Looking at the modern watch world, it may be surprising to learn of the vast watch history originating in Russia.
Indeed, starting in the 1900s, Soviet watches were developed with robust movements and then distributed throughout the military. Later on, as the global consumer market grew, so did Soviet watch exports.
In this guide, we will explore the world of Soviet watchmaking through the following categories:
- Russian Watchmaking History
- Russian Diver Watches: Why Are They So Popular?
- Best Russian Watch Brands
- Russian President Watch
Continue reading through, or use these links to jump to a specific section.
Best Russian Watches
- Vostok Amphibia
- Vostok Komandirskie
- Zlatoust Dive Watch
- Raketa Big Zero
- Raketa 24-Hour Watch
- Sturmanskie Watch
- Konstantin Chaykin Joker Dracula Watch
- Russian President & Putin’s Watches
You can use the quick-links above to jump straight to a specific model, or keep scrolling to read through the history of watchmaking in Russia.
See Bespoke Unit’s Watch Reviews
The Beginning of Watchmaking in the Soviet Union
England, Switzerland, and the United States had a substantial head start in manufacturing clocks and watches in significant quantities. Going into the 1900s, industrialization had allowed their production volumes to increase substantially, and Russia found itself importing most timepieces.
For more on the history of American watchmaking, check out our American Watch Brands Guide
In an effort to move towards self-reliance, and under orders from Joseph Stalin, two defunct watch companies based in the US were purchased and packed into 28 freight cars. Consequently, the machinery would make their way to Moscow and lay the foundation for the First State Watch Factory.
Soviet Watchmakers Trained By American Experts
The Soviet staff was trained by American watchmakers, and by September 1930, the factory was up and running. Within two months, the first 50 pocket watches had been made. Within five years, 450,000 pieces were being produced to supply military personnel and machinery exclusively.
A little over a decade after its founding, the Soviet watch factory would be forced to pack up and move once more. This time, an advancing German army posed a threat to the vital plant. For this reason, the decision was made to relocate most of it to the city of Zlatoust. A component would also make its way to Chistopol, the future birthplace of the Vostok brand.
The Birth of The First Moscow Watch Factory
When the German forces were in retreat, the factory would again return to Moscow as the First Moscow Watch Factory. In the long run, the production of timepieces in the Soviet Union wouldn’t reach a zenith until post-war, especially when sales were opened to the public.
The offspring factories of Zlatoust and Chistopol, among others, would remain and sprout their own brands. Ultimately, millions of Russian watches were produced under the various trademarks, and they became hugely popular. However, the global quartz crisis would see their fabrication diminished in the latter decades of the century.
Today, it’s not clear who controls each of the factories. Some went bankrupt, others were restructured and changed owners. Regardless, the fact that production continues is clear.
Luckily for watch enthusiasts, the rebirth in mechanical timepiece demand has stretched to the Siberian territory. Tons of Soviet military watch models can be found online, in new and vintage condition.
Next, we will dive into the top Russian brands and models around. But first…
Russian Diver Watches – What Makes Them So Popular?
In this guide, we take a look at many of the Russian watch brands and models that have gained a serious following on the web. Ironically, many of them can be purchased for a small fraction of the retail price of ones we’ve reviewed here on Bespoke Unit. So, why are these watches so special?
Well, we just alluded to the first reason. These timepieces are quite cheap! For the price of a low-end luxury watch, you can get 3 or 4 Russian watches to wear. And why stop at diver models? There is an abundance of vintage Soviet watches looking for owners on sites like eBay, most at very accessible price points.
Secondly, these timepieces are seen as relics from times past. With the click of a button, you can literally have a piece of Russian history delivered to your front door. Not only that – you can wear it without worry, and it still works! There’s something to be said here for an accessory that is decades old and which still serves its original function.
Influencing The West
By the same token, contemporary brands like Longines take design inspiration from their early models when designing new releases.
This fascination with yesteryear is shared by most horology fans, and it’s what keeps modern ‘heritage’ model lines alive. Similarly, it helps explain the ever-growing vintage Soviet watches communities all over the net.
Lastly, we consider the variety. The plethora of dial options available for each historic model is so vast, it borders on overwhelming. You’ll be hard-pressed to meet someone on the street with the same model, even less the same dial.
Yet this same fact is what makes ‘the hunt’ so exciting. Different examples pop up on online auctions every week; just as quickly they disappear into the vault of an alert watch collector. It’s not easy to resist the urge to jump on a unique example at first sight, especially knowing you might never see one like it again.
