Overlooked Icon? Peter Roberts discusses

Peter Roberts reveals how he secured a Certina DS II after avoiding a spring shower outside a second hand teddy bear shop. 


Peter has been a Watchmaker for over forty years and was the first English student to attend the original WOSTEP school in Neuchatel Switzerland.


Certina DS


Peter has worked in various capacities for a number of watch companies, notably Rolex. He also spent over thirteen years as Head of Watchmaking at Hackney Technical College in the UK.


Peter currently works as a consultant in the horological industry, writes for QP Magazine as Technical Editor and is kept very busy producing his first production watch with the aid of his wife Marie-Louise.


Certina DS


The Peter Roberts Grand Complication 5 “ Concentrique” is a unique, limited to 44 piece, modern interpretation of a watch Peter made as a student in 1971. It was the first wristwatch with 5 hands fitted co-axially from the centre of the dial.


A horological gem

On a recent visit to the capital city of Switzerland, Bern, we came across an horological gem! For those of you who are not familiar with Bern, it is a beautiful city, wonderful old buildings, trams and cloistered streets where you can browse the myriad specialist shops, and not get wet when it rains. It is one of mine and Marie-Louise’s favourite places.


Certina DS


Avoiding a spring shower we took refuge outside a second hand teddy bear shop and you can imagine our surprise when lurking amongst the bears was a single battered watch! It was a Certina DS II on a bracelet. Ten minutes of bartering and 300 CHFS later – it was mine!


So what is so special about a Certina DS? 

In the late 1950s the Certina design team under the direction of engineer Philipp Kurth, produced a wrist watch which was probably the most rugged made at that time.


Certina DS


The Flexiglass armoured crystal was extra thick, all the case dimensions were increased, the case back was of double thickness, extra seals at all joints and crown, but the new innovation was the system that allows the movement to float within the case and absorb shocks.


This new system uses an elastic shock absorbing ring that surrounds the movement. An air gap between the movement ring and case allows controlled float and protects the whole mechanism, Incabloc is also fitted. The watch could survive drops from as much as 6 metres and was water proof to 200m.


In the early 70s, I was fortunate to spend some time at the Certina Factory. At that time Certina was an independent manufacturer and very welcoming to students. I was fortunate to be present to witness an impressive demonstration of the DS toughness given in the factory car park.


On the occasion of visits by VIPs / Students etc to the factory towards the end of their tour, puzzlingly they were taken to the car park. To one side of the parking area was a rather “scaffold” like structure – at the base was a solid concrete block from which protruded vertically, rather like a flagpole, a steel tube. This pole reached over 6 metres high and upon it a steel clad concrete block could slide up and down.


The workshop manager would strap a DS model dial up to the top of the sliding block and then by operating a switch the block would be raised by an electric motor to the top of the pole. After a theatrical delay, he pressed a button, the block slid down the pole and hit the bottom block with a tremendous bang, rebound and second impact.


The watch was refitted to the top of the block in crown down position and the whole procedure was repeated. He then opened a wooden cupboard next to the contraption. This contained a timing machine upon which he placed the watch. The Certina would then produce a perfect reading proving the efficacy of the DS shock protection.


The managers final flourish was to offer to test any of the guests own watches on this imposing device. Needless to say, this was an offer no one was prepared to take up!


All the movements for the DS were made “in house” and were very well designed and executed. The DS was used on two Swiss Himalayan expeditions to climb Dhaulagiri. In 1968 the DS II model was produced with a more modern case design,more seals and improved shock resistance.


I have always been very attracted to the DS as I like very tough watches. I own an IWC Yacht Club and original Zenith Defy. Both super tough watches that followed Certina’s lead by using a floating movement for extra shock resistance, but I had not owned a DS until the Bern find.


Certina DS


For the collector there are many dial variations and day and date options, chronograph versions and extra deep diving models. All DS models have a unique turtle embossed upon the case back. Prices are reasonable, only some of the chronograph and extra deep diving models making high collector prices. The movements, which are all built in house,were constantly developed over the years and are all of very high quality – the late types even being fast beat (HF).


On our visit to Basleworld this year we were pleased to see that the Swatch group, of which Certina are now part, had a display of original DS watches to intrigue their clients.


Certina DS

Certina DS


Of course there are now new DS versions in the latest Certina catalogue but it is the original models that intrigue me and I am not sure the latest versions would survive the 6 metres drop!


What does DS stand for? Well, some say “Double Safety”, some “Double Shockproof”. At the Certina factory they called them “Double Security”.


It is all a bit un-Certain(sic)!


My advice if you find one at a good price – buy it “Double Sure”.

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