No.2 in an occasional series Review: 1960s Eterna·Matic

  by LesZ

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In the first review in this series (of the Felicia de luxe Chronographe), I alluded to the fact that I had arranged with my local watch-maker to occasionally 'borrow' a watch from his stock of vintage watches for sale, and, without fear or favour,  write a review of it.  This is the second review in the series, and is of a watch that I had often heard of but rarely seen in the metal—the Eterna·matic by the Eterna Watch Co.  The watch in question is thought to have been manufactured in the early 1960s or thereabouts, although as will be discussed later, there is evidence indicating it may have been made up to 10 years earlier.


The Company

What is now known as Eterna S.A. began life in 1856 in Grenchen, a small town in the north-west of Switzerland near other famous watch-making towns such as Biel, La Chaux de-Fonds and Le Locle.  The original name of the company was U. Schild, after its co-founder schoolteacher Urs Schild, who set up the company with doctor Josef Girard.  Just how a schoolteacher and a doctor came to set up a watch-making firm is something I haven't been able to figure out yet.

In 1906 the name of the company changed to 'Eterna-Werke', and in 1932 it divided into 'Eterna S.A.' which specialised in precision movements, and 'ETA S.A.' which concentrated on making raw movements.  Today, of course, ETA is a giant manufacturer of ébauches, the raw movements which are bought by other watch manufacturers to be used as is or modified in some way.  There would be few manufacturers around today who would not have an ETA movement inside one or more of their watches.

Eterna's reputation for building rugged and reliable watches received a tremendous boost in 1947, when Eternas were worn by Norwegian anthropologist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his crew during their successful 101-day, 6920 km (4300 mi) Pacific Ocean voyage from Peru to Polynesia.  Not convinced by the conventional wisdom of the day that Polynesia was settled by travellers from the west of it, Heyerdahl made the east-west journey on a balsa wood raft, named the Kon-Tiki, to prove Native South Americans could have migrated to Pacific Islands.  The Kon-Tiki was modelled on rafts used by ancient Peruvians.  Eterna celebrated this remarkable feat by naming its sports watch model the Eterna Kon-Tiki, and it's been popular ever since.  One wonders if it would have been so popular had Eterna called it the Eterna Heyerdahl.

Ferdinand Alexander Porsche acquired Eterna in 1995, thus continuing his association with watchmaking which commenced with Orfina and then later with IWC.  Also in that year the Pininfarina design studio was commissioned to produce a new line of watches, the '1935' series, including the rectangular 'Art Deco' model.

Eterna has a history of being innovative, as the illustrations opposite show.  In its time the company has held the record for the slimmest quartz watch ever produced ('Linear Quartz Squelette', 1.5 mm, 1979), and set the absolute record for flatness for all categories with the Eterna 'Linea Museum' (0.98 mm, 1980).


The Eterna·matic

Eterna's first automatic movement was the  cal. 834, first manufactured in 1938.  It had hammer winding in one direction only.  Eterna's last hammer wind movement (the cal. 1158) was made in 1946.

In 1948 Eterna produced their first rotor automatic, the 'Eterna·matic', in the ladies' cal. 1198.  The outstanding innovation in this calibre was the mounting of the rotor on 5 ball bearings, each of 0.65mm diameter.  This arrangement produced a particularly low friction and rugged mounting for the rotor, which together with a low friction springless double click wheel allowed bi-directional winding.   A similar layout was used in the first men's rotor movement, the cal. 1248 of 1950.  The double click wheel was later replaced (1956) by two thin beryllium click wheels side by side, which increased transmission capability and allowed a considerable reduction in movement height.

So successful was the basic design of this movement, that all Eterna automatic movements ever since have incorporated the 5 ball bearings and have been called 'Eterna·matic'.


The Watch

This particular Eterna·matic comes in the guise of a rather classy-looking dress watch.   The case and screwed case-back are stainless steel, with a solid gold capping on the bezel and lug tops.  The dial has a spun silver finish with an unusual alternating ring and radial pattern around the minute chapter, complemented by very attractive applied gold markers and gold dagger hands and sweep second hand.  The dial has been re-finished, but it is quite well done.  Only when it is examined under a loupe does it become obvious that this is in fact a re-dial. 





Some famous names here!


At the Swiss National Exhibition, Eterna presented the first wristwatch with an alarm—for that time, a technological revolution.


The first watch-cigarette lighter from Eterna.  Each time the flame was ignited, the watch was wound up.  A great incentive to smoke as many cigarettes as possible!







The Eterna·matic—first automatic movement with the rotor mounted in ball bearings. The 5 balls became Eterna's trademark.





The applied hour markers merit a closer inspection. The round markers slope away either side of a central line and thus catch the light in intriguing ways. Similarly, the X-shaped markers at 6 and 9 are multi-faceted and give a great three dimensional effect. (The white specks are dust on the crystal and not marks on the dial.)

