Soviet Zaria Watch: A Symbol of the 1990 Goodwill Games

Orologio Zaria dei Goodwill Games del 1990 con logo di cooperazione USA-URSS

Introduction

In the realm of Soviet watchmaking, the Zaria watch from the 1990 Goodwill Games stands out as an intriguing piece of historical memorabilia. Produced by the Zaria brand, this watch features a 21-jewel, manually wound 2009b calibre. Although an economical model, its design and the historical context in which it was made make it noteworthy for enthusiasts of Soviet horology.

Orologio Zaria dei Goodwill Games del 1990 con logo di cooperazione USA-URSS
Orologio Zaria commemorativo dei Goodwill Games del 1990 a Seattle, simbolo di amicizia USA-URSS.

Technical Specifications

The Zaria Goodwill Games 1990 watch uses a manually wound mechanical movement, identified as the 2009b calibre, with 21 jewels. This type of movement was common in watches from that era. The watch case is made of coated brass, a material often used for budget watches, providing basic protection for the internal mechanism. The technical specifics of the 2009 calibre include an oscillation frequency of 21,600 vibrations per hour (vph) and a power reserve of approximately 42 hours. This movement is simple and functional but not particularly known for long-term reliability.

Dial Analysis

The watch dial is rich in symbolism. At the centre, it features a logo depicting two hands shaking, one with the colours of the United States flag and the other with those of the Soviet Union. This symbol of international cooperation is surrounded by the text “Seattle ’90” and “Goodwill Games,” clearly indicating the event and the year.

Significance of the Goodwill Games

The Goodwill Games were conceived by media mogul Ted Turner as a response to the Olympic boycotts during the Cold War. The first edition was held in 1986 in Moscow, and the 1990 event in Seattle marked a moment of détente between the United States and the Soviet Union. This sporting event aimed to promote peace and cooperation between the two superpowers.

Dial Details

In addition to the central logo, the dial features two red stars and the text “Zaria USSR,” confirming the Soviet origin of the watch. The gold-coloured hands stand out clearly against the white background of the dial, offering good legibility.

Conclusion

The Zaria watch from the 1990 Goodwill Games is an interesting example of Soviet watchmaking, with a design reflecting a specific moment in world history. Despite being an economical model with modest technical features, its value lies primarily in the historical and symbolic context represented by the dial. For enthusiasts of Russian and Soviet horology, this watch represents an intriguing piece to add to their collection, helping to preserve the memory of a period of international collaboration.

The French Branch of SLAVA in Besançon: A Fascinating Chapter in Soviet Watchmaking

Orologio Slava Besançon automatico con quadrante nero e indicatori gialli

Introduction

The history of Soviet watchmaking is enriched by fascinating episodes of international cooperation. A significant example is the French branch of SLAVA, located in Besançon. This branch, established to facilitate Soviet industrial activities in the West, played a crucial role in the production of high-quality watches.

Orologio Slava Besançon automatico con quadrante nero e indicatori gialli
Orologio Slava Besançon automatico con quadrante nero e indicatori gialli

Origins and Historical Context

Besançon, known for its long tradition of watchmaking, hosted the SLAVA branch at number 7 rue Auguste Jouchoux, right next to the famous Lip company. The choice of this location was not accidental: the city not only had a strong tradition in the sector but also historical ties with the USSR. In fact, collaborations between Lip and the Soviets in the 1930s laid the foundations for the post-war revival of Soviet watchmaking.

Production and Innovation

The French branch of SLAVA began producing gold-plated cases as early as the late 1960s. This strategy allowed the Soviets to leverage local expertise to create high-quality products for the European market. The factory also produced and marketed various models under the Raketa brand. The dials of these Soviet-Besançon watches bore the inscription « механизм cccp » (« USSR mechanism »), distinguishing them from those produced in the USSR.

The SLAVA Besançon supply catalogue, probably dated to the late 1960s, lists spare parts for Chaika, Zaria, Slava, Molnia, and Poljot movements. This document is a valuable testimony to the diversification and quality of SLAVA’s production in France.

