Articles in the For Your Reference series aim to serve as a resource to collectors, watch lovers, and would-be buyers of great families of vintage watches. Described here are the first three Eterna Super-KonTiki generations which, when combined, span roughly from 1960-1971.
Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, along with a crew of 5, drifted and sailed on “Kon-Tiki,”’ a balsa-wood raft, from Peru to the Polynesian Islands in 1947. Heyerdahl and crew, set out on the 101-day journey to prove his long-held thesis: Polynesia was settled from the east rather than the west. Beyond serving as confirmation of the possible, Heyerdahl’s journey reminded the world of our inherent desire to explore— which seemed to be lost during the decades of war preceding his journey.
Balsa-wood, Polynesia, and a man named Thor construct the origin story for Eterna’s KonTiki— their flagship product line to this day. Yet, any direct link between the expedition and Eterna is unclear. While the Swiss watchmaker’s website claims, “strapped to his wrist, each Kon-Tiki crew member carried an Eterna timepiece,” in reality, none of these timepieces have been recovered or identified. A single early-military style Longines even sits in Oslo’s Kon-Tiki Museum. Nevertheless, Eterna introduced an automatic timepiece bearing the KonTiki name in 1958, and the ethos of these timepieces is rooted in Heyerdahl’s Expedition.
Powered by the brand new for 1958 Eterna-Matic caliber 1414UD, the first KonTiki from Eterna featured a deep gloss black dial with large radium lume triangles at 12,3,6, and 9 containing hour numerals inside the plot— this feature has come to be a calling card of sorts in the product line. The OG KonTiki was housed in a 36.5mm stainless-steel waterproof case and offered on an Eterna signed, Gay Frères manufactured brick link bracelet.
Even without experiencing this first Eterna KonTiki in the metal, the case design is slightly dissimilar with what a ‘diver’s watch’ has come to mean. This initial iteration has a thinner case than expected and lacks a screw-down crown. Reading Eterna’s original marketing materials, it is clear that with this model the brand looked to attract a buyer who required a “tough” watch. While ‘up to 600 feet below sea level’ is certainly a “tough” scenario for a watch to perform in, robustness appears to be the primary objective.
While the very first KonTiki is exceptional, it is admittedly not a dive focused watch beyond the 20-atmosphere water resistance rating. What came next, is. First introduced in 1960, Eterna’s Super-KonTiki was designed to be and offered as a true diving watch— doing so to an extent that few other manufacturers of the time could match. It is a shame that most vintage watch lovers likely have never held one in their hands; the robustness and toughness here exceeds most and is on par with only a handful of pieces you, and your watch boxes, have come to know and love.
FIRST GENERATION: REFERENCE 130 IPT / A
Kicking off the Super-KonTiki line is the ref. 130 IPT. With a true water resistance-focused case and an external bezel, Eterna gave both die-hard diving consumers as well as casual sportsmen a watch both capable and stylish. Bezel options included a traditional elapsed time variation, with minute hashes up to 15, as well as a more exceptional immersion time version.
This bezel was explained by Eterna advertisements as designed to require a manual setting of the triangle marker in line with the minute hand upon reaching final dive depth. From there, a diver had until the minute hand hits their respective depth to stay immersed. The ads, for example, use a 20 meter deep dive. Immersion timing corresponds to a 1949 book entitled “La Plongee,” authored by a group of French scuba pioneers including the legendary Jacques Cousteau. Examples throughout the decades-long run of Super-KonTikis are found with ‘La Plongee’ bezels graduated in both meters and feet.
Moving beyond bezels, the 130 IPT’s case is slightly smaller and thinner than later iterations, hugging the wrist a bit more. Early examples are stamped with only ‘A’ inside the caseback due to Eterna adopting the previously noted numbering system sometime in 1960 or 1961. ‘A’ only watches do not have a gold KonTiki caseback medallion; examples are seen with a KonTiki raft image lightly engraved. If you come across one with this image still visible, grab it— the engraving is extremely light. Super-KonTikis were often delivered to buyers upon a Gay Frères “brick-link” KonTiki signed stainless steel bracelet, like that of the 1958 KonTiki.
