Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire's weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020.
As the collector’s market pushes the prices of once-accessible vintage dive watches from more famous houses beyond the pockets of most mortals (hello, Tudor), an interesting trend has developed: to go obscure and hunt for the lesser-known (but no less worthy) specialist dive watch brands, many of which succumbed to the quartz revolution of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. But one in particular, Certina, didn’t actually die out at all; it just went away for a bit.
Certina started out in 1888 as Grana, which, as military watch nerds will know, was the maker of the most unicorn-poop-rare iteration of the 12 “Dirty Dozen” watches in World War 2. Post- war, the Certina name fully eclipsed the Grana brand, and by the 1960s Certina was making a reputation for itself in the burgeoning dive watch business, chiefly because of its proprietary “double security” system to keep water out of the cases. It entailed using multiple o-rings to seal sensitive points from potential water ingress, including an unusually large gasket to block the gap between movement and case.
During the troubled times of the 1970s, Certina became part of what later became the Swatch group, which effectively saved its bacon. Post quartz-crisis, Certina was pulled from the U.S. market in favor of bigger brands in the group, like Omega and Longines. It has quietly flourished for 40-odd years in Europe and has managed to stay remarkably affordable in the process, which makes it a great brand to start up a collection.
There is something indefinably cool about a solid brand going to sleep in a particular market for a number of years and then coming back long after all but the most serious nerds have forgotten about it. Now Hodinkee, the aficionado’s daily online fix for all things watches, is bringing Certina back to the U.S. for the first time since the 1980s. A number of watches are available exclusively through the site.
For our money, the best is also the least expensive, a popular model launched in the late 1960s. The modern DS PH200M series comes in two variations: with flat, matte bezels or (for a little more discreet vintage flair) polished convex ones. These are everything a diver should be: slightly retro but not overly so, robust, graphically simple, and easy to read. If these whet your appetite but do not satisfy it fully, the DS Action is a GMT watch (with a second 24-hour hand) that comes in two fetching colorways: a blackened steel case with a half chapter-ring in military green to match its nylon strap, and a steel case with a nautical blue dial, red accent, and blue strap.
It’s pretty unusual for a brand to materialize in, effectively, a new market just like that. For Certina to do it with a handful of great designs, at great prices, and all at once, suggests the brand and Hodinkee have great expectations of the American market. They could well be right.
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