Expansion and Development

Slava Besançon also registered the trademarks Diamant, Diamant de Luxe, and Saintis, under which it marketed watches entirely made in the USSR. Initially, Slava was located in place Saint-Pierre, the headquarters of S.I.C.E.H., then in place du Jura. The first factory was installed in rue Henri Baigue, but in 1975 Slava built a new factory in rue Auguste Jouchoux. The industrial park still bears the name Slava today.

By the early 1980s, the factory employed 70 people for assembly, quality control, and after-sales service. Soviet mechanical movements were gradually replaced by quartz movements, all supplied by France-Ébauches. The company also marketed, in the last years of the USSR, the Big Zero and Rising Sun models, classics marked “Made in USSR”. It is unclear whether these watches were imported, assembled from Soviet parts, or assembled with a Soviet mechanism and a Besançon case.

Changes and Decline

In 1983, the Soviet board of directors (Mashpriborintorg representatives) of Slava parted ways first with its Besançon director, Bernard Le Varlet, then with Maurice Carruzzo a few months later. Dismissed for “technical reasons”, Maurice Carruzzo distributed leaflets through his wife at the factory gates on 16 August.

One possible explanation is that he had brought Slava closer to Lip and France-Ébauches, sourcing quartz mechanisms from them and thus creating 100% French watches, which probably was not in the Soviets’ interest.

Slava Precision: New Directions

On 15 January 1990, the joint-stock company Slava-Précision was founded, taking over Slava’s assets. It was led by M. Aubach, already active in the para-watchmaking industry (Interstrap and Watch Design companies), with the Russian supervisory board president, M. Korolev. The company continued its watchmaking activities in the same building on rue Jouchoux, importing from Russia and Hong Kong, and exporting to Canada, Switzerland, and Italy, but moving its optical activities to the Paris region.

Slava Précision still employed 24 people in 2004 but went into judicial liquidation on 12 June 2006 (the procedure was closed in 2009).

Union of Expertise and Tradition

The watches assembled in Besançon used movements produced in the USSR, such as the 2602 movement from 2MChZ. These watches bore the inscription “RUSSIAN MOVEMENT” on the dials, testifying to the Soviet origin of their components. This production avoided the commercial constraints that would have made the use of the “Made in USSR” label problematic in Europe.

Conclusion

The SLAVA branch in Besançon represents a fascinating example of industrial cooperation between the USSR and Western Europe. This story not only enriches the narrative of Soviet watchmaking but also demonstrates how the union of different skills can lead to the creation of exceptional products.

The Rise and Fall of Soviet Watchmaking: A Timeless Legacy

Vintage-style image depicting the history and decline of Soviet watchmaking with iconic Soviet watches, old factories, and mechanical gears in sepia tones.

The world of horology is vast and varied, with different regions contributing unique innovations and styles to the craft of watchmaking. Among these, Soviet watches hold a special place for their robustness, affordability, and historical significance. This essay explores why Soviet watches offer a superior quality-price ratio compared to Swiss watches of the same era, analyzes the reasons behind the decline of Soviet watchmaking, and examines whether the rise of Japanese quartz watches played a role in this decline.

Why Soviet Watches Offer Great Value

Production Efficiency and Cost Containment

Soviet watch manufacturers, such as Vostok and Raketa, were known for their efficient production methods. Unlike the highly specialized and labor-intensive Swiss watchmaking process, Soviet factories emphasized mass production and automation. This approach allowed them to keep production costs low while maintaining a reasonable level of quality. For instance, the Vostok Amphibia, famous for its durability and water resistance, was produced using straightforward and cost-effective techniques that still met high standards of robustness​ (Russian Watches)​​ (Vintage Radar)​.

Focus on Functionality and Durability

Soviet watches were designed to be functional and durable, often used in military and industrial settings. The Vostok Komandirskie, for example, was the official watch of the Soviet military and was built to withstand harsh conditions. Similarly, the Raketa Polar was designed for Arctic explorers, featuring a 24-hour dial to help navigate the polar day-night cycle​ (Russian Watches)​. These watches were engineered to be reliable tools rather than luxury items, making them highly valued for their practicality.

