Eterna-Matic automatic wrist watch, 1968

The latest addition to my collection is this Eterna-matic 2000 Centenaire automatic wrist watch, dating from 1968. Eterna introduced the Centenaire range in 1956 to celebrate the centenary of the company. This is a classic dress watch, a little small by today’s standards, but certainly acceptable as a vintage timepiece. It is gold plated with a date complication. It has aged well, with a fine layer of patina. Eterna is a well-respected brand and it has a strong following amongst vintage watch collectors. It is a nice addition to my collection and I have enjoyed wearing it on numerous occasions.

Eterna

The history of the Eterna watch company traces back to 1856 when Dr. Joseph Girard and Urs Schild established “Dr. Girard & Schild,” specialising in ébauche manufacture. Adolph Schild joined in 1865, and the company evolved into Schild Fréres & Co., producing their own ladies’ wristwatch designs from 1876. In 1890, the Eterna collection was launched, leading to the company’s name change to Eterna-Werke, Gebrüder Schild & Co. in 1905.

Eterna advertisement.
Eterna advertisement.

Eterna’s innovations included a wristwatch case patent in 1904, the first alarm wristwatch in 1908, and the smallest manufacturing wristwatch with a Baguette movement in 1930. ETA SA, a subsidiary of Eterna, was established in 1932, specializing in Swiss watch movements. The Eterna-matic watch mechanism, featuring a ball-bearing mounted rotor, was introduced in 1948, revolutionizing self-winding systems.

The Eterna-matic movement was refined over time, leading to the creation of the Eterna-matic Golden Heart for Ladies, endorsed by celebrities like Gina Lollobrigida and Brigitte Bardot. The company also commemorated Thor Heyerdahl’s KonTiki expedition with the KonTiki collection of dive watches in 1948.

As electronic watches gained popularity, Eterna introduced the Eterna Sonic tuning fork watch in the 1970s and a quartz watch in 1974. Notable achievements include the 1979 Estrellita Quartz, the smallest water-resistant watch, and the Museum line’s ultra-thin .98 mm watch in the 1980s.

In 1982, Eterna was acquired by the SMH trust, later becoming part of the Swatch Group. Eterna’s brand was subsequently spun off to the PCW Group, under Prof. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche’s F. A. P. Beteiligungs GmbH (“Porsche Design”) group, while ETA remained under the control of the Swatch Group.

Eterna-matic

In 1948, Eterna introduced the Eterna-matic watch movement, revolutionising self-winding watch mechanisms. Traditional automatic watch designs of the time were prone to wear and tear, affecting their accuracy and reliability. Eterna addressed this issue by integrating five strategically placed ball bearings into the mechanism. This innovation greatly enhanced efficiency, reducing friction and resistance on the oscillating weight responsible for winding the mainspring. Consequently, internal components experienced less stress, resulting in improved accuracy and longevity of the watch. With the introduction of Eterna’s ball-bearing mounted rotor, these concerns were effectively mitigated and the concept was widely adopted. The Eterna-matic watch quickly gained popularity, prompting Eterna to adopt an image of five balls as its corporate logo.

Eterna-matic 2000 Centenaire watch, 1968.
Eterna-matic 2000 Centenaire, 1968.

Continuing its commitment to innovation, Eterna refined the Eterna-matic movement over time. Initially, the movement was scaled down for women’s timepieces, and its design was later streamlined. This led to the development of the Eterna-matic Golden Heart for Ladies, featuring the world’s smallest automatic winding calibre. The endorsements from influential figures like Gina Lollobrigida and Brigitte Bardot further propelled the watch’s popularity, solidifying its status as a sought-after timepiece.

Eterna 1438 calibre

The watch has an Eterna 1438 automatic movement which is working nicely. The movement is fully signed and it has the serial number 5597587 which dates it back to 1968. The Eterna 1438 automatic watch movement, made from 1959, is known for the following features:

Automatic winding: The movement is self-winding, harnessing the energy from the wearer’s movements.

Date function: It includes a quickset date function, which can be set by repeatedly pulling the crown.

Sweep second hand: A smooth-moving second hand that sweeps around the dial.

Power reserve: Approximately 47 hours, allowing the watch to keep running for nearly two days on a full wind. This is a very respectable power reserve, even for modern automatic watches.

Eterna 1438U calibre.
Eterna 1438U calibre.

Frequency: Operates at 18,000 vibrations per hour (vph), which is typical for vintage watch movements.

Jewels: Contains 21 jewels, which are bearings designed to reduce friction at the points of greatest wear in the movement.

Dimensions: The movement has a diameter of 28 mm and a height of 4.9 mm, making it suitable for a variety of watch sizes12.

Shock protection: The Eterna calibre 1438 used the Eterna-U shock protections system which would have contributed to the movement’s durability, helping it withstand everyday wear and tear.

These features made the Eterna 1438 movement a very reliable and durable choice for timepieces during its time of production.

Dial

The watch measures 33mm in diameter excluding the winding crown and the lugs. The main body of the case is gold plated and it is in good condition, just a little marking if you look closely. The screw-on case back is stainless steel and it is signed inside with the Eterna name. The Eterna winding crown is signed with the Eterna ball bearings logo. Some of the gold plating has worn off the end of the crown, but this is to be expected of a vintage watch that is over fifty years old. The acrylic lens is in good condition, although there is some reflection showing in the photographs. The case back is in good condition, with faint scratches from normal usage. Original baton-shaped hands

Eterna case back.
Eterna case back.

The signed Eterna dial is in its original finish. There is a little “pin prick” mark just above number 4 and general light marking but overall not too detrimental. The quickset date function is set by repeatedly pulling the winding crown out until the desired date is reached. Timekeeping is good, it is +/- 30 seconds per day, which is perfectly acceptable for a vintage watch.

Summary

Given the reputation of Eterna and the enthusiasm for such models as the KonTiki, I was expecting great things of this particular Eterna watch and I wasn’t disappointed. Its timekeeping is very acceptable and with its gold-plated finish, it looks like a classic dress watch. All in all, it is an excellent example of the sort of quality that can be found in good vintage automatic watches.

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Eterna at Vintage Watches Collection.

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