Friday, February 11, 2005

Vostok Komandirskie Review

I have a confession to make. I have been uncomfortable with the notion of owning a Russian made product for a long time now. I attribute this unease to the impression left on me by the many years when the Soviet Union was our enemy. I am, however, increasingly facing up to the fact that this feeling is irrational now, we are not at war with the Russian Federation and no one, to my knowledge, seriously wants to return to the bad old days. We may hiss at each other from time to time but that is hardly comparable to being locked in a fight to the finish. Simply put, even friends can disagree with each other and I do hope that Russia and the United States can become, and remain, friends. (Allright, it took me fifteen years to figure this out, I'm not that bright.) With this in mind, I decided that I would add a Russian watch to my watch collection/hobby. The watch in question is the Vostok Komandirskie.

A little history first. The Vostok watch company has an interesting background. (For a terrific discussion of the Russian watch industry see The Russian Watches) The company's name means east or “the east” and is so named because during WWII the company, then a Moscow based watch factory, was physically packed up and moved east to what is now Chistopol in Tatarstan to escape the advancing Nazi army. I'm not sure what they were building during the war, no doubt military hardware, but when the war ended, the factory, now apparently named Vostok, resumed production of watches. Vostok, I am told, is one of the few watch companies that makes nearly everything that they sell. Most companies these days, Seiko excepted to my knowledge (there are probably a few others), outsource or subcontract at least part of their product line. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Vostok watches are really pretty much all Russian in their content. The company’s most well known product, the Komandirskie, was introduced in 1965 and became standard issue to the Soviet armed forces, as it was apparently quite rugged. The subject of this review is the current version of the original Komandirskie, still in production after 40 years albeit with a number of aesthetic and engineering changes.

The watch itself has proved to be a pleasant surprise for me. This particular model can be had, new in the box from a low $17 on an ebay store (and even less for a used one at times) to a whopping $35 (shipping included) from a Russia based online store. One way or another, a Vostok isn’t going to break anyone’s bank. The watch measures 42mm across the face (including the crown) and the lugs are 18mm apart. The face is very attractive, admittedly to my eye, and has gotten a number of compliments around my office. The crystal is a domed acrylic type that, while much easier to scratch than mineral glass or sapphire, can easily be polished to look good if scuffed. This model shipped with a padded leather band that, while not of the greatest quality, is nevertheless very soft and comfortable and I have no desire to replace it with a more expensive strap. The case of the watch is made of chrome-plated brass with a screw down stainless steel back, a screw down crown and a rotating bezel. It isn’t nearly as modern a design as a current Swiss or Japanese stainless steel watchcase but it does suffice to do the job and is rated as being water resistant to 67 feet (2 atm). What I really found charming about this watch is the movement. The Komandirskie is powered by a manually wound Vostok 2414A 17 jewel movement see also Vostok's Site. You read that correctly, this watch has to be wound up by hand every thirty or so hours. While some folks might consider this an unacceptable bother, I personally sort of like the idea that not only are no batteries ever required for the Komandirskie to work, I don’t even have to worry about moving around enough to spin an automatic rotor to keep it going. The watch’s crown is quite large and easy to grip (it never ceases to annoy me when a watch crown is too small to easily grasp for setting) and winding it takes all of 15 seconds or so once a day. So far, the Komandirskie has been pretty accurate for a mechanical watch, mine seems to gain about 20 seconds a day, and it displays the date as well. My only real gripe with this watch is the lume. There is no nice way of putting it, it stinks. The watch hands and markers will glow for, at most, an hour after being exposed to light. That is nowhere near long enough and really should be improved.

By now I’m sure that most of you have figured out that I am very fond of this watch but that it is no Rolex when it comes to design. The point to remember when looking at the Komandirskie though is that while it is a nice mechanical wristwatch, and thus it becomes tempting to compare it with some much more expensive and sophisticated watches, its price allows it to very favorably compete with really low end digital, plastic, mass market watches. In comparison with the typical plastic watches that seem to be available everywhere (Casio G-Shocks excluded-they are very nice indeed) the Komandirskie is wonderful. It looks and feels like a solid, quality item and has a real jeweled mechanical movement in it to boot. Given a choice between the Vostok and any cheap quartz plastic watch, there would be no comparison for me-the Komandirskie wins hands down. (Update-A reader pointed out to me that the Komandirskie that I am reviewing here is really the entry-level version of the Vostok line of watches. That is absolutely correct and it deserves to be noted. Other, higher end models from Vostok are reputed to be better finished and much more sophisticated in many respects. Still, for an entry-level model, the Komandirskie is quite well done and a very good value.) Another point to consider, by the way, if you don’t fancy the style of the watch you see here, take a look at the Vostok website (or ebay and other sellers for that matter). Vostok produces an amazing variety of colors and styles of Komandirskie watches. They also have other, more expensive (relatively speaking-they are still very affordable), lines available including a diver and some dress watches. As an aside, if you really like Russian watches, check out Vostok Europe. This is Vostok’s real premium quality line and these watches, unlike models like the Komandirskie, are completely modern designs. All told though, there is really no down side to a Vostok Komandirskie. It’s a nice, well made, affordable watch with an interesting history.


Anonymous jean-luc said...

Hi !
One of my Vostoks is exactly like yours.
It grows on me and is one of my most accurate watches.
When I wear it, it generally only moves for 5" a day. Vostoks can be really accurate, maybe with a little adjustment (easy to do, you simply need to be careful and patient).
But there is one BIG problem with russian watches.

VERY BIG problem.

I'm afraid you will suffer from the same.

You may worry.