Innovation in Movements

Despite being produced under challenging conditions, Soviet watchmakers managed to create innovative and reliable movements. The Raketa 24-hour movement and the Poljot chronographs are prime examples. These movements, while not as refined as their Swiss counterparts, were robust and served their purpose well. This innovation extended to unique designs like the Poljot 2200, one of the thinnest movements ever produced, showcasing Soviet ingenuity​ (aBlogtoWatch)​​ (Collectors Weekly)​.

The Decline of Soviet Watchmaking

Impact of Japanese Quartz Watches

The introduction of quartz watches by Japanese manufacturers like Seiko in 1969 revolutionized the watch industry. Quartz technology offered greater accuracy at a lower cost compared to mechanical movements, which severely impacted traditional watchmakers worldwide. Swiss manufacturers were hit hard, but Soviet watchmakers, who were already struggling with economic inefficiencies and political instability, found it even more challenging to compete​ (Swissinfo)​​ (Fratello Watches)​.

Internal Challenges and Economic Collapse

The decline in the quality of Soviet watches began in the late 1970s and continued through the 1980s. As the Soviet economy weakened, so did the watch industry’s ability to procure high-quality materials and maintain production standards. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many watch factories were already in disarray, suffering from underfunding and disorganization​ (VintageDuMarko)​​ (Collectors Weekly)​.

Loss of Market and Transition to Capitalism

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the transition from a centralized economy to a market-oriented one was chaotic. Many state-owned enterprises, including watch factories, could not adapt quickly enough to survive in the new economic environment. The lack of infrastructure to support a market economy, coupled with the sudden influx of foreign competition, led to the closure of many iconic Soviet watch brands​ (VintageDuMarko)​​ (Collectors Weekly)​.

Conclusion

The story of Soviet watchmaking is a tale of innovation, resilience, and eventual decline. While Soviet watches provided excellent value through their robust design, efficient production, and innovative movements, they could not withstand the dual pressures of technological disruption from Japanese quartz watches and the economic collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite these challenges, the legacy of Soviet watches endures, celebrated by collectors and horology enthusiasts worldwide for their historical significance and unique charm.

In the end, the rise and fall of Soviet watchmaking offer valuable lessons in industrial adaptation, the impact of technological advancements, and the complex interplay between politics and economics in shaping industry fortunes. As we look back on this fascinating chapter in horological history, the indomitable spirit of Soviet watchmakers continues to tick away, reminding us of a bygone era of innovation and resilience.

The Birth of Soviet Watchmaking: From Dueber-Hampden to Russian Horology

The Birth of Soviet Watchmaking: Continuing the Hampden Story - Updated Edition by Alan F. Garratt

At this web address, you can download the PDF in English: https://www.hampdenwatches.com/it/extra

Updated Edition Preface (Page 1)

The necessity for an updated edition highlights the gaps in this intriguing story. New information has surfaced, provided by readers, descendants, and enthusiasts. Although it doesn’t fill in all the details, this second edition takes the story a step further, offering additional insights into many characters.

The preface aims to introduce the social and political environment during the rush to industrialization, which inevitably impacted watch factories. Workers’ power influenced production and quality, evident from Gershenzon’s articles and various “Udarnik” movements. In this workers’ paradise, new practices revealed organizational shortcomings and managerial excuses. Even unavoidable errors could have tragic consequences.

Not all Americans were allowed to return after their contracts expired, despite reports from Canton suggesting otherwise. The detailed account of Herman London’s involvement, greatly facilitated by his family, opens up new aspects of this story.

Introduction (Pages 5-6)

You might be reading this for various reasons—perhaps from my story about the Hampden Watch Company before 1930 or an interest in old Russian watches. Regardless, welcome, and I hope you find the story intriguing.

The genre of Soviet horology is enormous, and its origins are crucial. My story focuses on these origins and the contribution of the Dueber-Hampden Watch Works staff, tools, and designs to the USSR, perpetuating Hampden’s legacy.

In 2006, I started investigating the fate of the Canton factory and found limited information, often incorrect and misleading. The subject of the USSR still evokes stereotypical views in the West and defensiveness in former Soviet countries. Neither perspective helps when examining past events.