First-generation Super-KonTikis are powered either the same Eterna-Matic 1414UD or the cal. 1424UD if offered with date function. Both movements are ETA based with Eterna specific modifications such as adding their patented five ball-bearing rotor— referenced prominently in the brand’s logo. Collectors note an unexpected toughness of these Eterna movements, getting at the whole ethos of the KonTiki line. Owners are proud to remark their Super-KonTikis have yet to require servicing, keeping near perfect time, even after many years of occasional or regular wrist time.
There are two dial variations for the 130 IPT: a traditional version in black with triangular hour lume plots and a rarer white dial. On the ‘traditional’ black dial, the lume plots dig deep into the KonTiki vibe appearing almost as ‘arrowhead’ style markers. Larger arrowheads are found at 12, 6, and 9 with a dare window and at 12, 3, 6, and 9 without. Respective numerals are depicted by cut-outs in the luminous plot. This printing and lume feature is one unique to Eternas, as far as I know. Text and minute track printing are both seen in white as well as brown, although technically not a gilt brown it appears Eterna’s intention was as such.
While the dial story can appear confusing at times, to summarize the whole run, all three generations have gorgeous black dials. Some other variations are present and the aim here is to hit on each of these. The first is an early white dial. Often dubbed the ‘white snowflake’ and aging to what comes off as a creamy color, these are really quite striking. Luminous material is applied in a different layout than on the more common variant with an angular triangle at 12, rectangles at 3, 6, and 9, as well as small squares, or snowflakes, at remaining hours. Contrary to what many other references and collectors may claim, no evidence in the data set collected is pointing to white dialed 130 IPTs being manufactured any earlier than their traditional dialed brethren; rather, the two variants were offered side by side in Eterna’s catalog.
Differentiated from later iterations due to its smaller, thinner case and hidden, recessed small crown, the ref. 130 IPT feels extremely of its late 50s/ early 60s dive era. The case is 37mm, and the external bezel features great early diving based history, while the dial in either black or white is extremely unique. This is a flat out remarkable watch. Lastly, relative to other Super-Kontiki generations studied here, the first is the most scarce, being on offer for a few years less than the later two gens and yet to take hold in the market.
SECOND GENERATION: REFERENCE 130 PTX
Ok, now we’re really getting into it. Eterna’s reference 130 PTX was introduced to the catalog in either 1962 or 1963 and here is where the brand started producing a dive watch it came to hang its hat on for years to come. Translating to ‘P’ for ‘turnable bezel,’ ‘T’ for ‘waterproof case,’ and ‘X’ for who really knows, this renaming appears to simply mark a change rather than give us much literal meaning.* The stainless-steel case was fully redesigned, growing to 40mm as well as in thickness while adding more substantial twisted lugs. The second-generation Super-KonTiki is even clearer in its aim to serve as a tool watch. However, Eterna was aware of what they nailed in their first iteration— striking dial features are retained in this production run as well as ‘La Plongee’ bezel options. Offered only with date, the Eterna-developed 1424UD movement was retained. *(For more on Eterna’s reference number decoding, head to the appendix)
The 130 PTX’s newly reworked case gets more at the true ethos of Eterna’s Super-KonTiki line by increasing the ‘tough’ and robust look at a glance, all the while offered from new with an elegant Gay Frères brick style, stainless-steel bracelet. In addition to the redesigned, more substantial and beveled lugs, the brand upped the case width to 40mm without the crown.
The earliest examples of 130 PTXs match the first generation with ‘SWISS’ only dials rather than any ‘T’ denotation. Swiss brands were required to make the tritium lume switch in late 1963 and denote lume material on the dial. We can use this known requirement and implementation timeline to substantiate the Eterna movement number table included in the appendix, sourced from schild-eterna.de.
With the print color varying between brown and white, dial finish and materials appear to be generally consistent across the entire 1960s Super-KonTiki line. A subtle gloss finish layer is applied over a matte base dial. This layering is best seen surrounding larger hour markers where a cutout in the gloss appears to serve as an area for lume application later in the process. Refinished dials often get these cutouts wrong along with the more obvious lack of 12, 6, 9 numerals within lume plots. As aging occurs and patina develops, dials show stippling and some turn a matte brown.
