The Vostok Radio Room (also known as Radio Room Operator or “RR” / “RRO”) is the perfect example of a popular (some would say iconic) model from the Chistopol watch factory. All the components of success are present: brilliant dial design with actual meaning, limited quantity initial run(s) resulting in long discussions about “original” watches vs frankens and, of course, multiple reeditions.
Radio Room Dial Design
What’s the meaning behind this strange dial design? As you can see, there are four periods of 3 minutes each highlighted on the dial: two periods in pink (0-3 minutes and 30-33 minutes) and two periods in red (15-18 minutes and 45-48 minutes).
This design replicates ship radio room clocks and the colored segments are used in maritime distress call monitoring. In the beginning of the 20th century, the 500 KHz radio frequency was designated as one of the standard communication frequencies for vessels and shore stations. With growing sea traffic, this frequency often became congested which may have played a role in the sinking of Titanic.
After the 1912 disaster, the 500 KHz frequency was definitely established as the one to be used for seagoing communications. In order to mitigate congestion issues, it was decided to ban all non-distress communications every hour, during two periods of three minutes each: 15-18 minutes and 45-48 minutes. The early radio room clocks, therefore, featured only two colored segments on the dials, like the Chelsea clock shown in the picture.
Starting from 1947, an additional distress frequency of 2182 KHz was designated. It was more suitable for distress signals thanks to its significantly increased communication range. At the same time, two additional hourly radio silence periods were introduced: 0-3 minutes and 30-33 minutes. As a consequence, radio room clock designs were updated to incorporate the new silence periods.
The Vostok Radio Room replicates the radio room clock with its four silence periods. However, it must be said that the color scheme here is not really traditional: actual radio room clocks usually had white dials with red 500 KHz silence periods and blue, green or pink 2182 KHz silence periods.
History of the Vostok Radio Room
Let’s begin by stating what the Vostok Radio Room is not: I’m fairly sure that it wasn’t produced for the Russian Navy, so it’s not a military order. Why? First of all, the dial doesn’t feature “Zakaz” (as written on watches that were ordered by the army). Furthermore, it’s difficult to imagine that a military order could have such an unconventional color scheme for a watch that would be a working instrument for a radio room operator (as previosuly said, usually these watches have a white dial).
More importantly, at the time the watch was conceived (most likely 1989-1990), a radio room operator wouldn’t really need a manual instrument anymore to monitor radio silence periods, everything was being automated and digitalized.
So what are the origins of the Vostok Radio Room? The first versions of the watch were part of the “Albatros” series. These watches with different thematic dials were produced for a few years at the end of the 1980s and on the brink of the 90s. Some of them, if not all, were initially created for export purposes and in collaboration with foreign trading companies based in Italy, Germany or the United States. At that time, Soviet militaria was quite popular abroad and many firms took advantage of the excellent price/quality ratio offered by watches produced in Chistopol.
I’ve read all the discussions about Radio Room on various forums and I think the most plausible version is that initially the RR was designed and ordered by a foreign company. Then, after the first run, the Vostok factory printed more Radio Room dials and offered additional watches for sale.
That initial run is dated February 1990 and there were plenty of NOS (New Old Stock) watches from this batch sold on the bay starting from 2005. According to one of the sellers, this batch of 8,000 watches (it’s unclear whether these 8k included only RR or there were other models) was first exported to China, then to Hong Kong. Afterward part of it was sold to the US and the rest was offered for sale through eBay.
One watch dated 1989 was also reported. It sported a black bezel, unlike watches from the February 1990 batch that had chromed bezels. It’s unclear whether it was a prototype or simply a documents mismatch.
There was some questioning regarding this first run, because there were important gaps between serial numbers, suggesting huge produced quantities. However, I think it’s more likely that the serial numbers were struck on casebacks (which are standard for many different amphibians) before being attributed to particular watches and printed on corresponding passports. Probably no conspiracy here.
The first “export” batch was likely followed by another batch produced by the factory on its own. If you compare the two dials presented above, you will see that the one on the left – part of the first run – doesn’t feature the Vostok logo (B). Whereas the one on the right, which I think is part of the second run, has the Vostok logo instead of “17 jewels” (17 камней) inscription. This reminds me of the Vostok Desert Shield story, where we have a similar timeline (first order by a foreign importer, followed by releases from the factory).
Please take this with a grain of salt. We don’t have any documentary evidence to confirm the “most likely scenario” presented above. It could very well be the other way around!
The story of the Vostok Radio Room doesn’t stop with these two batches. There were additional versions produced by the factory in the 90s and many more modern reissues. Let’s try to cover them one by one and learn how to avoid frankenwatches.
Different Versions of the Vostok Radio Room
Vostok Radio Room: First Series
As previously said, I think that the first series is the batch dated February 1990. These watches have some specific characteristics.
The black dial has the following markings:
- “Albatros” (Альбатрос) at 10-11 o’clock
- “17 jewels” (17 камней) right below
- An anchor at 5 o’clock
- “Made in USSR” (Сделано в СССР) at 6 o’clock
There are lume points for every hour marker.
Beware of fake Radio Room dials! There’s this version in particular that is quite prominent on the bay. No lume points, different anchor and overall bad printing quality are signs to look for:
The Radio Room is housed in my very favorite Vostok Amphibia case, the octagonal #470. This case is made of stainless steel and features some nice radial brushing, as you can see in the pictures. The RR model number (470444) includes the case number (first three digits: 470) and the design number (last three digits: 444).