This story started as a blog in 2008 and grew as new information emerged. Much content is previously unpublished, but I also draw from familiar sources. Until definitive documentation from Russian sources surfaces, early Soviet watch production remains speculative.

The story spans significant world events, from the Great Depression, through Stalin’s purges, to WWII and the Cold War. This content doesn’t aim to condone or condemn, merely to tell a story about watches and people.

Foreword (Pages 7-12)

By 1886, John C. Dueber, a German-born naturalized American industrialist, faced land acquisition issues in Newport, Kentucky. He needed space for his thriving watch case business and the newly acquired Hampden company, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Dueber announced that if a city or town raised $100,000 in ‘gift money,’ he would move his companies, bringing 1,500 to 2,000 employees, significantly boosting the local population.

Canton, Ohio, seized the opportunity. Canton, founded in 1805 and the administrative center of Stark County in northeastern Ohio, was in economic hardship. In the 1880s, its largest employer, C. Aultman & Co., faced an uncertain future and had cut workers’ wages by 10%, causing severe hardship. Dueber’s proposal was providential, offering new employment opportunities.

The foreword briefly outlines the period before and after the Dueber-Hampden works closed in Canton, just before the Great Depression, and its impact on employment. It also describes the Moscow environment where the Canton equipment was relocated, with insights from historical and sociological experts.

1917 – 1930 (Pages 13-19)

The chapter outlines the period from the Russian Revolution in 1917 to 1930, covering significant events like the establishment of the Soviet Union and early industrialization efforts. It emphasizes the challenges and achievements in setting up the first Soviet watch factories, detailing the purchase and relocation of Dueber-Hampden equipment to Moscow.

The Soviet commission, including Bodrov and others, explored purchasing equipment from Europe and America. They faced resistance in Europe but succeeded in America, leading to the acquisition of Hampden equipment. The Soviets aimed to create a self-sufficient watch industry, aligning with their ideological goals.

The People (Pages 20-26)

The chapter introduces key figures in the story of Soviet watchmaking, including Andrey Mikhailovich Bodrov, Heinrich Kann, and Vladimir Osipovich “Wolf” Pruss. Each individual played a crucial role in the establishment and development of the Soviet watch industry.

  • Andrey Mikhailovich Bodrov was instrumental in the industrialization efforts and establishment of the First State Watch Factory.
  • Heinrich Kann, a prominent pre-revolutionary watchmaker, contributed significantly to Soviet watchmaking and education.
  • Vladimir Osipovich “Wolf” Pruss, a skilled watchmaker with a background in socialist movements, helped train new watchmakers in the USSR.

The Dueber-Hampden Purchase (Pages 27-35)

During the commission’s visit to America, pragmatism prevailed, leading to the purchase of the bankrupt Dueber-Hampden and Ansonia Clock Co. plants. The Soviets, through Amtorg, bought patterns, machinery, tools, and stock, which were crucial for establishing the Soviet watch industry.

The chapter details the journey of 23 former Dueber-Hampden watchmakers to Moscow to train Soviet workers. These American specialists helped set up the new factory, train workers, and initiate production. Despite initial challenges, their contributions were significant in laying the foundation for Soviet watchmaking.

The First State Watch Factory (Pages 36-52)

The chapter describes the establishment of the First State Watch Factory, located on the site of a former tobacco factory in Moscow. The factory’s construction began in February 1930 and was completed by June 1930, with the main equipment installed by September 1930.

By November 7, 1930, the factory produced its first 50 pocket watches, presented at a ceremonial meeting. The watches were based on the Hampden Size 16 movement and became the foundation for Soviet watch production. The factory’s success marked a significant milestone in Soviet industrialization.

Other Type-1 Factories (Pages 53-58)

The chapter explores other factories producing Type-1 watches, similar to those made at the First State Watch Factory. These factories were part of the broader effort to establish a self-sufficient Soviet watch industry. The chapter highlights the challenges and successes of these factories, their production methods, and their contributions to Soviet horology.

Artels (Pages 59-63)

Artels were cooperative workshops that played a crucial role in Soviet watch production. The chapter details how these workshops operated, their organization, and their contributions to the industry. Artels were essential in meeting the increasing demand for watches in the USSR.

