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, the Soviets developed robust watch movements and distributed them throughout their military. Later on, as the global consumer market grew, so did their 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.
- 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.
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The Beginning of Watchmaking in Russia
England, Switzerland, and the United States had a substantial head start in manufacturing clocks and watches in significant qunatities. 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.
Trained By American Experts
The Russian 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. Inside of five years, 450,000 pieces were being produced to supply military machinery and personnel exclusively.
A little over a decade after its founding, the factory would be forced to pack up and move once more. The advancing German army threatened 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, production would reach a zenith 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 watches were produced under the various trademarks, and they became hugely popular. However, the universal quartz crisis would see their fabrication diminished in the later decades of the century.
Today, it’s not clear who controls each of the factories. Some experienced bankruptcy, others restructurings and ownership changes. 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 models can be found online, in new and vintage condition.
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 dive watches to wear. And why stop at divers models? There is an abundance of authentic Russian military timepieces 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 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 watch 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, adding to the history of each acquisition. The story of your watch evolves. In fact, It’s no longer what brand it is or how much it cost, but how it came to rest on your wrist and why that makes it unique.
Best Russian Watch Brands & Models
The Vostok Watch Makers factory has been around since 1942, when it was initially established in Chistopol, Russia. Originally located in Moscow, the machinery and staff were forced to evacuate by advanding 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, 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 wildy 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 moments from this factory were to be sold under the Vostok name, though. Many would be cased up under other popular names such as Poljot and Sekonda (in the UK). Evidenced by their success, the high-quality / low-cost 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, the Russian manufacturer 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, which they have done so successfully. Vostok-Europe timepieces are priced, on the lower end, at 2-3x the retail price of Vostok.
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 is very similar to that seen in the Seiko 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 Diver Watches
The Zlatoust Diver watch is another timepiece which 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. By the same token, the sales of modern re-releases of 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 the name comes from as well. 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 sported 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, 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 the 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 2019
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 he presented the Moscow Comptus Easter Clock, which possesses more than 25 different functions and 2506 individual components.
This year, at Baselworld 2019, he 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). Theres additional details as well: the mouth possesses retracting fangs and the eyes have red-outlined pupils. Correspondingly, the bottom strap is decorated with a silver 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 the 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!
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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:
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"An informative take on Russian watches! Definitely looking forward to getting my first Vostok after reading this guide."Rating: 5.0★★★★★