Thursday, June 19, 2008

Some fine old Vostoks

Pictured with a modern Amphibia to illustrate the difference in case size.

Not really a review this time. Just a few photos of a pair of Vostok Cosmonauts and another model bearing the image of a Vostok spaceship that I recently acquired. The graphic on the two Cosmonauts, showing a profile view of a cosmonaut wearing a helmet, is hard to come by. To find two of them in excellent condition was real luck. The black one is even more unusual. It uses an older style case design that is considerably larger than current Vostok Amphibia cases. Not a common case style at all. All three models use the 2416b automatic movement, are rated at 200 meters water resistance and have Vostok's thick acrylic crystal. All are running strong thankfully. Some posters at have speculated that the one with the silver colored dial actually has a picture of an atomic bomb on the face. Levenberg's book Russian Wristwatches, however, identifies it as a spaceship.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Russian Watch Forum Vostok Amphibia Radio Operator

I know that's a mighty long title on this review but then this is a special watch. Collecting Russian watches is interesting to me because so many of them have a story behind them. Whether it be the Type One with its American designed and Russian made pocket watch movement or the first watch to be worn in space, there is often a lot of history to be had. The watch you see above has now become part of that Russian watch history as well. This Vostok, you see, is really the watch that watch collectors made.

The story began in Italy when the members of the Orologiando watch forum got the idea to commission Vostok to make a watch for them. The design they settled on was a variation of the old Vostok Radio Operator watch. This one, however, would use the Vostok 2416b 31-jewel automatic movement, instead of the 17-jewel stemwinder that the original employed. The new model has a white face instead of black and uses the modern Amphibia case. In a nod to Vostok's military heritage, the new model has the notation 3AKA3 on the dial (The old Soviet acronym for "By order of the ministry of defense. Update-A reader on Watchuseek pointed out that 3AKA3 isn't an acronym. It is the Russian word for "Order". Good to know.). The Italian forum members then contacted the Russian watch community at to see if anyone wanted in. The response from both forums was enthusiastic and the order was placed. Two variations were ultimately ordered, a model with a date window and the no-date model you see above. (To read the story of how this got started, see here)

After a few months of exciting updates showing the progress that was being made at the factory, the watches began to arrive. As you can see, the case back is engraved with my name and a number indicating it was the fifth of the one hundred-five of this series. (Some buyers opted to engrave their case backs in Cyrillic text). My example came with a polished stainless steel folded link bracelet. It wasn't a horrible bracelet but, as collectors of Vostok watches know, it was not of the greatest quality. I decided to replace it with a Rios waterproof leather/nylon band. I think it is a good fit. As for the rest of the watch, pretty much everything I have said in my previous Amphibia review is still true. The Forum Radio Operator is as good a field watch/diver as my previously reviewed Amphibias. This one, however, will not be subjected to harsh conditions. It is, after all, a special watch.

As an aside, the place where I got this Rios band has a Russian jeweler on staff who has experience servicing Russian watches. I brought in an Amphibia in a few weeks back whose date was changing at 9pm instead of midnight. I figured I would get the usual western jeweler treatment when I present a Russian watch, which is a flat out rejection. Instead, the owner looked over the watch, correctly identified it as a Russian piece and then told me that he had a guy who could take care of it for me. They did, in fact fix it, for a reasonable price. Something to think about if you need a Russian piece serviced in New York at least.
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