Is The 38mm Certina DS Action Diver In Titanium A Tudor Pelagos 39 Killer?
I immediately recognized the looks of the Certina DS Action Diver when the watch box opened, but I also noticed something different, very different indeed. In February 2022, I had done a video review of the 43mm version of the watch in steel, a heavy hitter of a dive watch. In the video, I also mentioned the existence of a 38mm version and rumors of a DS Action Diver in titanium. What I saw in the watch box was a 38mm diver in titanium. And what was even more surprising was the dark gray dial adorned with indexes and hands featuring light blue Super-LumiNova and the brownish-gray aluminum bezel. It went from the box to my wrist real fast, and it stayed there for quite a while. Here’s a hands-on with a possible Tudor Pelagos 39 killer.
The Certina DS Action Diver 43mm Powermatic 80 in steel on a bracelet in the same alloy is too much for me. It’s not in terms of design because there’s nothing wrong with the standard looks. Okay, the watch won’t blow you away, especially in the soberest of iterations, but it kind of ticks all the boxes when you’re looking for a budget-friendly, Swiss-made mechanical dive watch that you can wear and take almost anywhere. It was just too big and too heavy for my 18cm (7″) wrist. But a 38mm version of the Certina DS Action Diver in lightweight, industrial-looking matte gray titanium will do just fine on my wrist. And when Certina also manages to come up with some very surprising and stylish details, it also works just fine with my taste.
Is the 38mm Certina DS Action Diver in titanium a Tudor Pelagos 39 killer?
Before I answer whether the Certina DS Action Diver can sneak up on the Tudor Pelagos 39 and overwhelm it, let’s first talk about the Black Bay. Specifically, I mean the Black Bay 58 925, a watch in a silver case with a dial and bezel in stylish taupe. It is a “Silver Bullet” of a watch that will set you back €4,540 today, and it’s also a watch with aesthetics that speak to me. Tudor took the classic dive theme and made subtle changes to it with grave yet sophisticated consequences. It has a soft silver shimmer and a fashionable taupe tone that takes the gray of the case and adds a touch of brown to bring out the gentleman in the diver. The DS Action Diver’s vibe is the same…sort of.
DS Action Diver vs. Pelagos 39
So, the looks of the 38mm Certina DS Action Diver in titanium do remind me of the Black Bay 58 925. However, because it’s a more modern diver in titanium, the Tudor Pelagos 39 has more fundamental similarities. It’s also because the Pelagos 39, to me, is not an outright, modern Pelagos but more of an in-between watch. It’s a mix of Pelagos contemporary fundamentals dressed up with Black Bay-inspired cosmetic touches. The DS Action Diver sports a traditional, call it “small” 38mm case done in a high-tech material and tops it all off with two colors that work well together — light blue and brown. If you doubt that my color statement is accurate, have a look at the Rolex Daytona in platinum.
Anyway, the looks and material made me think that the €1,065 DS Action Diver (ref. C032.807.44.081.00) could be a challenger to the €4,590 Pelagos 39.
Numbers and stories
When it comes to numbers, the Certina, which will probably be used for everyday life, including vacations and dips in the pool, impresses. It’s built to ISO 6425 specifications, meaning it boasts a 300m water resistance rating. The case measures 38mm wide, 45mm long, and 12.20mm thick with a 19mm lug spacing, a sign of proportional correctness. The Powermatic 80.611 (Swatch Group) movement inside the watch also provides an ample 80-hour power reserve. Oh yes, and the numbers also include the prices I mentioned earlier — €1,065 for the DS Action Diver and the €4,590 Pelagos 39.
Which has the edge?
When it comes to numbers, the Certina and the Tudor have a lot in common, but the DS Action Diver has the edge. The Pelagos 39, for instance, is “only” water resistant to 200 meters. Furthermore, its caliber MT5400 (a chronometer-certified — that’s a bonus point — movement made at Kenissi, a joint venture between Tudor, Breitling, and Chanel) has a power reserve of 70 instead of 80 hours. Also, the Tudor is more than four times the price of the Certina.
