(Click here to read this page in Italian)
Why a page about the Russian watches? Because they are another symbol of the contradictory Russian old-style technology, with several interesting features, but also several lacks: if well-assembled, they can give a very good service for a lot of years, but, if bad-assembled, they are a source of troubles! Anyway, several of these watches have a real fashion (especially the watches designed in the Soviet era): it's the fashion of the heavy steel of the cases and of the gears, much more interesting than a printed circuit! :-)
"Poljot": the Yuri Gagarin's watch
The "Poljot" is the biggest Russia watch factory. The history of this brand starts in the 1930, when the First Moscow Watch Factory (1MWF) named after S.M.Kirov was founded. The factory produced special precision instruments for space-system engeering, aviation and fleet. On April 12, 1961, Yury Gagarin took along the wrist-watch "Sturmanskie" (first pic above) in the world's first space mission. Since that time "Poljot" became the trade mark of the First Moscow Watch Factory. In the first and second pics above, the "Sturmanskie" worn by Gagarin during his space flight: it was a simple 17-jewels, with "hacking" movement (the second's hand can be stopped pulling the crown, for a better setting of the time). Similar features for the "Pobeda" ("Victory") watch in the third and fourth pics (note the inscriptions on the movement), always released by 1MWF: during the following years, watches with the same "Pobeda" brand (indeed, the name "Pobeda" was also used for several models of cars, ships, trains, etc.) were released by another factory, but with different movement and cheaper construction.
But the main Poljot's product are the chronographs. In the first and second pics, an old model, the "Strela", equipped with a column-wheel movement, 19 jewels, inspired to the Swiss Venus 178 movement. Since the late years '70s, a new chrono movement was launched: the "3133" (third pic). It was a 23 jewels, manual winding (43 hours), substantially a modified Russian version of the Swiss Valjoux "7734" of the early '70s. This movement equipped all the Poljot chronographs produced since that time: from the "Okean" (fourth pic, used also on the "Soyuz" space mission in the 1976) to the current "Sturmanskie" in the fifth pic. In the sixth pic, another classic Russian chrono, the Poljot "Buran", with a look inspired to German watches as Tutima and Hanhart.
Above, some new model, always equipped with the caliber 3133. In the first pic, the "Sturmanskie Gagarin 2001", with a new design, and, in the second pic, the "SS-18", with a titanium case obtained from the material of the old Soviet "SS-18" ICBM rockets! In the third pic, one of the best Poljot's watches: the "Aviator", with an amazing "jetfighter" look! Indeed, this model is a shameless copy of the Swiss Fortis "Pilot Chrono"...also many other watches (often of very well known brands) have a similar look; anyway, the last version (subsequently to a lawsuit by Fortis) has a different dial, indeed less pleasant, but there is also a 24H subdial (fourth pic).
Also the watch in the first and second pics above is very interesting: the Poljot "Russian Aviator", respectively in the versions dedicated to two famous Russian aviators, I. Kozedub and M. Gromov. They have the caliber "2612" (third pic), derived from another Swiss movement, the AS-1930 (AS stands for Adolf Schild), and equipped with a mechanical alarm (there are two crown: one to wind the watch mechanism, and one to wind the alarm). In the fourth pic, instead, the replica of the Poljot "Sturmanskie" worn by Gagarin, with a simple 17 jewels movement: a good watch for the people who want to wear a brand-new historical piece!
The "Vostok": the classic Russian military watch
The "Vostok" (that stands for "East" in Russia; this name was used also for a famous aerospace rocket) is probably the most diffused Russian watch, because of the military look (and substance) and the low price. It's produced by the Chistopol Watch Factory, founded in 1942 when one of the Moscow watch-making plants was evacuated from Moscow to a little town, Chistopol, located on The Kama River. The company was appointed an official supplier of watches for the Defense Department of the Soviet Union in 1965. This year marks the creation of the world-famous "Komandirskie" ("Commander") watch. In the first pic above, there is an example of Vostok "Komandirskie" produced during the years '70s. The Cyrillic inscription "3AKA3 MO CCCP" on the dial indicates that this exemplar was made under order of the Ministry of Defence of the USSR. In the second pic, a classic "Paratrooper" model of the late '80s, with an original case design with crown at 2 o' clock. The movement of these watches was usually the caliber "2414" (third pic): 17-jewels, manual winding, anti-shock balance. All the Komandirskie watches are equipped with water-proof screw-down crown and caseback. In the fourth pic, instead, an exemplar of Vostok "Amphibia" of the years '80s, always with manual winding movement; this watch is water-proof until 200 meters of depth, and also equipped with an anti-magnetic protection. In the fifth pic, a rare and very beautiful Vostok Komandirskie in chronograph version: the movement is the Poljot 3133 with 23 jewels.
