Russia has a surprisingly rich history in vintage watches.
Watch companies in Russia have turned out some quite interesting and aesthetically pleasing watches throughout history. It’s not just about the looks either; many popular models are noted for their sturdy construction and mechanics, with plenty having in-house movements to boot.
What got me into Russian watches?
As a uni student, when I first got into watches the majority of the best looking and nicest mechanical watches seemed to be way out of my price range. I didn’t have thousands – or even hundreds – to spend on a watch, and while there are some nice entry level Seiko and Orient automatics in the one to two hundred dollar range I’ve always found myself drawn towards more quirky and characterful things.
I then stumbled across a forum thread where someone mentioned the Luch One Hand, which promptly hooked me and dragged me right down the rabbit hole of Russian watches. I loved the character of it, and best of all it was a sub-$100 watch.
You can read my review of the Luch here.
Growing the Collection
I’ve since been able to pick up a couple of bargains in order to fill out different styles in my watch collection: a diver, a classic dress watch and even a 24 hour watch.
Diver: 1990s Vostok Komandirskie
Vostok’s Komandirskie (Tank) is the cheaper baby brother of the popular Amphibia diver. It comes in a variety of designs and doesn’t have as much of a water resist rating as the Amphibia, with some being only splash resistant while others are up to 100m.
I imported this one direct from Russia for about $30AUD. It came strapless, with fixed lugs. Knowing it was coming strapless, I made sure to grab a couple of NATO straps from The Sydney Strap Co and I was set.
This particular watch was supposedly made sometime during the early 1990s. It features a manual winding in-house movement with a screw-down crown, which has a signature wobble when unfastened; you have to pull outwards while winding it for the winding action to actually engage. It’s an intentional design which helps the movement avoid contact with pressure from your hands.
My only real gripe about it is the date window. Without a quick set date feature, if you don’t keep the watch constantly wound you’ll be spending a while on correcting the date window. If having an incorrect date display bothers you, find a model with no date window.
Dress Watch: 1955 Pobeda Red 12
This little old watch is perhaps my favourite of my whole collection, aside from my Omega De Ville. Its manufacture has been dated to Q2 of 1955.
Legend has it that Stalin commissioned this particular model of watch as a commemoration of the Soviet victory over Germany in the Second World War. The story hasn’t been authenticated and given the numerous Soviet purges that occurred throughout history nobody will ever know, but it makes a nice conversation starter.
I really like this as a dress watch. It’s small at 34mm and is unobtrusive under a shirt cuff. It’s manually wound, and with no date window that’s a fine thing. The face has a lovely design aesthetic with the seconds hand inhabiting its own subdial. When I first received this one, the crown fell straight out. A quick trip to the watchmaker sorted that, and he remarked that the movement was in excellent condition given the inexpensive make and age. I like to wonder sometimes what this watch has seen in its 64 year lifespan.
The 24 Hour Watch: Raketa Polar Explorer
Perhaps the most unique piece in my collection so far, this watch has a movement that only completes a full rotation once per day. Just like with the Luch One Hand, reading this one often takes more than a quick glance. I don’t mind though; it has plenty of character.
These pieces are available in both automatic and manual movements, mine is a manual. This particular dial is a variation on the standard one; a limited edition commemoration of the Soviet Arctic mission. With a case diameter of 39mm, this one is a great size for most wrists.
What makes Russian watches a great way to get into watch collecting is the price and variety. Most pieces can be picked up sub-$100 – in some cases new for this price – making it an inexpensive way to add some fun pieces to your watch collection. There are heaps of great looking designs and most of them are surprisingly well built, though some of the modern Russian pieces sometimes are not so.
With a huge variety to choose from and a relatively low cost, it also means you can open them up and have a play around without risking losing too much money.
There’s also a really rich history in Russian watchmaking, which is great to read into. A fantastic place to start is The Birth of Soviet Watchmaking (website).
What are the drawbacks?
Of course, with cheap and/or vintage mechanical watches there are some drawbacks.
Firstly, servicing the movement will probably cost more than you paid for the watch. There’s also a high likelihood that they won’t be super accurate; though with smartphones in our pockets, is a wristwatch really a tool for timekeeping anymore or is it just another piece of jewellery?
Lastly, shipping any vintage mechanical watch halfway around the world runs a small risk of having a non-functioning product on arrival. Though, given the small financial risk it’s a small gamble for the potential reward. I haven’t had an issue yet.
Some Other Models I Love
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations for getting through my ramblings about a small part of my watch collection. Have some images of some beautiful Russian watches from my wishlist for your time:
That’s all for today!
Thanks for reading. If you are looking to get into collecting mechanical watches, or you are just after a unique timepiece without having to pay thousands of dollars; look to the east!
Do you have a favourite Russian watch?