In the watch world, we’re borderline (alright, outright) obsessed with options. Luckily for us, brands are willing to cater to our fickle whims. We’re seeing watches offered in more sizes and dial colors than ever before, and that’s before we even get into the downright gluttonous buffet of strap options on the market. Yet, for some of us, that’s still not enough. What if we could purchase a single watch and not be able to just swap out the strap, but also swap out the case, instantly transforming a rugged, but not terribly dressy, dive watch into a sophisticated sports watch more appropriate for a formal dinner? Well, Certina’s come up with its solution in the form of the DS+, a new line of modular watches that provides a multitude of options in a single package by allowing you to not just swap straps, but also swap multiple watch heads among various cases.
If this concept is ringing some nostalgic bells to the tune of “That’s What Friends Are For,” don’t worry, it’s just 1986 reminding you of the Pop Swatch. If you’re a child of the 80s or 90s, it’s a near-certainty that you wore a Swatch at some point, but the Pop Swatch was truly ahead of its time, with an oversized case and bracelet that were interchangeable. The idea was that you could pop the watch head out of the plastic case, remove the strap and pin the watch right on your shirt or anywhere else. But the real fun of the Pop Swatch was the ability to swap parts with your friends creating loveable monstrosities. Perhaps Certina, as part of the Swatch Group, was inspired by that icon of the 80s. Whether or not that was the case, the DS+ is a far cry from the plastic and elastic Pop Swatches of the 80s, yet they retain all the fun and experimentation of their horological forebear.
With the inaugural rollout of the DS+, Certina is offering three watch heads, six case styles, two bracelet options, and countless fabric and leather and fabric strap options. That’s 18 combinations before you even get to straps and bracelets. Luckily, Certina makes it easy to visualize and find the exact combinations that work for you in its online configurator. That said, the innumerable options can be a bit overwhelming for some, resulting in analysis paralysis. This was an issue that Certina must have foreseen as the brand also curated a selection of combinations, referred to as kits: Aqua & Sport, Sport & Urban, and Urban & Heritage. Each kit comes with a single watch head, two cases, a bracelet, and a strap — plenty to get you started. The beauty of the system is that you don’t have to buy an entirely new watch or kit just to get the look you want. If you like the Aqua & Sport kit but also want a bi-color case with a gold-tone bezel, you can simply purchase that case as an add-on.
Certina has clearly spent its time refining this modular watch system, as it’s simple to use (no tools required), is absolutely secure with zero play between the case and watch head, and is visually indistinguishable from a traditional watch. The way the system works is that the watch head pushes into the case from the backside, with a small cutout that allows the crown to slip through. A gasket on the watch head made of bio-sourced material ensures a snug, secure fit. As an added safety feature, there’s also a set screw on the case that screws down to lock the watch head into the case. Realistically, the set screw is overkill, as the fit with the case is quite snug. It’s a bit of extra insurance, albeit at the cost of an extra crown-like element on the case (similar to a certain helium-release valve). It would be nice not to have the set screw, but given how new this modular watch concept is, it’s understandable why Certina opted to take this route. Hopefully, once customers get accustomed to the concept, they’ll offer cases that forego the set screw.
Now that we have the background out of the way, let’s jump into the watch itself. Certina offers three different options, beginning with the watch head, all with the same styling but different colors and accents. Whether you go with the traditional black, sunburst blue with gilt accents or white dial with gilt accents, they’re all clean and versatile, with applied indices, a visually matched handset, a date at 6 o’clock, and minimal dial text. The dials are attractive and nicely executed, albeit conservative in their design. That said, in launching the DS+, conservative was the way to go, as the goal was for each dial to seamlessly transition from one case to the next. That said, the gilt-accented blue and white dials do, of course, work better with the two-tone cases.
Speaking of cases, there are currently six case styles available, ranging from a traditional, smooth-bezel stainless steel case to a classic dive watch case to a cushion-case design. The case dimensions vary in size but range between ~43mm on the dive and cushion cases and 40.4mm on the smooth-bezel cases. If you’re worried that this modular construction will come at the cost of thickness, you can rest easy, as the thickest watch of the bunch (the dive case) still only measures in at 12mm, with the rest ranging from 10-11mm. Kudos to Certina, as engineering the watch to be sturdy while remaining thin must not have been easy, especially when considering that the watch is water-resistant to 200m.