Above, some model of Vostok watches currently produced. In the first pic, a recent automatic "paratrooper" Komandirskie: the look is substantally similar to the version of the years '80s, but the crown is smaller and there aren't the crown guards. In the second pic, a recent "Amphibia": the crown is bigger than the Komandirskie. In the third pic, a new model, called "Ministerial Amphibia": it's substantially an "Amphibia" with square case. In the fourth pic, an outstanding sign of the changed situation in Russia: the Vostok "Kremlin", a watch surely more "tzarist" quite than "soviet", very different from the past military Vostok watches! This watch has crystal glass front and back, and even a black sapphire stone on the crown; the dial is a copy of the Kremlin's clock. Anyway, the new Komandirskie/Amphibia and the "Kremlin" have the same automatic movement, called "2416-B" (fifth pic) and equipped with 31 jewels. The older Vostok watches (years '70s-'80s, manual winding movement) are very solid and almost unbreakable, they resist to the hardest shocks. The situation is different for the new automatic models: the caliber "2416-B" is often quite unreliable, and the chrome coatings have often a very short life in comparison with the old exemplars. Of course, these defects are probably not present on the more expensive models as the "Kremlin"; anyway, a pity...The new model in the sixth pic, instead, is quite pleasant: it has a genuine military look, although it's quite inspired to the Breitling Navitimer.
The "Raketa" watches
The "Raketa" ("Rocket") watches were the most famous "civil" watches for the Russian people, without a military destination. They were manufactured by "Petrodvoretz watch factory", located in the city of Petrodvoretz (about 30 km. from St.Petersburg), and founded in 1701 as stone working factory by the tsar Peter the Great. In the 1930, the ruby stars for Moscow Kremlin towers were produced by that factory. In 1932, a new plant was open, manufacturing the products for watch industry. Since 1954 “Raketa” factory has become the leading watch manufacturer in Russia. Unfortunately it went bankrupt in 1995-96; the company was recently rebuilt, but now it produces very cheap and kitsch souvenir watches. A real pity, because there were several interesting models in the past production: in the first pic above, the model with 24h dial, a necessity for submariners, miners, polar explorers, and space travellers, who needs to know whether it's day or night. Another beautiful Raketa model is the exemplar in the second pic, with a curious perpetual calendar in cyrillic! The movement, called "2809" (third pic) has 19 jewels, manual winding, with indication of the day of the month and week. Unfortunately, being non-military watches, the Raketa aren't waterproof, with a tendence to accumulate moisture behind the glass in presence of very humid ambient, and the balance is easy to break, if the watch receives a shock; anyway, differently from the Vostok, there is a quick system for the regulation of the date (it can be regulated simply repeatedly pulling the crown). The version with perpetual calendar allows (on the post-1991 models) to know the day of the week until the 2012! In the fourth pic, instead, another strange and particular Raketa, the Braille watch for blind people: the glass can be opened to touch the hands and know the time. It's the only Raketa watch from the past production that is still today produced.
Other Russian watches
The Slava watches are other classic "civil" Russian watches. The Slava factory (known originally as the Second Moscow Watch Factory) was the second non-miltary watch maker established in Russia (at least, i read so). Indeed, the watches of this brand looks quite classic, without a real military layout. The early movement were derived from an old pre-war French movement, the Lip "T-15" (also some Poljot's movement was derived from this French brand), produced under license. In the first pic above, a very old Slava watch: i know only that it's an automatic with 26 jewels. In the second and third pics above, two nice examples of classic Slava watches still today produced (i own the second), one automatic and one manual-winding. In the fourth and fifth pics, the respective movements, called "2428" and "2427", with 21 and 25 jewels. Both the movements have (differently from many other Russian movements) a button for the quick change of date, and also an interesting feature: two mainsprings instead of only one. It's interesting to note that this is also a mechanical feature of the Lange & Sohne watches...of course, the Slava and Lange & Sohne watches have only this feature in common!
