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Are There High-End Russian Watches?

Don B. from Pennsylvania, USA asks:

Is there anything exciting happening with Russian watches like Poljot? I know they have a reputation for being pedestrian, cheap, and low quality. Is there any high-end stuff coming out of Russia, perhaps a brand I’ve not heard of? It might be a niche interest, but I think an introduction to Russian horology (to the extent that it exists) might be of interest to many people.
During the Soviet era, Russia made a number of watches for their people and military. Some are collector’s items, but we don’t know how many of them are considered “good” by today’s standards. As you mentioned, some of those brands are still alive, or were brought back to life, but we don’t know how many (or if any) of them actually make their own movements. We know the people at a site called Russia2All which sells a number of “Russian” watches.

In terms of high-end brands we know of one, and it is a great brand. You should check out the watches of Konstantin Chaykin, who makes luxury watches in St. Petersburg (though he is originally from Moscow).

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  • Perdendosi

    The Russian watchmaker Vostok still makes its own movements, and sells (directly and through dealers) its Amphibian and Komandirskie lines, as well as slightly higher end watches with finer finishings, but still using the workhorse Vostok movements, in their Amfibia (with an “f”) line.  We’re still talking about watches that are less than $400 USD here, so certainly not high end.
    Vostok Europe is a Lithuanian company that partners with Vostok, selling higher end (still sub $1K) watches, sometimes with Vostok movements, and sometimes with movements from other parts of the world.
    Raketa continues to survive as a Russian watch brand, selling new watches.  The problem is that the watches they sell are mostly of the quality of their historical watches (nice, workhorse, cool watches, but not exactly finely crafted) but they’ve increased their prices by about 10X.  I’ve not seen a modern Raketa, but pictures look quite nice.  They can run up to $1000, so once again we’re not talking ultra high end.
    The Luch factory in Belarus continues to make its own watches with its own handwind movements.  Their current star is a very pretty one-handed watch that isn’t exactly in the same class as a MeisterSinger, but comes pretty close for 5% of the price.  Once again, nothing high end.
    Poljot, in the First Moscow Watch Factory, closed in the early 2000s, but was replaced by a number of companies, including MakTime and Volmax.  These companies tontinue to make watches with Russian movements sourced either from Vostok, old Poljot sources, or others, under the Aviator, Sturmanskie, Buran, and Pilot brands.
    Juri Levenberg, a somewhat controversial Russian watch expert from Germany, has partnered with a number of the former companies from Poljot (and also acquried the rights to the Poljot name outside of Russia) to design and sell Russian-themed, and actual, Russian watches, including watches with the famed 3133 handwind chronograph movement.   He sells on eBay under the name Sonnenflasche, and also sells to a number of dealers (including Russia2all).  My understanding is that the 3133 movement is no longer being made, so get it while the getting’s good.  These are $500-$1000 watches, but by all reports outperform the standard Swiss chronographs.

    Long story short– there is still a Russian watch industry (and watches being made outside Russia with Russian movements).  There aren’t a ton of Russian watches being sold for thousands of dollars, but there are a number of very nicely finished, reliable, Russian timepieces available.

    • Perdendosi Thank you very much. We are aware of Vostok (versus Vostok Europe and Raketa). The question was more about high-end Russian watches though, but we appreciate your input and extra information.

      • Perdendosi

        aBlogtoWatch Perdendosi I understand.  “High end” can mean a lot to a lot of people, and I was responding to the “reputation” for being “pedestrian, cheap, and of low quality.”  I’d take a 3133 Strela or Ocean (modern or vintage) over just about any watch with a Valjoux 7750 any day, and there are tons of Raketas, Poljots, and Vostoks that are neither  “pedestrian” nor “low quality”.  So I think the modern Raketas, Vostok Amfibians, and the Volmax 3133’s, and a few others, would therefore fall into the OP’s definition of “anything exciting happening.” 🙂 
        But I also got to learn about Chaykin, which definitely counts as “high end” no matter what your spectrum, which was really cool!

  • RobertMacGregor

    Its a shame there isn’t a more comprehensive answer here, as Russia is one of the few countries remaining with a rich surviving horological history including domestically produced movements.  The industry is dying off, though, but there are still deals to be had.
    As Perdendosi said, the First Moscow Watch Factory produced the brand ????? (Poljot),  which means “flight” in Russian in honor of the manned spaceflight achievements of the Soviet Union.  The factory as a corporation went bankrupt in the early 2000s, but several companies were established on the premises.   The most high-end of these was Volmax which produces the ????? (Buran) or “blizzard” brand, named after the Soviet space shuttle.  Many Buran watches have finished movements and dress dials, they are medium-range dress watches using a variety of movements, including the famous Molnija pocket watch movement. Volmax also produces the line called ??????????? (Shturmanskie) or “navigator” line of watches, famous as the standard issue for Soviet Air Force pilots.  There is also the Denissov company, which is the highest-end Russian watch company.
    Most of the movements are no longer in production, but these watches can still be found new.  The companies are now turning to Russian-designed watches using Swiss movements.
    Vostok produces low-end, but very rugged and reliable watches.  They still produce movements and watches in house, a real relic of the Soviet era!

  • EranR

    Also worth mentioning Alexander Shorokhoff who operates in Germany since the 90’s. I believe he is still using old Russian movements in their hand wound models. (I got one of those which is quite delightful at little over $1,000.

  • AK74

    My dad used to buy Soviet watches all the time. I wore a ton of them. There was one thing common to every Soviet watch he owned, including supposedly military style so called “commander” watches: they were all crappy in terms of time keeping. There was not a single good mechanical watch, and he had all sorts of them from pocket to wrist to wall clocks.

    The Soviet watches which were good for time keeping were so called “electronic” (digital) and analog quartz watches. One such digital watch was simply indestructible, went through so much abuse in my hands, it’s amazing how reliable it was. I forgot its model number but remember the brand “”???????????”. 

    That’s why I’m so surprised when these watch makers from Russia pop up in the West starting new high end brands or old school revivals, such as ????? (Poljet). I owned blue dial ?????, it was kind of cute, but as crappy as every other Soviet watch. If the past performance is any indication, then I’m not buying these watch-makers’ products unless they have Swiss movements inside. 

    On the other hand, Russians are interesting in terms of artistic design, that you can’t take away from them. I saw interesting watches from Shorokhov, who also claims to be associated with one of the Soviet watch brands, but he’s not a watch maker himself. He uses Swiss movements, if I’m not mistaken.

  • AK74

    aBlogtoWatch Perdendosi Chaykin is certainly high end in terms of prices, his watches are in $50K+ range. I was particularly interested in Hijra model. I have no idea how good they are in terms of time keeping and reliability. I’d be very skeptical, of course, given my experience of owning low end watches of Soviet pedigree.

  • AK74

    Here’s my 23 years old Slava (?????) analog quartz watch. Its bezel came off. The case seems to be steel, and the bezel was probably aluminum. I took them to my watch repair shop, but they couldn’t fix it completely. The rubber seal melt, and it damaged something inside. They cleaned it up, and replaced the damaged crown. I think the crown wasn’t a perfect fit, so the theing doesn’t work. The movement is intact so I want to get them fixed.