Are the case designs going to be for everyone? Definitely not. But that’s the entire point of the system. Rather than splashing out hundreds or thousands of dollars on a watch design that you’re not 100% sold on, you can simply buy the case and give it a whirl. Two-tone curious? Not a problem, just pick up the case and, if it doesn’t work for you, you’re not out a lot of cash. Interested in picking up a dive watch, but primarily work in a formal setting? No problem, just buy the case and swap out the watch head on the weekend. Because Certina sent the whole range of options for this review, I ended up spending a lot of time trying out different options, and the best part was finding combinations I loved but wouldn’t have expected, like the blue dial with a two-tone case on a navy NATO-style strap.
For many watch enthusiasts, the idea of owning multiple watches is part of the joy of the hobby. That said, most people are used to wearing a single watch, and the idea of owning multiple watches seems may seem odd or even excessive (to be fair, they’re probably right). This is where the DS+ is a brilliant approach. It provides seasoned watch lovers with plenty of options to satisfy our thirst for options and customization but also provides those new to the watch world with a taste of the joy of owning multiple watches and switching up what’s on your wrist.
In addition to easily changing up cases, Certina also makes it simple to swap between strap and bracelet options, as the leather straps and bracelets allow for tool-free changes. You’ll still need to pop in spring bars, though, if you plan to use a NATO-style strap. All cases use a 20mm lug width, so finding aftermarket options for straps won’t be a problem. The two bracelet options are either a Milanese mesh (well-suited to the dressier options) or an H-link bracelet. Not surprisingly, both bracelets feature straight end-links. Integrated end links would have been preferred on the H-link bracelet, but given that you’re swapping between cases with different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses, designing end links that would match with each case would have been more than a little challenging.
Certina has equipped the DS+ with a Powermatic 80 automatic movement. The Powermatic 80 is based on the ETA 2824-2, but has some crucial differences. By utilizing a slower beat rate of 21.6kbph, the Powermatic 80 manages a welcome 80 hours of power reserve. You also get a Nivachron balance spring, which reduces the effects of magnetism. The movement, with its custom rotor, is visible behind a display caseback.
Pricing on the DS+ begins at CHF 748 if you’re using the configurator and customizing a single watch. If, instead, you opt for one of the kits with multiple case and strap options, you’re looking at CHF 940-970. If the kits don’t contain the exact combination you’re looking for, you can always pick up a new watch head (CHF 595), case (starting at CHF 110), or strap/bracelet (starting at CHF 43). Given the possibilities for customization this package affords, it’s a compelling price — especially if Certina continues to push the DS+ and add more options down the road.
What makes the DS+ so compelling isn’t just the watch itself, but rather the possibility that this approach holds for the future. Hopefully, we’ll see different dial and movement variants (e.g., a GMT), and additional case options along with more bezel color options on the dive case. With the first rollout of this system, Certina did an outstanding job of producing a product that’s rock solid in hand (there’s zero wiggle, something that could be a concern for potential customers) and is novel, yet functional and appealing. The DS+ is available at authorized retailers, as well as on the brand’s e-commerce platforms. In some countries (Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Poland, UK, Netherlands), you can also order a kit or configure a watch directly on Certina’s website. To learn more about Certina and the DS+ watches, please visit the brand’s website.
>Price: Starting at CHF 748 for a single watch or CHF 940 for a kit
>Size: ~40-43mm diameter and 10-12mm in height (depending on case), 20mm lug width
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Modular design means that you can swap cases and straps to match the occasion — white dial with smooth gold bezel case and brown leather strap for a dressier occasion, black dial, dive case, and NATO-style strap for the weekend.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Indecisive friend who is new to watches and wants to try different styles without spending a fortune.
>Best characteristic of watch: Innovative concept with close tolerances that allow for a precise fit.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Set screw as a second crown adds a large element that could be slimed down.