In the first and second pics above, another interesting Slava: an exemplar of the years '70s with quartz movement, one of the first Soviet non-mechanical watches (it was produced in a very little number of exemplars). Today, Slava produces also some new watches (always mechanical, automatic or manual-winding), although often with a not very elegant look....in the third pic, instead, the "Kapitan" model (see the inscription in "Soviet-monumental" style and the chain around the case), with a quite eye-catching look...maybe too excessive! This watch, differently from the others, is water-proof, with an enough strange system on the crown (fourth pic, on another model, called simply "Russia"). In the fifth pic, instead, a new military-style model, automatic and quite pleasant.
Two words also about some other Russian watches. The "Chaika" ("seagull") factory was founded in the 1940 in the city of Uglich, for the production of precision technical stones, and subsequently realized watches with small calibers (16 mm). The name "Chaika" is connected with a "call-sign" of the first woman-astronaut Valentina Tereshkova; indeed, the factory produces mainly ladies watches, with a quite ugly design. However, i have seen two interesting models: in the first pic above, the "Stadium" (automatic with 23 jewels, not more produced; it was realized for the Moscow Olympic Games of the 1980), with an elliptic design that reminds the shape of a stadium (!), and the recent watch in the second pic, with a classic "soviet" look (in the third pic, the movement, called "1601-A", very thin and equipped with 17 jewels). Unfortunately, this movement has no second hand...it has only the "vital functions" (hour and minutes)!!
The Watch & Clock Factory "Molnija" is located in Chelyabinsk, industrial center of South Urals. It was established in 1947. At first main products were wristwatches, pocket watches, mechanical table clocks and unique technical clocks for tanks and submarines ordered by Soviet Union Department of Defense. From the end of 50-s and up to the present time the main product of the factory is mechanical 18 jewels pocket watches "Molnija" ("Lightning"; in the first and second pics above, the "Medal of the Victory" model, that shows the symbol of the highest military decoration in Russia). In the third pic, instead, the dial of a Molnija watch, protected by a cover that can be opened pressing on the crown. Like the "Slava", also the early movements of this brand were derived from an old French "Lip" movement, the "R-36"; the current movement (fourth pic), called "3602", 18 jewels, manual winding, 36 mm caliber, is instead inspired to the Cortebert 620 movement. Eighty percent (!) of the work is done by hand. I own two Molnja pocket watch: they are very heavy, and needs to be handed with care, because, if the watch receives a shock...the break of the balance is absolutely sure. Moreover, the sound of the balance is very, very robust (don't put the watch near to the bed while you are sleeping)! Anyway, they are very old-style and nice watches.
It's interesting to note that the same pocket-watch movement, although the outstanding dimensions, is mounted also on wristwatches! The watch in the first pic above, called "Moscow Nights", is produced by Poljot International (fifth and sixth pics), a German brand that produces watches with Poljot and Molnija movements. Also the watch in the second pic is German, and it is called Junkers "G-38", like a famous vintage airplane. The watch in the third pic, instead, is directly marked Molnijja. All these watches are equipped with the same movement of the Molnija pocket-watches, but equipped with an anti-shock device and better finished (this caliber is called "3603", fourth pic).
Above, some other less known Russian watch. In the first and second pics, two recent examples of "Pobeda" (that stands for "Victory") watches, still today produced by the ZIM (Zavodi Imeni Maslennikov) in the city of Samara. They have nothing in common with the old "Pobeda" watches released by the 1MWF-Poljot during the years '50s. They are equipped with a 15-jewels movement with small seconds, and they are quite simple and cheap. There are several other versions, but with a quite ugly appearance. I own one exemplar of the years '70s, and, although the cheap substance, it keeps the time very well. In the third pic, the "Luch", a watch from Belarus, produced in the city of Minsk. The Luch factory was one of the first factories in the USSR to produce quartz watches. Today it produces also quite simple mechanical watches (with a not enthusiasting look), but this recent model -although equipped with a quartz movement- is interesting, because it's similar to the old Raketa perpetual calendar watch, not more produced since several years. In the fourth pic, an exemplar of "Zarja" watch, produced in the city of Penza, and equipped with a 22-jewels movement (fifth pic). Also this brand produces interesting movements, but ugly watches!
