Certina DS PH200M Review

By: Aggressive Timing Habits

The watch world is definitely having its moment with vintage remakes, especially when it comes to divers. In that sense the Certain DS PH200M (the brand’s big – and apparently final – push at Baselworld 2018) is very much just keeping up with the Joneses.

As a slightly upsized reissue of a 1967 diver with the same unwieldy name, the Certina DS PH200M brings a ton of vintage charm in a very modern and fairly affordable package. I’ve had this watch for a few days now and for the most part it offers a great set of features, some very thoughtful touches, and an excellent value proposition.

 

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Vintage Features:

True to the history of this watch, the DS PH200M incorporates a Certina innovation first introduced around the time of the original 1976 DS: the “Double Security” system. Essentially it’s a big rubber cushion for the movement to serve as a shock protector (in addition to the standard Incabloc shock protection). The “DS” in the model name references this system and the PH200M stands for “Pression Hydrostatique 200m”, meaning 200 metres (660 feet) of water resistance.

In the 1960s, DS-equipped watches went up into the mountains with Himalayan expeditions and down into the ocean with the Sealab project, so the watch’s provenance as a tough tool watch is pretty solid. Other vintage touches on the Certina DS PH200M include an acrylic crystal, 60-click unidirectional aluminum bezel with a full set of minute markers, and a fairly large unguarded crown.

Powermatic 80 Movement:

Under the hood the DS PH200M is powered by the Powermatic 80 movement, a modern Swatch Group workhorse that’s essentially a standard ETA slowed down to 21,600 beats per hour to allow for a very healthy 80-hour power reserve. Variations of this movement can now be found all through the Swatch Group brands and some variants include silicon balance springs and even COSC certification.

As far as I can tell, this is more of a bog-standard Powermatic 80 living inside a little rubber DS cushion. But it’s still a great movement that has gained something approaching ubiquity and should thus be fairly economical to repair over time. The movement has a quickset date and offers hacking and reasonably smooth hand-winding.

The Case:

Since its original issue in 1967, the Certina DS PH200M has definitely been eating its Wheaties. The case width increased from about 40mm in the 1967 edition to just a hair under 43mm, with a lug-to-lug distance around 52mm. I have a fairly large wrist at around 7.75 inches so this is no big deal, but those with more modest wrist sizes should be aware that this is a substantial piece of steel (and a little rubber cushion!) on the wrist.


 

That said, the watch case without the bezel is a little bit smaller and the lugs do curve every so slightly downward which should make it fairly comfortable to wear on smaller wrists. Case height is about 14.5mm, with maybe 2mm of that going to the domed box crystal.

The caseback is a very nice steel screw-down piece with a classic Certina turtle embossed in the center as a testament to the watch’s toughness. It’s all very nicely done and I think it properly befits the vintage tool watch aesthetic; while a display caseback would have been nice in some respects, it would somehow take away from the watch’s charm for me.

The caseback has some polished features but otherwise the case itself is all brushed without any fancy chamfering or the like. I would have loved to see drilled lug holes on this watch; the included quick-release strap and spring bars help the situation a bit (more on that later) but not entirely.

Bezel and Crown:

As mentioned previously, the bezel is an aluminum 60-click unidirectional dive bezel with a lumed dot at 12. Overall it seems a high quality piece. The tolerance on the bezel action could probably be slightly tighter since there’s a bit of wiggle to it between bezel clicks. I also found Certina DS PH200M’s bezel to be fairly difficult to turn, but I’m hoping that part will become a little bit easier over time. Other divers I own (from the Lorier Neptune to a small flotilla of Seikos) have generally smoother bezel action so this is slightly disappointing, however I am unlikely to be taking this watch diving anytime soon it’s a fairly small detail for me.

A few positives about the bezel: the indices generally seem to line up with those on the chapter ring, which I definitely can’t say about some of my Seiko divers, and at least for now the bezel doesn’t have the “wobble” that I feel on some of my other pieces. Try this on one of your dive watches: put a finger each on the bezel at three and nine and push each finger alternately down into the case. If you feel a bit of a teeter totter action there, you’ve got a wobble. This watch has none (I’m sure there are more technical watch terms to use than “wiggle” and “wobble”, but I do not know what they are).