Diverse Type-1 Timepieces (Pages 64-66)

The chapter showcases various Type-1 timepieces produced by Soviet factories. These watches, based on the Hampden designs, were known for their robustness, accuracy, and reliability. The chapter provides an overview of the different models and their features, highlighting their significance in Soviet horology.

Lip And The Post War Period (Pages 67-71)

The chapter discusses the collaboration between the Soviet Union and the French watch company Lip during the post-war period. In 1936, Lip faced financial difficulties and signed a deal with the USSR to export technology and parts. This collaboration helped modernize Soviet watch production, introducing new designs and techniques.

Fakes And Frankens (Pages 72-73)

The chapter addresses the issue of counterfeit and modified watches, known as “fakes” and “frankens,” in the Soviet watch market. It discusses how these watches were created, their impact on the market, and how to identify genuine Soviet timepieces.

Amtorg (Pages 74-75)

Amtorg was the Soviet trade organization responsible for purchasing equipment and technology from the West. The chapter details Amtorg’s role in acquiring the Dueber-Hampden equipment and other essential machinery for Soviet watch production. Amtorg’s efforts were crucial in establishing a modern watch industry in the USSR.

An American Worker In A Moscow Factory (Pages 76-78)

The chapter narrates the experiences of American workers in Soviet factories. It highlights the challenges they faced, their contributions to the Soviet watch industry, and the cultural exchange between American and Soviet workers. The chapter provides personal anecdotes and insights into their daily lives in Moscow.

American Watchmaker Trapped In The USSR Since 1934 (Pages 79-80)

This chapter tells the story of an American watchmaker who became trapped in the USSR after 1934. It explores the circumstances that led to his situation, his experiences, and the broader implications of such cases during the Soviet era.

Russia: An Awakening Horological Giant (Pages 81-83)

The final chapter reflects on Russia’s emergence as a significant player in the global watch industry. It highlights the achievements of the Soviet watch industry, its impact on the global market, and its legacy. The chapter concludes with a discussion on the future of Russian horology and its potential for growth.

Vremia Watches: Soviet Charm and European Quality

swiss watch Vremia Chrono black

Vremia watches, also known as Vremja (in Cyrillic время), are a fascinating example of how international collaboration can create unique and high-quality products. These watches were created in the late 1980s, thanks to the Italian company Binda, with the aim of capitalising on the growing popularity of Soviet culture in the West.

swiss watch Vremia CCCP
Vremia CCCP

The Birth of the Vremia Brand

The BPEMR (BPEMA) CCCP brand was officially registered on 24 March 1989, during a period of commercial opening in the USSR under Gorbachev’s leadership. This opening allowed for the export of various Soviet products to Western markets, where they were enthusiastically received thanks to their exotic charm and robust quality.

russian watch Vremia B&W
Vremia B&W

Features of Vremia Watches

Vremia watches are distinguished by a range of models with reliable mechanical movements such as the Slava 2414, Poljot 2612.1, and Poljot 3133. Their dials, essential and clean, embody the Soviet style of the era. Some models feature distinctive symbols like the Red Star, while others are more subtle, with a small “cccp” inscription in the centre of the dial.

swiss watch Vremia Gold
Vremia Gold

Binda: The Italian Heart of Vremia Watches

Founded in 1906 by Innocente Binda, the Binda company has played a crucial role in the watch sector for over a century. Under the leadership of his grandsons, Simone and Marcello Binda, the company continues to produce and distribute high-quality watches. Binda Italia is known for its ability to combine innovative design and advanced technologies, offering a variety of products ranging from fashion models to more classic and technical watches, including “Swiss Made” timepieces.

swiss russian watch Vremia Pocket
Vremia Pocket watch

The Uniqueness of Vremia Watches

Vremia watches represent a perfect fusion of Russian tradition and Western craftsmanship. The “zerone rosso” model is an emblematic example of this mix, with a design that could easily have been produced by Poljot. Even the time-only and alarm clock models are highly appreciated for their quality and design.

