Russian watches are known for being robust and accurate machines, especially the automatic ones, although their curious designs may not appeal to everyone.
While it is true that some of their most famous brands, such as Vostok, Volmax, or Aviator, offer models with a price/quality ratio that, in some cases, could compete with the very Japanese watches.
There are many Russian brands that have recognition and prestige. However, it is common for many people to be unaware of their existence.
The history of Russian watchmaking is filled with fascinating anecdotes that are worth knowing. The first Russian watch factory was established in Moscow in the year 1930, and from there, the stories are interesting and diverse, which we will discover in the following lines.
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✚ History of Russian Watches
Russian watch brands may not be as popular or well-known as Swiss watch brands, as Russia does not have such a long-standing watchmaking tradition.
However, the young history of Russian watchmaking is full of interesting anecdotes; Russian watches were present during World War II and the Cold War, which has made them coveted pieces for those who value the years of tradition in this industry, filled with historical significance.
➤ The Oldest Russian Watch Factory
The Petrodvorets Watch Factory is recognized as the oldest watch factory in Russia. It was founded in the year 1721 by Peter the Great. Initially, it specialized in the production of granite pieces and jewelry exclusively for the royal family.
This factory produced the marble that would later be used in the construction of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg during 1871.
But it wasn’t until 1895 when they started producing the first line of Russian pocket watches called Talberg, which were luxury items used only by the wealthy classes of that time.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the factory shifted its focus to the production of precision stones for military use.
➤ World War II
During the Nazi advance in the midst of World War II, Stalin himself encouraged the industry by establishing the second Russian watch factory for civilian use, producing watches under the brand Slava at a more affordable price.
This factory produced the Pobeda model, which means “Victory,” a name imposed by Stalin himself to celebrate the triumph achieved during World War II. This became one of the most popular Russian watches, considered reliable and robust.
By that time, the Petrodvorets Watch Factory had been destroyed during the war, but it was rebuilt in 1949 and started producing Russian watches under the brand Zvezda and also the popular Pobeda.
➤ Russian Watches and the Space Race
In the year 1952, the Sturmanskie watch series was introduced, which became famous for being used by Soviet aviators and Red Army officials.
It is known that astronaut Yuri Gagarin had one of these Russian watches with him during his space flight, making the brand the owner of the first watch to travel to space.
Interestingly, some factories still produce replicas of that first model, commemorating this significant milestone in the space race, even though the Museum of Cosmonautics clarified that the actual space journey was made with a Pobeda watch.
✚ The Main Russian Watch Brands and Their History
Participants in historically tense moments, Russian watches are surrounded by a great intrinsic historical value, which connects them to some of the most momentous events in human history.
There is a variety of Russian watch brands and models, each with interesting stories worth knowing. Let’s take a look at the most prominent brands and some important anecdotes related to their history.
The word Vostok means “East” in Russian. The name refers to a brand of Russian watches that were originally mainly used by the military due to their specialization in diving pieces.
It is a complete watch manufacturer, as each of its mechanisms’ components is produced by the company itself, and they also make watches for other equally important brands.
The company was founded in 1942, after World War II, when the first watch factory was evacuated and relocated to Chistopol.
During the war, only the K-43 model, exclusively for military use, was produced, but by the end of the war, they started producing the K26, better known as “Pobeda” (Victory), which was intended for civilian sales.
In 1969, the company adopted the name Vostok, which would become a brand associated with their watches. By 1980, the company was producing 4.5 million watches annually, exporting them to various countries.
At that time, Vostok was the only manufacturer with certification from the Soviet Union, and they used a 22-jewel movement. Certain changes, such as the creation from scratch of the Vostok Amphibia, which could dive up to 200 meters underwater, are part of the history of this brand, which was also the first to use synthetic crystal.
Poljot watches were designed with different variants of varying quality, becoming so popular that they were used by both the general population and the Soviet elite.
The word “Poljot” means “Flight” and was launched in honor of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the space mission he led. Therefore, its history is often associated with space.
In 1965, Alexei Leonov used a Poljot Strela during the first spacewalk, while the Soviets began exporting their watches abroad.
This turned out to be the turning point needed to establish the brand. Since then, the Poljot 3133 chronograph mechanism became a reference and was used in all the brand’s watches, even in the Sturmanskie.
Currently, the same aeronautical and space aesthetics of the early watches can be appreciated, but combined with modern techniques and better quality materials.