The smoothly-threaded screw down crown is signed with a Certina “C” and pulls out to two positions, one for the quickset date and one to adjust the time. The feel on the first position is fairly subtle but otherwise this is all pretty good stuff. In all, this is a well-built, slightly embiggened vintage-style case that feels reassuringly solid on the wrist as any good tool watch ought to.

Crystal and Dial:

I’ve become quite a fan of acrylic crystals over the years. They offer a “warmer” vintage feel versus sapphire. Although they’re more prone to scratches, they can at least buff out with a tube of Polywatch. The domed, box crystal does add a little to the height of the watch but for me the whole look and feel is so charming that I don’t really mind.

The Certina DS PH200M’s dial of this watch is appealing, fairly straightforward (as befits its diver heritage), and versatile. The matte black dial is accentuated by red crosshairs and white indices with what appears to be BGW9 lume applied to all the hour markers. The lume glows quite brightly and holds a charge well enough to be visible (at least in total darkness) well into the night. The index at three is a little bit shorter to accommodate the date window, and the date wheel is white with black text.

In general I’d prefer a matching date window, but in this case the white window almost looks like an extension of the 3 o’clock index and I think it works just fine. The frame of the date window is polished metal, and in certain light can make the date look off-center, but as far as I can tell that’s just an illusion. Date changes themselves are quite crisp and happen at about 12:06 am. The applied, polished Certina logo adds a bit of texture and panache to the dial and overall everything looks nicely balanced.

 

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Experience and Extras:

First off, the Certaina DS PH200M is not technically available in the US. But global commerce being what it is, it’s quite straightforward to procure this piece either directly abroad or online. The unboxing experience is quite fun; the watch comes in a little plastic box reminiscent of the divers’ dry boxes; although I am quite confident that the box wouldn’t actually be able to serve that function very well.

Inside the box you’ll find the watch itself on an included honey leather strap, an extra black and silver NATO, a set of quick-release spring bars in a little vial, and the warranty card. The inside top of the box has a pseudo-inspirational photo of a diver preparing his gear as a sort of reminder of the watch’s provenance and capabilities; it adds a nice sense of adventure, though my particular watch will be lucky even to see a moderate rainfall every once in a while.

The leather strap is solid and quite thick with a nice quick-release action that doesn’t feel like it’s going to go anywhere once locked in. The leather itself is nice, but the nubuck-esque surface doesn’t quite work for me on this watch. I much prefer the NATO, which is solidly built with a nice black leather insert to guard the (or any number of third-party) straps and bracelets. When it comes to straps the Certina DS PH200M is extremely versatile and looks great with a mesh bracelet, leather straps, or any sort of NATO/perlon/whatever.

I’m a sucker for quick release spring bars and straps; I have a ton of them, and I find myself changing straps on this watch at least once a day. I should note that the vial containing the spring bars was basically impossible to open. In the end I basically chewed the lid off, spitting the lid out onto the table and feeling very wild and powerful in the process. Sense of adventure, indeed!

Value and Conclusion:

At €695 retail, the Certina DS PH200M is a very fine value proposition. Almost everything about it can be summed up as solid, reasonably unassuming, and yet somehow entirely charming. I can see this watch as a great vacation piece, easily able to handle any situation that comes its way but versatile enough (with a few very easy strap changes) to get through anything from a day at the beach to a night on the town.

The watch deftly combines a vintage aesthetic with modern technology and does it all without relying on the faux patina that can be so polarizing within the watch community. This piece helps to mark the 130th anniversary of Certina, references a watch dating back over half a century, and (given the Swatch Group’s exit from Baselworld) also marks Certina’s last hurrah at the venerated festival.

Unfortunately, at least for customers in the United States, is that it’s not officially available Stateside – but if you are able to get your hands on one of these watches, you’re likely to be very pleased indeed.

Please share any questions or comments you have about the Certina DS PH200M below!


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