These watches are a true hybrid: Italian construction with Russian mechanics. While they are adapted to the Italian market, they retain a unique charm that distinguishes them from traditional Russian watches. Despite the criticisms of purists, Vremia watches offer exceptional value, with accessible prices ranging from 100 to 150 euros.

swiss russian watch vremia
Vremia Red Zero

Unique Details on the Case Back

A distinctive detail of Vremia watches is the inscription on the case back, which reads:

“Часы собранные в Швейцарии, двигатель механический подлинный русского производства. Mechanical movement originally produced in Russia, watch assembled in Switzerland.”

This inscription highlights the combination of Russian mechanics and Swiss assembly, ensuring the authenticity and high quality of these watches.

swiss watch Vremia Red Star black dial
Vremia Red Star black dial

Conclusion

Vremia watches are a fascinating chapter in the history of watchmaking, characterised by a unique mix of Soviet aesthetics and European quality. Thanks to Binda’s initiative, these watches reflect the best of both worlds, combining attractive design with high standards of quality. A true treasure for watch enthusiasts looking for something unique and meaningful.

Vintage Soviet Watches from the 1980s

Rivista orologi da polso marzo aprile 1989 n9 anno 3 pagina 1

Recently, I had the opportunity to delve into a vintage watch magazine from the late 1980s. The issue in question is “Orologi da Polso,” Year III – No. 9, dating back to March-April 1989, published by Edizioni Studio Zeta of Monza. Among the various articles, one particularly intriguing piece explores the history and influence of vintage Soviet watches from the 1980s and their connections with European countries, including Italy. Below, I present a detailed overview of the article, providing insights into the state of the watch industry during that era, enriched with additional context and information for a comprehensive understanding.

The Soviet Watchmaking Phenomenon

The article begins by highlighting a significant historical context: the Soviet Congress of 1925 aimed for economic self-sufficiency, transitioning from an importer to a producer nation. It was unimaginable a few years prior that vintage Soviet watches from the 1980s would become fashionable, almost a cultural phenomenon.

Russian horology boasts an illustrious history. The Kremlin’s tower clocks, constructed in the early 15th century by Lazar Serbin, and the carillons of the Saviour Tower, restored in the 19th century by the Butenop brothers, are notable examples. Under Tsar Peter the Great, famous French artisans were invited, fostering a watchmaking school in Russia, despite French artisans enjoying greater privileges.

Notable Russian Watchmakers and Collections

The article further mentions Ivan Kulihin, a renowned watchmaker from the 18th century, whose exquisite pieces are housed in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad and various museums in Moscow. An exhibition in Florence showcased magnificent pieces from the Romanoff collections, revealing the craftsmanship of the Bronnikov family, known for their wooden clocks, and the contributions of watchmakers like Tolstoy and Nosov to mechanical advancements.

The Soviet Watch Industry’s Evolution

Before the October Revolution, parts and mechanisms were imported from Switzerland for assembly in Russia. In the late 19th century, France invested in Tsarist domains, and after World War I, Italy acquired Russian pocket watches, which were later issued to railway personnel.

The Soviet watch industry’s roots date back to the 1930s, evolving significantly by the 1940s, with factories converting to military production during World War II and later returning to civilian manufacturing. The principal Moscow factory, established in 1942, eventually became Vostok, one of the most prominent Soviet watch manufacturers.

Soviet Watches in the 1980s

By the 1980s, over fifteen factories in the USSR specialised in various watch productions, including well-known brands like Chaika, Poljot, Zaria, Paketa, Slava, and Penza. The 1950s marked the beginning of exportation, primarily to Warsaw Pact nations. The article discusses the romantic history of the Mark watch, resembling the Poljot, and its connection to an Italian family.

Italian-Soviet Collaborations and Market Impact

The first significant import of Soviet watches to Italy occurred in the late 1980s, spearheaded by Orazio Occhipinti of Mirabilia di Milano, who distributed Paketa watches. These vintage Soviet watches from the 1980s, known as “raketa” in Russian, saw a surge in popularity, influenced by Gorbachev’s policies and an increasing openness towards Soviet products.

At the Vicenza fair, Mirabilia also presented Poljot watches, featuring mechanical movements and shock-resistant cases. The Vostok brand offered models tailored for different military branches, with manual winding, water resistance up to 10 atmospheres, and luminous hands and indices.