And when it comes to historical numbers, the Certina DS Action Diver also has the upper hand. The watchmaking company that would become Certina was founded in 1888. Now, in all fairness, I also have to say that “Certina,” although trademarked in 1928, only officially became the brand name in 1955. Yes, Tudor was founded in 1946, but let’s be honest, it was only in 2012 with the launch of the first Black Bay that the brand started to make a name for itself. The fact that vintage Tudor Submariners are now valuable collector’s items has nothing to do with how the product was valued and seen at the time.
Double Security for the US Navy
While Tudor was operating in its master’s shadow, Certina was making a name for itself with the Double Security system. The DS Concept philosophy was first launched in 1959. And in the nine years that followed, the brand sold 300,000 watches featuring that system. The system is actually a movement encased entirely in an elastic ring that strongly resembles an O-ring gasket. The ring absorbs the kinetic energy from shocks, and the system also features a tiny barrier of air between the dial and the case that allows the movement to move slightly in all directions. The thick Plexiglass above the dial — remember, we’re still in the 1950s — was the second element of the Double Security system.
The system worked like a dream from the start. But impressive shock resistance wasn’t the only great feature of the DS-equipped watches. As early as 1959, the watches were tested and guaranteed to withstand an underwater depth of 200 meters. The DS watches were, for instance, also used in the US Navy’s Sealab-II experimental underwater habitats. In the 1960s, the US Navy researched the viability of saturation diving and land-dwelling human beings living underwater in isolation for long periods. And there are more hardcore adventure stories in the history books involving Certina watches.
The mysteries of desirability
So, for a long time, Tudor made more affordable versions of Rolex watches. It only became a “real brand” after the launch of the first Black Bay in 2012. And in the years that followed, it gained a large following for doing the right kind of retro. Yes, the luster of the brand with the crown rubs off on the brand with the shield. In this way, Tudor takes full advantage of the strong family ties. And yes, the brand does create great watches. But why is a Tudor dive watch so much more desirable than a very similar one from Certina?
Is Certina unable to reach its full potential because it’s under the wings of the mighty Swatch Group and, therefore, has to play to strict rules, operating in a clearly defined space where it doesn’t compete with fellow group brands such as Tissot, Hamilton, and Longines? Less of a budget for marketing could also be a viable explanation — or just lesser-quality marketing.
The 38mm Certina DS Action Diver on the wrist
On the wrist, the 38mm DS Action Diver is a dream. Well, it’s a dream you don’t actually have because it’s so comfortable that you only notice the watch when you look at it. And when you do, it becomes very real. I love the look. The light blue Super-LumiNova on the indexes and hands also had me making a remarkable association. And you can call it a far-fetched brainwave after reading what’s coming next.
Did you notice that the color of the Super-LumiNova on the Certina looks like the color of Rolex Chromalight in the dark? It had me think of the new €14,000 Rolex Yacht-Master 42 in RLX titanium. I know, I know; it’s a wild thought. It’s a stretch, even if there’s also a lot of grayish titanium involved. But still, I’m quite sure that the people at Certina have seen a Rolex sports watch in the dark before. That’s the last thing I’m going to say about it.
Tudor throws an upward curveball
But let’s focus on the question of whether the 38mm Certina DS Action Diver in titanium is a Tudor Pelagos 39 killer or not. Well, as I already said, it is in every measurable, objective way. Unfortunately, especially for Certina in this case, the world of luxury watches is anything but objective. Image and perception are almost like laws of physics in the emotional universe of Haute Horlogerie. Objectively, the Certina brings more bang for the buck. The Tudor Pelagos 39, however, is a Veblen good, the type of luxury product for which the demand increases as the price does. Due to Tudor’s exclusive nature, high quality, and (recent) appeal as a status symbol, it shows an upward-sloping demand curve rather than a downward-sloping curve. Now that’s an unexpected curveball!
So if I had to choose between the 38mm Certina DS Action Diver in titanium or the Tudor Pelagos 39, which watch would I pick? What a dilemma. I would probably “hit” the Black Bay 58 925 — sorry for my “curveball.” Anyway, please tell me your take on the matter. And also tell me which watch you would choose and what made you take a “swing” at it.
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