Black dials are seen much more often than any other variation in the second generation. White-dialed examples such as those previously seen in the 130 IPT are present and correct, however rarely seen. Two additional and rare variants were added to the lineup in the second generation as well. Both featuring applied metal coffin hour markers and dagger hands. One in silver and one in black, these strange versions of the Super-KonTiki are out of character for the model line and might not have been made for long, explaining the lack of examples seen.
Just as with the IPT, the majority of PTX crowns are a simple pull-out style, limiting water resistance while allowing for a smaller profile mushroom or barrel style crown. Eterna did not employ a scientific method in assigning crowns— of the examples observed, a few crown shapes, both signed and unsigned, appear to be correct. Some late 130 PTXs, made in 1966 with movement serials over 4.95 million, were fitted with a screw-down crown.
THIRD GENERATION: REFERENCE 130 FTP / 130 FTT
The last great Eterna Super-KonTiki was introduced to the lineup in 1967 bearing reference numbers of 130 FTP and 130 FTT (simplified to 130 FTP). With a new movement, a marginally different stainless-steel case, and slight formatting changes on the dial, the FTP rounds out Eterna’s decade and marks the final iteration before a major design departure in the generations following.
In this update, Eterna introduced the newly developed calibre 1489K. When compared to the previous iteration, this movement comes in slimmer at 5.2mm vs. 5.85mm and adds an hour of power reserve. The quick-set date feature and sweeping seconds hand are, of course, retained.
What amounts to be the most significant difference between the 130 FTP and the two generations previous is nearly unidentifiable, even with an example of each side by side. First off, to account for a slight change in movement thickness, the flat ring making up the mid-case’s rear has a different angle and curvature. Although unclear, this may have been reworked in order to allow a secured movement without changing the caseback. Eterna already needed to make some changes to their mid-case manufacturing process due to the addition of screw-down crowns. Again, data is fairly inconsistent here but most examples feature larger diameter, barrel-style crowns. To account for this added water resistance, male threads protrude from the new mid-case and a larger slot is cut out from the case shape.
And of course, most obvious is the change staring us right in the face— we now have “super” on a new line underneath ‘KonTiki.’ While this may imply Eterna changed the watch’s naming to a KonTiki Super, the brand is still offering models in their current collection sporting this same text layout and referring to them as Super-KonTikis. It seems a Super-KonTiki is a Super-KonTiki, never a KonTiki Super. This is a mistake I have been continually angered by across the web.
As what amounts to be a departure from previous Super-KonTiki models and a transition into those Eterna would come to produce throughout the rest of the 70s, included in the tail end of the FTP movement number run are a few different dial and hand variations. With the same movement, case, crown, and bezel options as other third generation examples, these watches are slightly rare being limited to the final 4 years from 1968 to 1971. The distinct feature here is a chapter ring that runs along the inside of the minute and hour markers. “Chapter ring” examples feature lume filled baton hour and minute hands, the only handset variation in this Super-KonTiki range. Chapter ring accents and minute hands are seen in an orange color as well as all white.
Prior to starting this process I, like most vintage watch enthusiasts, had not owned or even handled an Eterna Super-KonTiki, or even an Eterna. Outside of hearing a vague story about the brand’s connection to movement supplier ETA, I had not spent much time thinking of Eterna. In all honesty, Eterna did not excite me. That changed. I handled a 130 PTX during a friendly meet-up; then, an earlier first-generation crossed my path. And, for a week, I wore a third generation every day, to work, with a suit and all, on a Veblenist green nylon NATO.
The Super-KonTiki line is unapologetically vintage feeling— there is no mistaking it for anything but a 60s tool watch. Speaking on the second and third generations, as this is the style I gave a week on the wrist, a 40mm diameter case may even stand out as large but, take a look at a 130 PTX compared to a few contemporaries.
With a smaller dial diameter, more effective real estate is available for the bezel and lugs, all while physically wearing no larger than comparable divers. The Super-KonTikis did wear a bit thicker than expected— if I were to trade my leather NATO strap for an original bracelet or even a two-piece strap, this thickness might disappear from mind.