The supplied leather strap suits the watch, is padded and comfortable to wear, but is somewhat on the short side. It only just fitted my 7½" wrist. Some slight wear marks are discernible on the leather where the buckle has previously been fastened.

The screw-in caseback is completely devoid of any exterior markings. In fact, the whole watch (inside and out) carries very few markings.

 Being mid-size and of light weight, the Eterna·matic is extremely comfortable to wear and looks good on both formal and informal occasions.  It doesn't feel particularly thick, either.

The solid gold cap on the bezel and lug tops can be seen plainly in the photo (left). The crystal is acrylic.

The crown is unsigned, which leads me to suspect it may be a replacement for the original, which would have been signed with the Eterna 5-ball bearing trademark. However, the crown is easy to grasp and winding is smooth. The date is not quick-set and changes gradually between 9.30pm and 12.05am. Setting the date can be a chore if the watch has stopped, because the 'quick shuffle' method (i.e. turning the hands back and forth between 1am and 11pm) doesn't work—you have to wind forward through each and every hour.

    The Movement

Continuing the theme of not imparting much information, the inside of the caseback tells us only that it was made by the Eterna Watch Co. in Switzerland, and that it is made of stainless steel. Scratched on the inside in faint letters is "Circa 1963"—obviously somebody's attempt to date the watch. John, my watchmaker, agrees that it would be around that vintage. However, from my researches into Eterna·matic movements it would appear that the movement in this particular watch was manufactured in the early 1950s, for subsequent to that date the design of the movement altered radically.

And here it is. The design of the movement is very clean, with some perlage evident on the plates. The 5 ball bearings in the rotor mounting are evident, as is the double click wheel forming part of the winding train.
The number of jewels is not given, and I wasn't able to find this out either. But however many there's supposed to be there's actually 2 more, as a couple of worn bushes were 'upgraded' during a recent overhaul!
I don't think I've ever seen a watch movement with so little writing on it!
The calibre number (1243 UC) is stamped under the balance, where it's very difficult to see. Only the 'UC' is visible in this shot.

In spite of appearances from the photo, the balance is screwed and is Glucydur, with a flat Nivarox hairspring and proprietary Eterna-U shock resistance. The vibration rate is 18,000 vph.

The large and highly-polished rotor dominates visually. It winds the Eterniflex mainspring bi-directionally and without any discernible noise or vibration. In fact it's so smooth and efficient, the Eterna·matic could best be described as a 'fit and forget' watch. After an initial full wind, my normal home and office routine was sufficient to keep it going for the two week review period.


I'm pleased to say the Eterna·matic performed without a hitch, never missing a beat. Everything about it felt smooth and refined, exuding quality. With regards to accuracy, it initially lost 28 seconds over 6 days, or approximately -5 sec/day. This was with being worn during the day and left crown up at night. When left dial up at night it gained 2½ seconds in 4 days, or + ½ sec/day. This is better than many quartz movements can achieve. No complaints from me on this score.

There is no luminous material on the dial or hands, so reading the time in the dark was naturally a little difficult. OK, quite difficult. Alright, downright impossible. During the day there's no problem with legibility.

Setting the time to the second was challenging, as not only does the movement not hack, it was impossible to stop even with considerable backward pressure on the crown. Letting the mainspring wind down and then starting the watch at the appropriate moment is the easiest way I can think of for exact setting.


Given the reputation of Eterna and the enthusiasm for such models as the Kon-Tiki, I was expecting great things of this particular watch and I wasn't disappointed. Its timekeeping is impeccable and with its gold-capped finish it looks classy. All in all, an excellent example of the sort of quality that can be found in good vintage mechanical watches.


Model:            Eterna Eterna·matic manuf. approx 1963 (possibly earlier?).

Movement:    Full rotor automatic bi-directional winding Cal. 1243 UC, 13 ligne, 29mm Ø, 5.9mm high. Centre seconds, date, 18,000 vph.  Screwed Glucydur balance, flat Nivarox hairspring, Eterna-U shock resistance.  Eterniflex mainspring.  No. of jewels not stated.  Power reserve 43¾ hours (measured).

Case:             Stainless steel with solid gold capping on bezel and lugs, screwed caseback.  Non-screw crown.  35mm Ø across bezel (excluding crown).  12mm overall thickness.    18mm between lugs.  Water resistance not stated.  Acrylic (hesalite?) crystal.



John Gaskin of Adelaide Time Watch & Clock Repair Specialists, Adelaide, South Australia for the loan of the watch.

Eterna SA for illustrations from its website.

© Les Zetlein, February 2000.  All photographs other than those listed above were taken by me using a Sony Mavica FD-83 digital camera.


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If you would like to see a list of other reviews I've done, please click here                  

Last update 8 Aug 2006






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