The problem is that ONE russian watch is NEVER ENOUGH.
You will soon need some others !! :-D

3:49 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Don't tempt me. I am already looking at an Amphibia :)

3:57 PM  
Blogger Speedmaster said...

Nice review, well done.

I have a bunch of watch stuff on my blog that might interest you as well.


5:21 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Nice review. I have an Amphibian myself, got it at a flea market for $12. Great watch, reasonably accurate, and cool.

5:39 PM  
Blogger John F. Opie said...

Hi -

Sigh. Now I gotta get me one as well...

I started out with Russian watches about 3 years ago, looking for a cheap travel watch instead of my Fortis, but not wanting to buy some plastic quartz thing. I'm now up to number 9, not all of them Poljot, but also a Pobjeda I got on eBay here in Germany for less than $30 with shipping.

I was in Russia in 1970 (!) and one of the vivid memories was the huge numbers of shiny watches on sale at the Intourist shops.


3:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I received a 2414A tonight as a gift from a friend who picked it up in Lutsk a couple of weeks ago.

It's interesting, as the face art is unlike any I've seen on the export models on eBay. On a vintage watch, I've seen the insignia attributed to the "Soviet Space Command" and also to the "Soviet Strategic Air Force."

In that the instructions are in Russian only, I can't figure out how to set the date function...and I let him drive home before getting him to translate it.

Any tips on how to do this? My Russian's just not up to figuring it out from the instructions.

Thanks for any help!

3:44 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

It does not have a true quick set date. What you have to do is move the hour hand back and forth between 9 and 1, changing the date as you go.

7:30 AM  
Blogger S said...

I have the autowind version with a different picture face (black tank commander) and love it. I prefer autowind watches myself and never have a problem with them not getting enough movement, though the next Russian watch I have ordered is a mechanical. I could not resist owning one of those HUGE diver watches with the grill face.

Had have had this autowinder several months now and it settled done to gaining about 30sec per day which is within spec.

Over last few days I have adjusted the watch and it seems to now gain about 8sec per day which is amazing.

The two points I do not like is the acrylic crystal, I would prefer flat mineral glass though I would have broken it by now :D

The 2nd issue is the original leather strap was too small for my mighty man wrists. This was not so much of a problem as I have long ditched conventional leather/metal straps on wrist watches for home made military style webbing straps. If I can sleep a night whilst wearing a watch and not have it irritate me with discomfort then I know I have found the right type of strap for me.

The watch has survived the few months of ownership where I have abused the poor thing by wearing it camping, working on car and general knocking it about. Can see the brass of the case where it has been scratched and the crystal is abraded yet still very clear unless you look up close. The first tinest scrap you get on the crystal hurted me the most but I learned to get over not being so anl and enjoyed the watch for what it is.... a watch with a soul and character at a silly low price!

8:10 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Sounds like a good one there. You can buff out many of the scratches in the crystal with a little toothpaste and a cotton ball. There are commercial products like Crystal Clear that work very well too.


8:54 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Hi Ed,

I discovered your great blog after I purchased an old Vostok Komandirskie 2416b with a paratrooper dial.

The crystal was all scratched up, but following your suggestion I polished it using toothpaste and a soft clean t-shirt, being careful to mask off the edge of the crystal and bezel with scotch tape. My crystal now sparkles like new!!

As far as accuracy, the initial daily rate was +60 seconds, however with some patience it was easy to regulate this to within +/- 2 seconds of atomic time. Awesome!

The Vostok now looks and runs like a champ, and is a great complement to my automatic Seiko diver (the orange bullet model SKXA55, 7s26 movement).

Thanks again!

3:14 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Good to hear. Vostok crystals are easy to scratch but also easy to polish thankfully. I like that particular Seiko model too. Good stuff :)

4:01 PM  
Anonymous petros K. said...

hi, i just buy a vostok komadirskie made at the 90s with SU 2414A movement a few weeks befor, as i always like the military watches, and this mechanicll watch is just awsome! i have buy also a used mini komandirskie with SU 2409 movement, i think this was for the civil market. i want to ask, how you adjust the time in the watch? i saw inside the 2 adjust levers with + in the one side and - in the other, what i make? the one lever is for minutes and the other for the seconds? or its only one lever?
thanks for the help

5:21 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Only one of those levers is the minute adjuster. The other should never be moved. If you aren't sure which is which, take it to a jeweler. You can damage the balance otherwise.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Petros K. said...

ok thanks for the info Ed.

3:04 AM  
Anonymous Petros K. said...

ok thanks for the info Ed.

3:05 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Z said...

I'm late to the party here. How do you like your Komandierskie several years later? How do you like it compared to the Amphibia?

I just ordered one of each from Zenitar. We'll see!

Great blog, great reviews.

-Jeremy (Smaug)

11:26 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

The Amphibia is the better watch. It uses stainless steel for its case as opposed to chrome or titanium nitride plated brass. Additionally, its 200 meter water resistance makes it a wear anywhere piece. That being said, the Komandirskie works quite well. It is hard to beat one for the money. I have a few of them and they are quite rugged.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't you do your homework properly ! ?
At least take a look at Wikipedia before telling stories...

1° Vostok was named Vostok in the sixties after a space program.

2° Vostok Europe is just a lithuanian company that uses Vostok movements in their overpriced and stupid looking watches. In no way first grade Vostoks.

And I didn't read the whole article!..

4:38 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Sorry but if thats what Wikipedia says then it is just wrong. My information comes directly from the Vostok factory itself. I did do my homework. First I spoke to an authorized Vostok reseller in the US and then confirmed with the factory personnel. The name Vostok is from the sixties. The Chistopol factory where the watches are made is much older.

8:19 PM  

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