Vostok Watches: the Stars of Soviet Vintage

Last updated on: May 22, 2020

Vostok is part of the legendary trio of Soviet watch brands, along with Raketa and Poljot. These three account for a significant share of all vintage timepieces sold online and feature many iconic models.

Vostok (sometimes spelled as Wostok) is closely linked to the Russian military sector. Not only because Vostok watches were supplied to the troops, but also considering how this brand came to be.

History of Vostok watches

1941. The German army invades the Soviet Union and quickly approaches the capital. Watch factories located in Moscow have at that point shifted their production from civil watches to munitions, specifically fuses and timers. Consequently, they are considered as important military assets. In October 1941, the situation is critical and on the 15th the decision is taken to relocate key industries out of Moscow to prevent the useful equipment from falling into enemy hands.

The Second Moscow Watch Factory (2MWF) is one of the concerned plants. The machinery and 488 workers are evacuated to Kazan (720 km east of Moscow) by rail. From there, equipment was moved on barges to the small town of Chistopol, some 140 km away from Kazan. Chistopol is located on the Kama river, connected with Volga, so it made sense to use water transport even though both rivers froze during the winter, which delayed the relocation.

The Chistopol Watch Factory (or Factory 835 – its code name during the WW2), staffed with specialists from the 2MWF and with local people (some of them are just 15 years old, as older men are all in the army), started producing military equipment in spring 1942. In particular, the plant developed and manufactured delay-action mines and devices to monitor aircraft fuel consumption.

Chistopol Factory in the 1940's
Chistopol Watch Factory in the 1940’s. Source: film “Chistopol Watch Factory – past and present”

When the Battle of Moscow was over, part of the equipment was returned to Moscow. However, Chistopol Watch Factory continued to be active. After the war (1949-1950), it produced the extremely popular wristwatches “Pobeda”, among other equipment. The first watches under the brand Vostok were produced in 1957. Finally, in 1965, the factory became the official supplier of the USSR Ministry of Defense. In 1969, “Vostok” was incorporated in the factory name: it became Chistopol Watch Factory “Vostok” and remains a full-fledged watch factory nowadays.

Iconic Vostok watches

Vostok Komandirskie

Vostok Komandirskie
The Komandirskie were officially produced for the USSR Ministry of Defense (Заказ МО СССР or “Zakaz”)

During the period when the Vostok factory was the official supplier of watches for the Ministry of Defense, the famous Komandirskie (Командирские: in Russian, commander’s) watches were created, characterized by their increased durability and water-resistant case.

These watches were sold to the military with the inscription “Ordered by the Ministry of Defense of the USSR” (Заказ МО СССР) exclusively through Voentorg stores, which catered solely to military personnel with identification. This exclusiveness made this model really popular and even now it is much sought-after by watch collectors especially considering its under-$100 price tag.

Vostok Komandirskie
Vintage Vostok Komandirskie, official military order

Vostok Komandirskie were made in different cases and sported different dial designs throughout the years. In late 80s, military budgets were significantly cut which reduced the number of Komandirskie watches purchased by the ministry. The Vostok factory reacted by introducing additional models of Komandirskie in more modern cases and featuring dial designs with a strong military flavor (tanks, U-boats…).

Vostok Komandirskie, Tank Dial
Vostok Komandirskie, Tank Dial

At the same time, additional model names were introduced such as Generalskie (general’s), Admiralskie (admiral’s), etc. These watches no longer carried the Zakaz inscription because they were not commissioned by the Ministry of Defense.

Vostok Amphibian

Vostok Amphibian 1976
Vostok Amphibian 1976 featured in a 1976 export catalogue

After many years of trial and error the Vostok factory created what was to be considered one of the greatest contributions to Russian watches, it was Russia’s first reliable 200m dive watch called Vostok Amphibian.

It was the experience of developing the Komandirskie watches which allowed the Chistopol technicians to manufacture the Vostok Amphibian. The watches designers and creators were Mikhail Novikov and Vera Belova, the two chief engineers employed at Vostok in the 60s. Their goal was to come up with a sturdy dive watch that could compete with the likes of Fifty Fathoms or the Rolex Submariner.

Obviously, Novikov and Belova couldn’t just copy Blancpain or Rolex, so everything had to be developed from scratch. A special technology for glass had to be designed and special rubber manufactured.

After many years of work the Vostok Amphibian was created. It had a particular screw-down crown and a 3mm thick, uniquely shaped acrylic crystal. The case was made of unique stainless steel for which a specific technical standard (GOST) was introduced. The way Amphibian worked was not necessarily by keeping moisture out of the watch by creating a static environment like other divers but instead it used the pressure of the ocean to compress the watch in order to firmly choke any leak-points.

Vostok Amphibian "Sniper"
Vostok Amphibian “Sniper”

The Amphibian is the real bestseller among all Vostok watches. The number of cases and dial combinations is beyond imagination, and you’ll see plenty for sale at any given time. Among popular models, we can mention the “swing lugs” Amphibian, the Desert Shield, the octagonal case Amphibian with a Sniper dial, the NVCH-30 or the barrel case Sector dial.

Vostok Factory Today

As with most Russian watch factories, the fall of the USSR had taken a great toll on the production of watches leading most of them to bankruptcy, but the problems were slow to reach the Vostok factory. In the 1990’s the factory kept producing watches and exporting them to the United States and to Europe. It also helped the military with certain electrical engineering, feats and tests.

Vostok Watch Factory
Chistopol Watch Factory “Vostok” in 2011. Source: Wikipedia

Despite the economic difficulties Russia was facing, at the turn of the 21st century, the Vostok factory was still in large-scale production. The factory launched a line of 1940s-style replicas called the Kirovskie K-43 collection while also began producing a “luxury” line of watches called Kremlevskie. Both lines were made of stainless steel, produced in limited quantities, and aimed toward a wealthier consumer. In 2001 the Chistopol factory was proud to receive the Russian National Olympus Award in the Technology category for their work.

Vostok Watches: the Stars of Soviet Vintage 1
Vostok Neptune with green dial by Meranom

Although the factory was declared bankrupt in 2010, production continued and is still going strong. New models are regularly being introduced. Furthermore, one of the official distributors – Meranom – regularly comes up with limited editions that are very successful among watch aficionados, such as the Neptune SE.

Further reading : detailed articles about Vostok watches

Vostok Watches: the Stars of Soviet Vintage 2
Vintage Watch Inc

Dennis is the founder and editor of Vintage Watch Inc. Passionate about Soviet and Japanese vintage timepieces and a finance professional by day, he proudly wears a Seiko Pogue with his suit.

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