Eterna is a brand name every watch fan should be familiar with. If not for their watches new and old, or their historical achievements, then for the simple reason that ETA, the well know movement manufacture now owned by Swatch Group, was originally founded by Eterna in 1932, to make their own movements as well as ebauches for the industry. They also were the first brand to make an automatic movement that used ball bearings in 1948, greatly reducing friction on the rotor, which they labeled Eterna-Matic.
Apart from ETA, the other name that should come to mind when you hear Eterna is Kon-Tiki. In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl and 5 companions sailed on a balsa wood raft from Peru to Polynesia (about 5,000 miles) to prove that the trip could have been done with pre-Columbian technology. They had almost no modern technology to aid them, save a radio and six Eterna watches. Needless to say, they were successful, and therein inspired Eterna to create a line of adventure watches named after their vessel. The 2012 film Kon-Tiki is an excellent retelling of the trip.
The KonTiki line is Eterna’s Submariner, Fifty Fathoms, Sea Wolf, etc… A historically significant watch, with a wide array of models over the last 60 years, from the bezel-less “waterproof” models of the late 50’s to the super-rare and collectible KonTiki-Supers that were issued to the IDF in the 70’s, to modern offerings that speak to its rich lineage. With that said, Eterna isn’t a name on everyone’s radar, but with their newest offerings, they seem poised for a strong comeback.
Just in time for Basel 2016, Eterna has released news on their newest Super KonTiki Chronograph, and it’s a head turner. Before looking at the gorgeous vintage design, it’s worth starting on what’s ticking inside. In the last few years, Eterna has focused on expanding their in-house capabilities with the design of a modular movement called the Caliber 39. It’s a very cool movement that allows for a wide array of customization, from small seconds at 9, to central or 6 o’clock GMTs, to chronographs and a huge array of other permutations. The coolest thing about it, however, is not just the watches that Eterna will make on this platform, it’s that, in the spirit of ETA when it was originally created, the movement’s are available for third-party purchase as a new Swiss-made alternative to ETA, Sellita, Soprod, etc…
So, what’s inside of this new Super KonTiki is the Caliber 3916A, in-house chronograph. At a glance, it appears to simply be a 3-9 chrono, in the vein of 7753’s, etc… but it’s packing some seriously great features that, as a chronograph-addict, I’m overjoyed to see back on the market. Ready?… Well, its got a column-wheel for starters, which is generally considered to be a higher-end and harder to produce system than the more standard cam and lever type (for more on that, check out our Chronography 2: Column Wheels & Cams). Next it’s a flyback, meaning that the chronograph can be instantly reset to zero, while continuously in motion, by pushing the reset button (something than can break non-flybacks). The advantage here is that if you need to stop and restart at a moment’s notice, you can with only one button. There are very few movement’s on the market today that can do this.
The fun doesn’t end there, while it appears at a glance to be a two-register design, it’s actually three. At 9 is an active seconds, while at 3 are stacked hour and minute counters, with a 30-minute hand on top of a 12-hour hand. When not in motion it appears to have the classic bi-register design, but by stacking the hands they add a lot more practical function. Stacked hands are nothing new, Seiko had them on their 7016 movements and Omega modified Lemania 1340’s for their 1040 movement (but that was active seconds over 24-hr) in the 60’s + 70’s, but they are very uncommon today. Additionally, the Cal 3916A features 65hr power reserve, 35 jewels, 28,800bph frequency and date. Yeah, it has a pretty fantastic feature set that really stands out from other chronograph offerings currently available.
Of course, a cool movement without a case and dial does not make a watch, and luckily the Eterna did a great job with the design of the Super KonTiki Chronograph. The design speaks to a few pieces from their archives, taking the barrel case and bold, blocky bezel of their 70’s KonTiki Super’s, while speaking to the iconic triangular marking of their even earlier pieces. The case of the new Super is beastly at 45mm with a 16mm height, but that might be tempered by the slightly modest 50mm lug-to-lug (only trying it on will tell). The size seems to work visually in terms of the proportions of the watch’s various elements. The bezel is a wide, tough and chunky in a way that looks like it will feel great in the hand, while the dial is sized perfectly to include the two sub-registers. A cool case detail is that the pushers and crown have matching, broad toothed textures, adding to the overall rugged feel.
The dial is particularly attractive with a black matte surface, and aggressive triangular markers all around. These speak to the watch’s history, but nevertheless have a a very modern feel. The sub-dials are designed with applied contrasting steel borders and circular graining, making them really pop out from the black. At 6 is a date window with a white numeral on a black disk, properly matching the design. The date location works well here, keeping the symmetry, and also being properly placed on the dial (not too close to the center). Around the edge of the dial is a sloped chapter ring with lines for minutes/seconds and 1/5th seconds, as well as numerals at intervals of 5, adding to the overall legibility of the watch. Finishing the dial is a handset of bold, fence post shapes with slabs of lume, and an arrow seconds. The polished hands add back to the overall vintage-inspired design.
With the new Eterna KonTiki Super Chronograph, the brand is getting back to its visual roots, while showing off their rather full-featured in-house chronograph capabilities. Of course, you might expect that the Eterna will have a rather high price tag as a Swiss-made manufacture, column-wheel chronograph is want to have. But, while not cheap, it’s surprisingly modest with an MSRP of $4,700 on rubber and $4,900 on a bracelet. Far from everyday money, but it positions them very well in the entry-luxury space, offering something in-house, Swiss and from an old an reputable brand. This watch hits a lot of marks for me personally, from the look to the movement, but it’s the price is going to turn a lot of heads. Can’t wait to try one out in Basel.