Friday, May 19, 2006

Zlatoust Diver's Watch

The awful stock strap

Screw-pin detail

Crown detail

A Type One Movement. It is a Russian made copy of an old American Dueber-Hampden pocketwatch movement,

About three inches from end to end.

Weight lifting :)

According to watch industry buzz, big watches are "in" these days. I regularly hear folks discount 38mm watches as being far too small while the old 34mm standard man's size watch is barely considered large enough for ladies now. Well, if big watches are your cup of tea, I've got the thing for you. The Zlatoust diver's watch is big, really big. I've owned alarm clocks that weren't this big. How big, well its 58mm in diameter (not including the huge canteen crown which brings the overall width to 74mm!), 24mm in thickness (which is thicker than the width of many a ladies watch), the lugs are 24mm wide, lug to lug the watch measures 73mm and the it weighs 10oz. (For those of you who are curious, my wrist measures 7 1/2" around. The watch, as you can see, completely covers it and actually sticks out a bit) Needless to say, this is not the most comfortable watch out there. Frankly, it’s at best clumsy and at worst (on the stock band) downright painful to wear.

The watch itself is undeniably fascinating. I wore it around my law firm one day and at least a dozen people commented about it. No one had ever seen a watch like it and a number of folks actually tried it on. Even people who probably were not all that interested in watches were amazed. The Zlatoust uses a one piece case design (the movement is installed through the front) with an unusual screw-down bezel to hold the thick acrylic crystal tight against a rubber gasket. The watch ships with a sort of rubberized canvas band (complete with CCCP logo) that is possibly the least comfortable watch band I have ever encountered. It is stiff, sticky and does not breathe at all. I suppose the band would make sense if worn over a wetsuit but otherwise, it’s more like a handcuff than a watchband. I currently have my Zlatoust on an old Rhino band I had lying around. It’s still not remotely comfortable but it is wearable. In addition to the odd band, the bezel unscrews completely to allow the wearer to remove the protective grill and place a thicker (included) gasket in its place. The lug pins are of a screwed in type and can be removed with the small screwdriver that also came with the watch. The huge canteen style crown screws down and has a rubber gasket to protect the movement from water. An attached chain keeps the crown from getting lost. The numerals and hands on the watch face are luminous and, in a pleasant surprise, the lume is pretty good. The movement on this model is the same one used in the old First State Watch Factory Type One (reviewed below). It is a 15 jewel hand wound mechanism that must be wound once daily by unscrewing and partially removing the canteen crown cover. I have not actually opened the case to see the movement since this type of case design is tricky to extract a movement from, but the frequency sounds exactly the same as the low-beat tick of my Type One models. The one curious bit of data that I don't have is water resistance. I have fully immersed my watch with no damage but I don't know how deep it can go. I read a post over at that stated that this watch is not really meant for very deep water at all but is instead meant for prolonged use in shallow water along the lines of a diving bell. I honestly don't know for sure.

The Zlatoust watch factory has an interesting history. During WWII, the one of the Moscow watch factories (I believe it was First State Watch Factory) was evacuated east to Zlatoust in the Chelyabinsk region to avoid being captured or destroyed by the advancing Nazi army. (many other Russian factories were moved this way as well) There, watch and clock production was quickly brought back online. According to the factory, (be patient, the page loads very slowly) over 90 percent of the clocks installed in Soviet tanks and aircraft were made at Zlatoust. After the war, the factory continued to produce all sorts of clocks and watches including stopwatches and this huge diver watch. (As an aside, they don’t just make watches in Zlatoust. This place was also the center of the old Soviet nuclear weapons industry. See: Zlatoust . It is also reputed to be one of the most contaminated places in the world as well. Scary stuff. (Additionally-If you are interested in modern Russian history I recommend reading Andrew Meier's book Black Earth. It is a collection of stories consisting of recent reporting by the author as he traveled throughout Russia. A real eye opener.)

It bears noting that watches like this one appear on frequently ebay and other Russian watch seller’s web pages these days. Many of them are clearly modern reproductions of the Zlatoust diver. Models with the text “700 Meters” on the face or with a centrally located second hand or a subdial are not, to my knowledge, real military diver’s watches. They may be made at the Zlatoust factory, however, but their movements are probably not the old low-beat Type One variety. Additionally, I have heard that modern examples have chrome plated brass cases instead of the solid stainless steel cases the originals used. If you are going to suffer owning one of these, try to get one that is as historically correct as possible. (Mine isn’t perfect either, it doesn’t have the plain back that the real issued ones have). Watches like this are available from a number of Russian watch sellers. I got mine here.

I think it should be obvious from this review that the Zlatoust diver is clearly never going to be anyone’s daily wear watch (That is unless your wrist is over eleven or so inches around. Then it might work for you). Still, I’m very happy to have this beast. It is, without question, the most unusual watch I own and may be the biggest wrist watch ever made. It is also an interesting piece of history. The one thing it is not is boring.

P.S.-Another great review of this watch can be found here
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