Friday, February 11, 2005
Vostok Komandirskie Review
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.