Additionally, Italian-designed watches with Russian mechanisms emerged, like the Soviet, combining Russian quartz movements with Italian aesthetics. The Elmitex company introduced the Perestroika collection, a blend of quartz and mechanical chronographs, at both the Vicenza and Moscow fairs.

Conclusion

This 1989 issue of “Orologi da Polso” provides a fascinating snapshot of Soviet watchmaking during a transformative period. It reflects the blend of historical craftsmanship and modern industrial capabilities, highlighting the Soviet Union’s impact on the global watch market. The Italian perspective, with insights from key figures like Jacopo Marchi and collaborations with Soviet manufacturers, underscores the cross-cultural influences that shaped the horological landscape of the late 20th century.

For further reading, I encourage exploring the complete article and the magazine scans, offering a deeper dive into this captivating era of watchmaking history.

Rivista orologi da polso marzo aprile 1989 n9 anno 3 copertina
Rivista orologi da polso marzo aprile 1989 n9 anno 3 pagina 1
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Discovering the Charm of Soviet and Russian Watch Collections

Ritaglio schermata pagina Lancette Sovietiche Collezionare Sovietaly intervista

Strange as it may sound, even a collection of Soviet and Russian watches can be appreciated and recognised by non-enthusiasts. Andrea Manini, a 44-year-old from Milan, has been collecting these timepieces since 1992 and now boasts over 400 examples. “What amuses me greatly is that, unlike Swiss watches, the Russian ones always hide a story to tell,” says Manini.

Ritaglio schermata pagina Lancette Sovietiche Collezionare Sovietaly intervista
Lancette Sovietiche collezionare online

The world of Soviet watchmaking is rich with stories, particularly those surrounding Yuri Gagarin, the first man to conquer space. The exact watch he wore during his 1961 mission remains a topic of debate. Some claim he wore a Poljot Sturmanskie, produced by Moscow’s First Watch Factory, while others argue it was the Type One by Sturmanskie, citing a photograph as evidence. “But who can say for certain? Perhaps it’s just a shot taken during a simple exercise?” muses Manini, highlighting the mysteries often associated with these famous timepieces.

Manini’s passion for Russian watches began in 1992, the year following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russian watches started appearing in Italian jewellery stores, sparking his interest. His first purchase was a Vostok Komandirskie, bought for a few lire at a roadside stall. The military look and the rocket on the dial intrigued him, only later discovering its significance related to Gagarin’s historic flight.

Manini’s collection focuses on Russian space adventures and Soviet watches designed for the Italian market. There are also categories dedicated to Soviet polar explorations and Russian railways. Watches commemorating space milestones, like Sputnik, Laika, and Gagarin, are particularly numerous and fascinating.

The evolution of Russian watchmaking is complex, intertwining with the country’s social, political, and military history. Initially, Russian watches were crafted by artisan workshops during the Tsarist era. The Soviet era brought industrialisation, with factories producing watches en masse for civilians and the military, using machinery acquired from American companies.

Famous brands emerged, like Poljot (meaning flight), Raketa (rocket), and Pobeda (victory). Each name reflects a historical or cultural significance, such as Chaika, named after Valentina Tereshkova’s code name during her space flight.

Despite mass production, watches from the 1960s and 1970s are of superior quality, often misunderstood due to their low export prices and the Italian proximity to Swiss watchmaking. Many Russian watches were rebranded for export, like Raketa, Slava, and Poljot becoming Sekonda for the UK market.

For the Italian market, unique models were created, like the Slava Fri Fri with a pink dial and the California with a black dial and pink indices. Two unique chronographs used Vostok cases and Poljot movements, packaged in wooden boxes and sold at high prices.

One common misconception is that Vostok watches were used by the Russian military. In reality, they were state-commissioned but not exclusive to the military. The Amphibia model, developed for divers, is another highlight, featuring a unique screw-back case.

Among Manini’s rarest pieces is a Raketa Big Zero with a nephrite dial. Finding such rare models requires caution as the online market is rife with fakes and assembled watches. Manini advises consulting knowledgeable collectors and forums to avoid pitfalls.