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.

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.

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