There I was, poking around on the Certina website, when I stumbled upon the Certina DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 collection of timepieces. There are currently only two models of this watch, which is a modern recreation of a sporty Certina chronograph from the late 1960s. In summary, these are character-rich classic-style sports watches that blend functionality, style, and value quite nicely. Certina isn’t going to create lavish marketing around these watches, but for enthusiasts interested in this style, Certina offers one of the best ways to enjoy such a timepiece look in an affordably priced contemporary product. The two models of the Certina DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 reviewed today are the references C040.462.18.051.00 (natural steel case with orange dial accents) and the reference C040.462.36.041.00 (black PVD-coated steel case).

When watch collectors think of large, blocky, colorful, and sporty mechanical chronograph watches, they tend to think of the 1970s. Clearly, that design trend began a bit earlier, with watchmakers conceiving these visual concepts during the late 1960s. Fundamental to the revitalization of the sports chronograph watch was the 1969 introduction of the automatic chronograph movement mechanism that was nearly simultaneously introduced by a few brands including (famously) Seiko, TAG Heuer, and Zenith. The combination of wild designs, the availability of new movements, and the upcoming emergence of quartz chronographs make the late 1960s and 1970s a fascinating era for chronograph sports watches. Recall that even though quartz movement technology arrived in the late 1960s, they were very expensive at first, and quartz chronograph movements didn’t really arrive until the end of the 1970s and early 1980s. Thus, the 1970s was the last real hurrah of the mechanical chronograph timepiece, and their design influence continues in full today.

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Accordingly, the Certina DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 watch has a larger, cushion-style steel case that is 43.5mm wide, about 15mm thick and features a modern 43.5mm lug-to-lug distance. The case doesn’t wear as thick as it sounds, but that also depends on the strap. Certina designed the case to have a rounded caseback and box-style sapphire crystal. Both of these design features contribute to a lessening of visual mass. We also have an extremely thin bezel structure. Nevertheless, the uni-directional rotating bezel still turns and is given a sapphire crystal cap over the insert (in addition to the sapphire crystal over the dial). This sapphire crystal cap over the bezel vastly increases scratch resistance, a a much-appreciated upgrade over the traditional material which would have been anodized aluminum (which can often scratch over time).

Certina offers a reassuring amount of durability in exchange for the larger case. The DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 is water resistant to 200 meters with a screw-down crown. It also has a display caseback to show off the movement, which you will not find in any watch outside of those produced by Switzerland’s Swatch Group. That movement is the ETA caliber A05.H31 automatic. This beefy movement operates at 4Hz with 60 hours of power reserve. In this configuration, the movement offers just the time with a 30-minute chronograph. Look on the dial, and Certina includes an additional 45-minute marker on the chronograph minute register. That is used to time football/soccer game segments and would require the chronograph minute counter to make 1.5 rotations. I believe this is because Certina has sponsored various football events, or at the least, many of its buyers are fans of the sport.

One of the best features of the ETA A05.H31 automatic movement is that the regulation system is equipped with a silicon hairspring. That increases the performance and environmental resistance of the movement, and puts it into a higher category of competition. As I said, Certina and similar Swatch Group brands today are truly adept at offering a great feature set for the money. Looking at the dials, we see a true emulation of blocky 1970s sports watch style, but not in a way that is too brutalist. That includes applied rectangular hour markers (with a strip of lume going down them), along with high-contrast blocky white hands. Legibility on both dials is excellent, and that includes for reading the time as well as the chronograph subdials. My personal preference is the more classic matte black with orange-accented hour markers, but the glossy blue dial and polished hour markers matching with the black-colored case is a handsome look as well.

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Despite the size and heft of the steel case, I really like almost all aspects of what Certina did with the DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 timepiece heads (watch cases minus the strap). If you enjoy these watches as much as I do, it might be a good idea to consider opting for a third-party strap. Note that the DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 case uses 21mm wide straps. The DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 reference C040.462.36.041.00 uses a black leather strap that is nice enough, but the folding deployant clasp hardware is on the sharper side and didn’t prove optimally comfortable. Such a strap is an ideal way to wear the watch, but the deployant clasp is simply not necessary, and I would choose a strap with a more traditional ardillon pin buckle closure. The reference C040.462.18.051.00, on the other hand, uses a good-looking black and gray (“007 style”) NATO-style nylon strap with a more traditional buckle. This is the far more comfortable of the two straps, but it presents its own problem too. Watches on NATO-style straps sit a bit higher on the wrist given the strap material that adds size to the bottom of the case. This becomes an issue for heavy watches, which create a top-heavy experience on the wrist when worn at all loosely. Thus, to prevent the DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 case from flopping around on the NATO-style strap, it needs to be worn very snugly on the wrist. Certina could either custom create a strap that is more ideally suited to this case, or wearers might want to opt for their own rubber/fabric/leather straps that don’t necessarily have a pass-through that goes under the case like a NATO-style strap. Given the overall appeal and value-proposition of the Certina DS Chronograph 1968 in general, it doesn’t really bother me that a strap placement might be a good idea. It can be fun to think about what colors and materials go best with a case like this, and a different strap will make an otherwise great watch all that much better.

Niche in application, but fun and easy to appreciate in general, the Certina DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 watch collection is a compelling product in the watch market and even within the Certina brand. It mixes competent good looks with quirky style, offering a versatile sport watch-wearing experience for timepiece enthusiasts who like distinct, expressive products on their wrists. Again, for the money, Certina is offering a lot of watch, including welcome additional parts in sapphire crystal and a the silicon hairspring in the movement. Prices for the Certina DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 references C040.462.18.051.00 and C040.462.36.041.00 are 1,995 CHF and 2,060 CHF respectively. Learn more at the Certina watches website.

Necessary Information:
>Brand: Certina
>Model: DS Chronograph Automatic 1968 (references C040.462.18.051.00 and C040.462.36.041.00)
>Price: 1,995 or 2,060 Swiss Francs
>Size: 43.5mm wide, ~15mm thick, 43.5mm lug-to-lug distance
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a fun and quirky sports chronograph when appreciating mechanical things such as cars, boats, or planes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Lover of 1970s-era mechanical chronograph watch designs who wants something modern and affordable (but from a serious and reputable brand).
>Best characteristic of watch: Great value for the money. Good list of features and attention to detail for a watch that the designers themselves clearly enjoyed working on. Good performing movement.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Straps don’t quite complete the otherwise good experience, but replacing them is not hard. For some, the cases will be thick and heavy.

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