver complete with a thick, unidirectional 60-minute diving bezel, a prominent screw-down crown, and vintage-style “Hesalite” (or acrylic) crystal. On the face of the watch are prominent rectangles for each hour marker, with thinner white tick marks for each of the minutes and a 3 o’clock date window. Crossing at the center of the dial are the distinguished red crosshairs common on the original DS PH200M, complemented by a red seconds hand, and swept over by a sword-style minute hand and an enlarged hour hand. At the top and bottom of the dial are the Certina corporate logo and the watch’s descriptions, respectively. Inside the watch is the ETA C07.111, based upon the ETA 2824, though adjusted to achieve an impressive 80-hour power reserve. This movement is hidden behind Certina’s signature turtle-engraved caseback, which has served as a mark of quality for the brand since its heyday. Currently, the watch is listed by the brand at $780.
Comparing the modern and vintage editions of the watch, we see a consistent design code: a distinctive 60-minute bezel with an aluminum insert, virtually identical hour and minute markers, a red crosshair, and even the unique configuration of hands. Even in somewhat smaller details, Certina made an effort to pay homage to its earlier piece — foremost in the actual name of the watch, the DS PH200M, and its accompanying dial descriptor— but also in the turtle caseback and DS technology which comes as a not-so-subtle nod to collectors familiar with the mark of quality and the security it represents.
Looking at the differences between the old and new models, it’s obvious Certina has taken significant steps to modernize the watch for contemporary tastes. These efforts are seen most prominently in the case size, 3 mm larger than that of the vintage piece, and in the modern 80-hour ETA movement compared to the original’s 42-hour in-house Certina 25-651 caliber. More subtly, the markings on the bezel are somewhat thicker, the crown seems sturdier in the contemporary design — as does the overall finishing— and the brand worked to highlight the red crosshair across the dial by coloring the seconds hand to match it. Considering these differences, it would seem the modern DS PH200M is more geared towards today’s “desk diver” rather than a professional, an observation given credibility first by the aforementioned design changes, and further by the use of a cloth NATO-style and leather strap over the more practical silicone or metal bracelet frequently used for diving.
For many consumers, the new watch has hit all the right marks: an attractive design consistent with the vintage model, some modernizing updates like those seen in the finishing and crown, and a competitive price point with a very modern practical feature (namely the 80-hour power reserve). While not completely foolproof, Certina— a brand with a long and rich history in watchmaking— is likely hoping the new watch will follow the trajectory of 2017’s Rado’s HyperChrome Captain Cook or 2016’s Oris Diver Sixty-Five in being able to come back from relative market obscurity and into the popular spotlight. So far it seems the strategy is working, and with the DS PH200M marking the first major release within Certina’s budding Heritage collection, it will likely be the first of many in the years to come.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series where we compare the Glycine Airman Vintage to its historical influences, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first discovering horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.