Best Russian Watch Brands & Models
The Vostok Watch Makers factory has been around since 1942. It was established in Chistopol when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Originally located in Moscow, the machinery and staff were forced to relocate and reassemble in a new location by advancing German forces. Understandably, the tools were first devoted to the war effort. Years later, when fighting ceased, it returned to its watchmaking roots.
It wasn’t until the 1960s when the Vostok brand came into being, its name likely inspired by the Soviet Vostok space program which successfully put a man into low Earth orbit. Early partnerships with the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Defence would eternally intertwine Vostok with military-oriented timepieces.
First came the Commander’s watch, the Komandirskie. Next, the wildly popular Amfibia (Amphibian) diver’s watch. Down the line, Vostok even delved into classic watches. By the 1980s, the Vostok factory was producing over 4 million movements a year.
Not all of the movements from this factory were to be sold under the Vostok name, though. Millions of watches made here were cased up under other popular names such as Poljot and Sekonda (in the UK). As evidenced by their success, the high-quality/low-cost Soviet watches produced in the Chistopol factory were desired the world over.
The crisis that struck watchmakers throughout the world would also make its mark in Russia. Eventually, Vostok would file for bankruptcy in 2010. Fortunately, a corporate restructuring would enable the historic brand to forge ahead until today.
On Vostok-Europe Watches…
The early 2000s saw the Chistopol manufacturer join with the conglomerate Vilnius Koliz. Branded Vostok-Europe, the joint venture would mix modern design with the time-tested quality of Vostok’s watch movements.
The offspring watch brand aimed to paint their watches with a more luxurious ethos; their efforts appear to have been largely successful. Vostok-Europe timepieces are priced, on the lower end, at 2-3x the retail price of a traditional Vostok watch.
Their slogan “For Going to Extremes” has led them to release many successful sports watches. Similarly, they’ve sponsored figures of more unconventional sports such as aerobatics pilots, strongmen, MMA fighters, and winter rally drivers.
The Vostok Amphibia Watch
The Vostok Amphibia can be considered Vostok’s most renowned model. The modern releases of the watch are very popular, though online communities have developed a fascination with vintage versions. For instance, on the popular site Watchuseek, there is an entire forum section devoted to buying and modifying Amphibias.
The watch is characterized by its true dive watch nature, being rated to 200m of depth. Equally important are the stainless steel case, domed crystal, and rotating diver’s bezel. Generally, the Amphibia is powered by an automatic Vostok movement, some with a date function, others without. The dials are greatly diverse; they’re offered in many varieties by the numerous sellers that can be found online.
Recently there has been an explosion of ‘modders’ or customizers who sell internal parts and case components for Amphibias. Along the same vein, one can find custom bezels that can easily be exchanged, allowing the wearer to make their Vostok timepiece truly their own. Altogether, this culture and following garnered by the Amphibia are very similar to that seen in the Seiko SKX community.
The Vostok Komandirskie Watch
The Komandirskie watch, or “Commander’s Watch”, is yet another very popular offering by Vostok. Like its sibling, it can be purchased online in vintage condition or brand new, both at relatively inexpensive price points.
In most of its expressions, the Komandirskie is characterized by a chrome-plated brass or steel case rated to 30m of depth and presented on a strap. Internally, they’re usually powered by a manual movement with time and date functions.
As with the Amphibia, the dial designs can vary wildly. Moreover, customization expands the possibilities even further. Undoubtedly, the joy in owning one of these is derived from, at least in part, the late-night online searches leading to scoring the right one.
The Zlatoust Brand – Iconic Russian Dive Watches
The Zlatoust Diver watch is another timepiece that has emerged as a celebrity from Russia’s past. The Zlatoust factory, named after the city where it’s located, originally produced watches for Red Army officers and clocks for military machines, such as tanks and planes.
Zlatoust Diver watches, or “Zlatoust Vodolaz” watches, were also produced to serve the Russian military. More specifically, they served the Soviet Navy, finding their way onto almost every Navy diver’s wrist in the 1950s. Production would seize in the 1970s, only to resume decades later when demand for mechanical watches resurrected.
The massive case size (60mm) along with the large luminous numerals and canteen-style crown make for a unique look. In the same manner, the lack of a diver’s bezel further differentiates this diver. These watches are a piece of Russian history, of military diving itself, sure to satisfy anybody’s knack for uncommon timepieces. All things considered, it seems like the only question is, do you have the wrist for it?