A very interesting watch, instead, is the diver watch in the five pics above! Produced by the Zlatoust Watch factory, it was used by the VMF (Vojenno Morskoj Flot), the Russian military navy. It has incredible dimensions: 56 mm of diameter, 26 mm of thickness (!!!), and the weight is 250 g (!!!!!), pratically unwearable: don't think to wear it at the office if you don't want to be fired by the chief! All, on this watch, is extremely oversized: note the gigantic "sink cap" over the crown, with a little chain. The watch can also easily dismounted without tools, and there is even a solid grille to protect the glass (fourth pic); the hands are luminous. The movement is an huge (and very, very old...) 15-jewels, substantially derived from a Dueber-Hampden pocket watch (produced under license by the Soviets since the years '30s!), 30 hours of winding, quite rugged, but with a quite low precision too (the rate is -/+1 minute for day). This watch is still produced as "souvenir" for tourists, but now it is chrome-plated (not stainless steel as on the "real" military exemplars) and with a water resistance of only 50 meters: incoinceivable for a similar beast...anyway, i love this watch!
Besides the traditional Russian watch factories, there is also some new brand. The "Orion" brand produces pleasant classic watches based on the most common Russian mechanical movements: the watch in the first and second pics has a modified "skeletonized" Poljot movement, and the watch in the third pic is equipped with two indipendent Zarja movements; both are 17 jewels. "Rekord", instead, is another new Russian brand, and produces watches based on Japanese and Swiss quartz movements (ISA, Citizen-Miyota), but also on mechanical Slava movements. The watches in the fourth and fifth pics are based on the Slava 21 jewels manual-winding movement, and the model in the sixth pic is based on the Slava 25 jewels automatic. All these watches are pleasant in my opinion, but they don't have the distinctly "Russian" look that is a feature of watches from the Soviet era, as the Vostok "Komandirskie" and the Poljot "Sturmanskie".
Finally, two Russian watches that are...not Russian! The model in the first pic above, called "Soviet", was produced by Gruen, a well-known French watchmaker, under Italian design (it seems inspired somehow to the Zlatoust diver watch); indeed, the brand "Soviet" was also used in Italy for a wear line (i remember a model of pants equipped with a pocket complete of a screwdriver!). It has a simple quartz movement. The watches in the second and third pics above, instead, are called "Vrema", and are equipped with a mechanical manual-winding movement (don't know the type). No info, unfortunately, about the nation of production. These watches are from an era, the late years '80s, when the "perestrojka" was the sign of an hope of renewal, and, consequently, many Russian products, as the watches, became very popular in the Western countries. Unfortunately, a very short-lived period...
The strangest thing is that especially the young people appreciated the Russian watches; in the early '90s, when i was 20-years old, many of my friends had Vostok, Raketa and even the Molnija pocket watchen, worn everyday. Now, with the fall of the USSR and of his "military" image, the Russian watches are very few diffused, and many (stupid) people considers them "out". Unfortunately, the masses don't know that a Poljot bought with 70 Euro has mechanically more value than a quartz Hamilton that costs 250 Euro...anyway, the Russian watches are still alive, and they are still interesting for the people who wants a rude and essential mechanical watch. The Russian watches are exactly like the Russian cars and motorcycles: old-style technology, sometime with some mechanical problems, but extremely romantic!
Sources of info/pics: Vostok Komandirskie 3AKA3 review, , Raketa Perpetual Calendar review , Swiss Vostok site , Official Russian Vostok site, Official Russian Poljot site , Poljot.com , Poljot Forum (one pic made by Strela) , Complete list of the Russian movements, Official Russian Slava site, Official Raketa site, Russian Souvenirs, Rusplus