Note: while doing research for this article, I also found pictures of the exact same watch with papers dated April 1990:
As you can see, the passport is not identical to the February batch and looks like a traditional Vostok passport. The model number (470444) is correct. To be honest, I don’t really know what to think of it. Perhaps a left-over from the batch that was exported?
There is another variant of the Vostok octagonal case, its number is 320. It’s very similar to the #470 except for the fact that the #320 is polished (whereas the #470 is brushed). I’ve seen some watches from the first series in the 320 case. However, I find it a bit strange because it doesn’t match the model number in the documents (if the watch uses a 320 case, model number should be 320444 instead of 470444).
The watch is powered by a manual-winding, 17 jewels movement 2409A. Beating at 19,800 bph, this caliber is very reliable and can be quite precise when properly serviced. Power reserve is 40-45 hours. The movements that equipped Radio Rooms have a specific inscription on the bridge, in red: “SEVENTEEN JEWELS MADE IN USSR”. Note that if the movement gets an ultrasonic bath, the inscription may disappear. The antimagnetic shield should be present.
Two versions of the bezel seem legitimate for the first series. Both feature a lume point. The first one has numbers 10, 20, 30 (in black), 40 and 50 (in red). The second one has two black arrows and one red arrow.
The Radio Room features standard hands for a Vostok Amphibia: arrow hour hand, sword minute hand and a red second hand with a lume dot. Hour and minute hands are lumed and have chromed borders.
The caseback has the following markings (top to bottom):
- “Waterproof 200 M” (Водонепроницаемые 200 М)
- “Amphibia” (Амфибия)
- Serial number
- “Shock-proof” (Противоударные)
Vostok Radio Room: Second Series
The main difference of the second series is that the dial markings are slightly different. Indeed, instead of the number of jewels under “Albatros”, watches from the second series sport the Vostok logo (B).
There are less known examples to be found online, so it’s difficult to determine with certainty the “canonical” second series Radio Room. According to my observations, the second series has the following elements:
- Dial: Vostok logo (B) under “Albatros” at 10-11 o’clock
- Case: octagonal brushed (#470) or polished (#320), or round amphibia case (less frequent).
- Movement: 2409A manual movement. Antimagnetic shield.
- Bezel: similar to the first series if the watch is housed in an octagonal case (even though mine initially didn’t have a lume point: perhaps a replacement?), or a standard amphibia bezel with a lume point if it’s a round case.
- Hands: standard amphibia hands.
- Caseback: standard amphibia caseback.
The version in the round amphibia case is the only one appearing in Vostok catalogs as far as I know:
Vostok Radio Room Generalskie
This is a very interesting variant. I’ve heard that it was made in 1994-1995 for the Italian market, but I have no hard evidence.
The case of this watch looks like a Komandirskie case, but it’s actually a specific Generalskie case, slightly bigger in order to allow an automatic movement 2416.Б to fit inside. Unfortunately, this case is not made from stainless steel; it’s a chrome-plated brass case. As a result, sometimes you find these watches in pitiful condition.
The dial has a custom design, if you look at it closely you’ll notice that numbers are slightly smaller than on Albatros dials above. It has the following markings:
- “Generalskie” (Генеральские) at 12 o’clock
- “Chistopol” (Чистополь) at 7-8 o’clock
- An anchor at 5 o’clock
- “Made in USSR” (Сделано в СССР) at 6 o’clock
Here are some more pics of this beautiful watch by WUS user Lucidor:
White Radio Room Watchuseek & Orologiando Limited Edition
In 2010, two watch forums came up with a limited edition Radio Room that was produced by Vostok. Only 200 pieces were released.
Limited Radio Room Editions from Meranom
In 2013-2014, Meranom (one of the official distributors of Vostok watches) released a limited edition sporting a Radio Room dial. It was available in various cases and with several dial variations. It received a pretty warm welcome from the community and all the batches quickly sold out. Here is a gallery of different models by Meranom that I found in the corresponding thread on forum.watch.ru:
Standard Amphibia Radio Room
Finally, there’s the regular, readily available amphibia version (you can even find it on Amazon), recognizable by the inscription “Amphibia” (Амфибия) at 12 o’clock.
What Radio Room should I buy?
You’re on a vintage watch site, so I can only recommend going for the original watch, either from the first or the second series. Fortunately, even though the Radio Room is not the most common design, it’s not as rare as, say, a Vostok Compressor.
The dial is by far the most important part. Hands can be replaced or relumed, the bezel is quite easy to find, the octagonal case is not particularly rare… But that dial is unique, so make sure you get an authentic one in good condition. Purists will pay attention to the red marking on the movement bridge. If you’re going for a full set, ask the seller for a scan/photo of the passport. Matching serial number on the caseback is not sufficient to verify the authenticity: carefully check the model number (шифр внешнего оформления) as well.
The most popular strap option seems to be black and red nato, but black leather or rubber also works very well.
Further reading : learn more about Vostok and Soviet watch industry
- Vostok: Brand Overview
- Vostok Amphibian Nvch-30 Reference Guide
- Vostok Desert Shield Reference Guide
- 7 Reasons to Buy a Soviet Vintage Watch
- mullard.org, Titanic & the ship’s radio room clock
- montres-russes.org (French forum about Russian watches), threads 1 & 2
- forum.watch.ru, thread about the Radio Room (in Russian)