The Aviator watches, along with the Okean, Sputnik, and Antarktida, were very popular as they were used by the Red Army, the Soviet Navy, cosmonauts, army divers, and also the North Pole exploration group.
Space achievements and the name of Yuri Gagarin were the main reasons for the brand’s popularity, as the factory named their brands after significant events in the space race.
Currently, original Aviator watches are sought after as valuable collector’s items for all history enthusiasts after World War II.
Likewise, the Aviator has become a design reference. Even in modern times, aviator-style watches are manufactured by brands from different parts of the world, becoming fashion icons.
This brand has been considered by many as a “chronograph for the masses,” as they marketed affordable designs to make watches accessible to the general public.
It is a brand of Russian watches manufactured by the company Volmax, another descendant of Poljot, which is also responsible for making Aviator and Sturmanskie watches.
It is a Diver watch, designed for diving, with its main characteristic being its water resistance, which can reach up to 1,000m/100ATM in the most modern models.
Among the main features of a Buran watch are durability, reliability, and affordability.
By the late 1980s, the Buran model was developed, named after the Soviet space shuttle. With this model, the brand aimed to showcase Russia’s industrial prowess along with its artistic genius.
The brand emerged in Moscow, led by top designers, drawing inspiration from the best of European watchmaking to demonstrate Russia’s natural and industrial supremacy.
Today, the brand remains active, designing pieces that meet the same quality standards established originally.
Although nowadays it is not as important, as anyone can have highly precise quartz watches, in the past, mechanical watches were considered a quite significant piece of equipment.
For example, precision was required to execute each phase of the flight plan of the Vostok 3KA-2 (Vostok 1), the spacecraft that forever changed the history of space.
The Orenburg flight school provided its new graduates with one of the Russian watches Sturmanskie during the 1940s, thanks to the accuracy of the mechanism that composed it.
Yuri Gagarin was presented with one during his graduation, although it is unlikely to be the same piece he used during his journey; it is highly possible he received a similar one but with inferior features.
The watch used by Yuri had a 17-jewel mechanism and shock protection. Interestingly, the original watch from the journey was donated by Gagarin to the factory that was in the process of changing its name to become Poljot (Flight).
Its re-edition can be acquired by anyone nowadays, as it is still present in the brand’s catalogs. The original piece is exhibited in the “Zvezdny Gorodok” Museum, located very close to the city of Moscow.
Volmax is a manufacturer of Russian watches, whose main headquarters are in Russia, but they maintain a subsidiary in Switzerland. They are a manufacturer that produces and distributes watchmaking pieces under different trademarks, among which Aviator, Buran, and Sturmanskie stand out.
In the past, Volmax was the brand under which Poljot watches were distributed in Switzerland, but after their disappearance, it became the company that took over their workers and factories, including the aforementioned brands.
Since 2005, their three classic models have been marketed under a new brand called Russian Watch Factory, rather than under the Volmax brand.
So many changes and divisions of the parent company have generated a lot of confusion among many people, as well as affecting different distributors who, due to lack of knowledge, ended up selling Russian Watch Factory watches as if they were Poljot.
Currently, the brand only distributes through authorized agents to avoid further confusion. In general, these watches manage to combine the original design and patterns with a level of quality that corresponds more to Western watches and are marketed in a mid-price range.
Since Peter the Great founded the Petrodvorets watch factory in St. Petersburg in 1721, Raketa watches have been manufactured in these facilities.
By the 1970s, the factory was already producing approximately five million manual winding watches each year, and during the Soviet era, it was one of the most widely produced watch brands in the world.
The name Raketa means “Rocket” in English and was used in honor of Yuri Gagarin’s first spaceflight on the Vostok 1 rocket.
Great expeditions like those to the North Pole and entities like the Red Army or the Soviet Navy have used Raketa watches, as well as civilians.
However, during the Cold War, the West did not receive this brand favorably because its name coincided with the last generation of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, the R-16.
Since 1960, Raketa watches have come a long way in significantly improving their quality, accuracy, and finishing.
Currently, Raketa is one of the few Russian companies that can produce their watches entirely in-house, including the movement, the balance spring, and the escapement.
While most of their designs are luxury watches with prices similar to some Swiss watch brands.
The parent company of Raketa is Petrodvorets Watch Factory, which is starting to sell some Swiss brand watches that require hard-to-obtain Swiss ETA movements.
✚ All Russian Watch Brands
In addition to the mentioned ones, there are many other watch brands in Russia that are not as well-known. They are as follows:
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Last update of links and images on 2023-11-29.