Raketa Watches, or “Rocket” Watches, are yet another Soviet watch brand whose name was inspired by the race to space. Since 1945, the Petrodvorets Watch Factory had been operating in Saint Petersburg. However, it wasn’t until Yuri Gagarin’s flight into space that they branded their watches in honor of his trek.
Raketa watches can tout a claim that not many in the watch industry can – their movements are made entirely in-house, down to the hairspring. At times, they’ve even supplied movement components for Swiss brands. During its peak, Raketa reached a massive production volume, reportedly millions in the 1970s.
Naturally, their extensive supply has seen the rise of scrupulous vintage collectors. The sales of modern re-releases based on historic models have been bolstered by this trend as well.
The Raketa Big Zero & 24-Hour Models
The Big Zero is one of Raketa’s most popular models, as well as one of the most discernible. One look at the dial and you’ll understand where its name comes from. Evidently, Russians are not ones to concoct cryptic model names.
The Raketa 24-Hour watches were initially produced for explorers embarking on expeditions to the North Pole. Albeit not as useful as they were in their heyday, they certainly make for intriguing dial styles.
When Yuri Gagarin made humankind’s pioneering trip into space, he wore a Sturmanskie (“Navigator”) watch on his wrist. You may not have been aware, though. For one thing, not many marketing campaigns have been built around this fact.
Of course, the direct comparison here being the Omega Speedmaster, a watch recalled by absolutely everyone as the First Watch On The Moon.
At the time, Sturmanskie watches (correctly pronounced with a “sh” at the beginning) were not officially issued space watches. The happening was merely by chance, as the timepiece was Gagarin’s personal watch. Nevertheless, a star was born during that 1 hour, 48-minute space flight: The First Watch Worn In Space.
Today, Sturmanskie offers various model lines of different styles. Naturally, amongst these is the Gagarin, a direct descendant of Yuri’s space companion.
Konstantin Chaykin Watches
Joker Watch – Russian Luxury At Baselworld
Konstantin Chaykin is an independent luxury watchmaker based in Moscow, Russia. If those qualifiers didn’t already make him uncommon enough, the design and complication of his timepieces will certainly seal the deal.
Unlike his compatriot manufacturers, Chaykin revels in alluring designs with extravagant complications. Officially, “Konstantin Chaykin watches embody audacity, courage, and distinction”. The brand’s collection certainly reflects it.
2012 saw the Cinema watch honor the early days of mechanical animation with a newly patented complication. Equally innovating, in 2016 Chaykin presented the Moscow Comptus Easter Clock, which possesses more than 25 different functions and 2506 individual components.
Later, at Baselworld 2019, Chaykin built upon his already successful Joker platform to release the Dracula Watch. The timepiece possesses an innovative time-telling function (the eyes), as well as moonphase (mouth). There are additional details as well: the mouth possesses retracting fangs (day/night indicator) and the eyes have red-outlined pupils. Correspondingly, the bottom strap is also decorated with a silver-toned bow tie and blood-red tux lapels.
P.S. For more on this year’s show, check out our Top 5 Baselworld Watch Trends.
Russian President’s Watch
Poljot President Watch
Recognized for many things, Russian president Vladimir Putin is likewise known for his luxurious watch collection. Yet he’s never been seen with a Poljot official President’s watch, probably because it’s not up to his horological standards. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to catch a glimpse of this timepiece that is often given to VIP guests as well as prominent state figures in Russia.
The official Poljot President Watch is characterized by a round case, sometimes in a precious metal presentation. Coupled with a mechanical movement, the functions consist mostly of a chronograph and date.
Similar to the other Russian watches we’ve explored, the dial is widely varied. From plain white, to mother of pearl, to skeletonized. Above all, the only constant component across them is the presence of the Russian Federation’s coat of arms.
So, what does the actual Russian head of state wear?
Putin is not one to shy away from rocking his lavish collection in public. There are common appearances from various Patek Philippes, a Breguet, a A. Lange & Sohne Turbograph, and the Blancpain Leman Flyback pictured below.
What can we say? Great taste, Vlad!
More Guides & Articles
We hope our guide has helped you get a glimpse into the extensive world of Russian watches, both new and old. Are there any models or brands we may have missed? What’s your take on the Poljot President watch – would you ever wear such a gift? Leave us a comment below, or check out or other watch content: