It is a surprisingly cold summer night in Malmö, Sweden, probably because of the mist hanging over the Baltic port town. You are waiting for the ferry to take tourists and locals off to the northern German city of Lübeck. Glancing down at your watch to note the time, the trusty Certina DS-2 tells you the ferry should be coming into port in a matter of minutes. Its silvery dial glistens under the low-hanging streetlight at the dockyard.

Certina DS and DS-2

The value of vintage Certina

It is scenes like this that I envision when I think about vintage Certina watches. When it comes to humble yet very well-made watches, Certina is one of the first brands that come to mind (alongside names like Tissot, Seiko, and Longines). Certina is also a brand that is quite popular in Nordic countries, with customers who seem to value rugged watches that are capable of outdoor adventures. But thinking about vintage Certina as something in the same breath as vintage Seiko is a bit of a mistake. Certina was truly at the cutting edge of watch technology in the brand’s heyday in the mid-20th century. 

Certina DS-2

Certina is a bit of an underrated brand, not only for its new offerings but also for its vintage pieces. This has been noted on Fratello before. As some of you may know, the brand, founded in 1888, started as Grana. Grana is one of the 12 brands that ended up providing watches for the British Ministry of Defence during World War II, alongside the likes of IWC, Longines, and Omega. These watches became known as the Dirty Dozen, a story well-covered by my Fratello colleague Thomas.

Certina DS-2

Grana and Certina

The Grana versions of the Dirty Dozen watches are some of the rarest (only around 1,500 were said to have been made), and they command significant price premiums accordingly. Balazs covered a bit of the Grana story here, so I’ll quote his excellent summary of the brand’s transformation into Certina. As Balazs noted, Grana was the predecessor of Certina. So, while the brand Grana is not in production anymore, Certina is alive and well. Grana came into existence in 1888 when the Kurth brothers, Adolf and Alfred, opened their watch production company in Grenchen, Switzerland. The first location was in the annex of their family home with only three employees.”

“The business was booming towards the end of the 19th century, and they were soon able to move out of the family’s house and hire more help. While they produced movements and other supplies, it wasn’t until 1906 that the brothers made their first complete watch. This was also the year the name Grana was introduced to the market. The word derives from Granacus, the Latin name of Grenchen. The Kurth brothers (Kurth Fréres) marketed their watches as Grana with ‘Kurth Fréres’  also on the dial in some cases.”

Certina DS and DS-2

Double Security (DS)

Sometime around the 1920s, the Kurth brothers decided to develop a new brand name, which became Certina, from the Latin certus, meaning “certain.” This reflected the family’s dedication to reliable and well-made timepieces. But you could say it was the introduction of the Certina DS in 1959 that cemented the brand’s spot in history. A team at Certina had been working on designing an extremely durable wristwatch.

They developed the Double Security system. This meant that the watch movement would be floating inside the case thanks to an elastic shock-absorbing ring in addition to an Incabloc shock absorber inside the movement. Furthermore, there was a gap between the dial and the case so that the movement could physically move in all directions. On the website, you can read more about this particular DS system. 

Certina DS

The Certina DS

I have examples of both the vintage Certina DS and DS-2. The DS has beautiful Bombay lugs, and my particular version has a classical styling. But at the time of release, these watches were good for six-meter drops and were water resistant to 200 meters! The robustness of the DS was further proven in a 1960 expedition by a Swiss team who took these watches to the Himalaya and climbed to the peak of Dhaulagiri, which is over 8,000 meters high! 

During the expedition, the team’s assistance plane crashed, though, thankfully, no one was injured. To reflect the protective nature of these case designs, the DS series of watches had the image of a turtle engraved on the back of the watch, hence getting the name “turtleback” in some watch-collecting circles. Readers, is this not a cooler backstory than that of the Rolex Explorer?

The Certina DS-2

Introduced in 1968, the Certina DS-2 carried on this tradition of robustness and maintained the DS system with improvements and a more durable stainless steel case design. These tonneau-shaped cases shared the turtleback feature and some further innovations. The crown is partially guarded by being set within the flow of the case flank, and it is secured with a twin seal. 

A large number of dial options were provided to customers for these DS-2 models, and they came in date and no-date variants. There were even variants with turning bezels and chronographs, which utilized the same case shape and have been reinterpreted by the modern brand. 

Vintage Certina in the modern age

So, what if I told you, as a watch enthusiast, that you could pick up a classic, well-made vintage watch with fantastic tool-watch credentials (remember that story about the Himalayan expedition?) and all for under €500? Well, that’s exactly what the Certina DS and DS-2 can offer. I think these watches are fantastic value on the secondary market, and there’s a wide variety of dials (particularly with the DS-2) to choose from. As a bonus, both the Certina DS and DS-2 came with solid, over-engineered in-house movements. 

The value is even more astounding when you consider the unique technology these watches provided through the introduction of the DS system and nicely made in-house calibers. Move over, Rolex and Omega; Certina brings the goods! Of course, there are new offerings from the brand, and those are cool. But many of them have lost some of the classic, smaller case sizes of the originals, which ruins them for me. 

Final thoughts

Certina is a brand I knew nothing about this time two years ago. But the more I have learned about the brand, the more it has grown on me. I have a lot of respect for humble but proven designs. Are there any fellow vintage Certina fans out there? If so, what’s your favorite model? Let me know in the comments.

You can also find me on Instagram: @onhenryswrist