As a collector myself, I have always been drawn to brands and watches on the fringes of popularity, those that give an owner a vintage experience or essence without carrying a high price tag. Having researched and written on Movado in the past and now Eterna, my natural drive is to uncover or find, at least in my own mind. This inclination has burned me many times, however. I have bought plenty of sub-par watches that carry design traits of great watches or even offer their own seemingly remarkable quirks, at least on a phone or computer screen. Sub-par, fringe watches seem to congregate in the 60s and 70s diver space. Many strikingly-aged tritium dials are out there, but once that Instagram queen is in your discerned hand, it does not hold up. The Super-KonTiki holds up. Eterna really put hours of real craftsmanship into these watches and this is abundantly clear in the metal.
For a watch with roots in a story about an adventurer named Thor, let’s finish with some adventurers of sorts. As with the similar offerings from Rolex and Omega above, Eterna’s diver was chosen by at least a couple of military outfits. “Mil-KonTikis” are most often observed from The Israel Defense Forces or IDF; while examples are found in the generations discussed here, the relationship between Eterna and the IDF really flourished in later generations throughout the 70s. Super-KonTikis with military history were also found in Italy where the Italian Navy, or Marina Militare, ordered at least 16 PTX examples in 1966.
Bearing reference number 130 PTX/5 there is not much to distinguish this group from other second generation examples. The dash 5 may be unique to this order, as no other fives have been observed. Additionally, unique three-digit numbers, 001 to 016, are found on the caseback alongside usual Eterna markings. Provenance found includes some remarkable Marina Militare archive photographs. These shots of Super-KonTikis serving their explicit purpose is a fitting way to fade to black.
|Generation||Reference||Movement Number Range||Years||Case||Movement||Dial Variants|
|First||A, 130 IPT||4.4 - 4.8M||1960 - 1962||36.5mm, thin lug, no crown guards, no screw-down crown||1414UD, 1424UD||Traditional Black, Snowflake White|
|Second||130 PTX, 130 TT||4.8 - 5.4M||1963 - 1966||40mm, thick lug, crown guards, both hermetic and screw down crown||1424UD||Traditional Black, Snowflake White, Type X|
|Third||130 FTP, 130 FTT||5.4 - 6.0M||1967 - 1971||40mm, thick lug, crown guards, screw-down crown||1489K||Traditional Black, Chapter Ring (‘Super’ under ‘KonTiki’)|
Eterna Reference System
In the table above, numbers and letters correspond to features of a particular watch. For example, the first Super-KonTiki is most often stamped with reference 130 IPT— translated this reads as ‘1’ for a stainless steel case, the second and third digits are not represented on the table but ‘30’ refers to the specific case style, ‘I’ indicates an invisible or recessed crown, ‘P’ means an external diver’s bezel is fitted, and ‘T’ for a waterproof case. Moving through the varying iterations of the Super-KonTiki line, the 130 digits remain constant, however, the letters following differ as Eterna made slight tweaks. The brand produced many watches bearing similar features as defined by their numbering system; therefore, you may find Eternas that are clearly not Super-KonTikis but with a reference number I use here stamped inside the caseback.
Movement Number Dates
|Year of Production||Eterna Movement Number|
|1958||4,100,001 - 4,200,000|
|1959||4,200,001 - 4,300,000|
|1960||4,300,001 - 4,400,000|
|1961||4,400,001 - 4,500,000|
|1962||4,500,001 - 4,650,000|
|1963||4,650,001 - 4,800,000|
|1964||4,800,001 - 4,950,000|
|1965||4,950,001 - 5,100,000|
|1966||5,100,001 - 5,250,000|
|1967||5,250,001 - 5,400,000|
|1968||5,400,001 - 5,550,000|
|1969||5,550,001 - 5,700,000|
|1970||5,700,001 - 5,850,000|
|1971||5,850,001 - 6,000,000|
|1972||6,000,001 - 6,100,000|
Thankyou for an extremely informative article about a watch I bought new some 56 years ago that still runs as intended!