While you’re researching vintage watches, you might find some striking designs stand out to you among old Russian timepieces. Although vintage Russian watches don’t get nearly the attention that Swiss watches do, collecting them can open the door to a fascinating world of Soviet history, politics, culture, and design. Following are a few reasons to think about starting a Russian vintage watch collection today.
1. You will learn a lot of fascinating history collecting Russian vintage watches
Exploring the history of Russia and the Soviet Union through the lens of watchmaking is probably the number one reason to collect these beautiful old timepieces. Watches were being developed in Russia as far back as the 18th century. At that time, making watches involved significant expense, so they were a symbol of the Russian nobility and wealthy upper class, who alone tended to possess them.
When the industrial revolution began, the need for watches in industry and the military removed timepieces from the world of luxury and led the newly established Soviet Union to decide that it was time to streamline the domestic manufacture of high-quality, affordable watches.
To jump-start the process, the country purchased the Dueber-Hampden Watch Company and the Ansonia Clock Company, both based in the USA, and both considered near-worthless. Transferring these businesses to the Soviet Union, the government transformed them into the First State Watch Factory (where Poljot watches were produced) and the Second Moscow Watch Factory (home of Slava watches), respectively.
If there is a single concept embodied in Soviet watches, it is “utilitarian efficiency.” Indeed, to advance their watches as rapidly as possible, the Soviet Union continued to turn abroad for inspiration. But they cut away what they saw as frivolous features which served only to make watches more expensive or inefficient to produce. The watches they turned out based on those designs were more spartan and hardier to boot.
Ironically, this actually meant that many of the Soviet watches could include features on the majority of their watches which were considered luxuries in other countries. Soviet watchmakers simply used the manufacturing budget and time freed up by dropping unnecessary features to implement others like shock protection across the board.
Eventually, foreign consumers took an interest in obtaining Soviet timepieces, particularly during the 1960’s, with peak exports taking place in the year 1963. During these years and right until the beginning of the 90’s, Raketa, Slava, Vostok, and Poljot watches were very successful. By collecting watches like these as well as older Soviet and Russian timepieces, you can explore all this history firsthand.
2. Own a piece of Soviet innovation
Even though the Soviet Union’s habit was to “borrow” innovation from foreign watchmakers, those within the USSR did an amazing job innovating as well by improving on those designs.
One of the examples would be what they did with the Zenith Calibre 135 from Switzerland. Somehow, the Chistopol watch factory in the Soviet Union got hold of the blueprints, and drastically improved on the mechanics to up their dependability. The result was the Vostok Precision 2809 calibre.
3. Obtain some truly unique pieces
With Soviet watchmakers doing so much to push the industry forward, you might expect they produced some unusual pieces, and you’d be right. For example, consider the Raketa Polar. This watch was specifically designed for Polar expeditions and featured a 24-hour count thanks to a specific movement.
You might also look into the Vostok Amphibian diver watch, designed with a special rubber gasket and a uniquely shaped acrylic crystal designed to help the watch withstand increasing pressure down to a depth of 200 meters.
4. Vintage Russian watches are affordable
Something else which makes vintage Russian and Soviet watches a great choice for collectors is that they are available within a huge price bracket. If you are on a tight budget and want to add to your collection without spending an arm and a leg, that is definitely possible. Serviced, original watches in good condition can be easily found for around $75 – $150.
On the other hand, if you are looking to obtain an expensive piece for your collection as an investment that may grow in value, there are some opportunities as well. Some chronographs or collectible models in NOS condition with original box and papers can easily fetch between $500 and $1,000. A few particularly rare models may even exceed this range.
5. Soviet watches are sturdy and easily repairable
Timepieces powered by most Soviet movements are reliable. If you find an old Vostok that has been lying in a drawer for the last 20 years, chances are it will run within specs when you wind it. And if it does not, you can get it repaired in Russia or Ukraine for much less than any Swiss movement (shipping costs will likely represent the biggest part of your repair expenses).
The same can be said about the most common Soviet chronograph movement: 3133 (click here for a short story of Soviet chronographs). That’s a great opportunity to own a true vintage chronograph suitable for daily wear.
6. Many vintage Russian timepieces are stunningly stylish
There is a lot of variety in terms of the styles which showed up in Soviet watches. One fine example is the Raketa Worldtimer, a watch featuring a unique case and a beautiful design with city names on the rotating bezel. It may not be very functional, but this watch does look good, doesn’t it?
In a completely different register, Soviet Union watch industry also produced a lot of stylish and slim dress watches with a minimalistic design. This Poljot, for example, hasn’t lost its charm in 60 years:
7. Reflect on the future, not just the past
The forward march of time is certain, but how the future will unfold is not. As you explore the world of vintage Russian and Soviet watches, you’ll find plenty labeled clearly as one or the other. But you’ll also find that during the early 90s, there were watches made which mentioned neither the Soviet Union nor Russia. Nobody was sure what was coming next.
Russia continues to be a country that struggles with uncertainty. Despite the fact that it is no longer called the USSR, the sentiments of the Soviet Union remain strong in the country’s culture and politics.
So when you collect Russian and Soviet watches, you’ll be able to reflect on that uncertainty encapsulated in these timepieces as well. They showcase not just the constancy of the movement of time, but the momentous changes which can take place within the seconds, minutes, hours, and years of our lives.
Do you own a Soviet vintage watch? If so, what was the main reason that prompted you to acquire one?