Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Poljot Shturmanskie Chronograph Review (And a brief section on the Poljot Gagarin)

Shot of the Gagarin on an aftermarket Nilsen bund strap. I think it works well.

The subject of this review is my first mechanical chronograph, a Poljot Shturmanskie (Poljot Navigator in English). However, before I get to the review, the watch's maker, Poljot, merits some discussion. Poljot, also known as the First Moscow Watch Factory, has a fascinating history. Prior to the Russian revolution, watchmaking in Russia largely consisted of locally assembling foreign made watch parts. A number of watch brands were sold in Russia through this method including Bure, Mozer, Reinin and Dmitreiv see Aviator-Watch look under General Infos-History/Links. In the aftermath of the revolution, the newly created "Trust of Precision Mechanics" continued to make watches from the available stock of spare parts but when this supply of parts ran out, the Soviet government decided to create a domestic match industry. To affect this, they purchased the defunct Deuber-Hampton watch company from the American industrialist Armen Hammer see Klokwurx and NAWCC. The entire factory was apparently packed up and shipped to Moscow where it was reassembled and, with the help of a number of former employees of Deuber-Hampton, was gotten up and running over the course of a year or so. Four different watches were initially produced, a pocket watch, two men's wrist watches and a ladies wristwatch. (As an aside, I believe that the older models of the giant Zlatoust diver watches still use the movement from the first Russian made pocket watch. They still turn up on ebay from time to time although the newer units may be using a different movement.) The first Moscow Watch Factory produced these models until the war began when production was shifted over to military equipment. After the war, a number of new models were introduced including the Pobeda (meaning victory), the first Shturmanskie (pictured in this review as well and reputed to have been worn by Yuri Gagarin while flying Vostok 1 as the first man in space. Note-this claim has been questioned; some folks say that Gagarin wore a Rodina model. Irrespective, as he wore the watch under his flight suit, I'm not sure if anyone will ever really know for sure which claim is true.) (Update-an astute reader at the WatchUSeek Russian Watch forum clarified this matter for me. Gagarin was in fact wearing the Shturmanskie. It seems there was a photo of it at the time on his flight suit.), a mechanical chronograph called the Strela (meaning arrow) with a Venus based chronograph movement, an alarm wristwatch (the 2612 movement), a very thin mechanical movement called the Vympel, two rather rare models called the Sputnik and the Antarktida, the Sportivnie, the Rodina with the first Russian automatic movement, and, the model 3133 movement powered chronographs (the subject of this review being one). (This list should not be considered exhaustive; there were other models as well.) Poljot survived the breakup of the Soviet Union but the current status of the company is in question. The latest that I have heard is that Poljot itself is no longer in existence but that a sister company Volmax or Poljot-Volmax (I am not sure which of the two names it is), founded by Poljot employees and making watches with Poljot movements for the export market, is still functioning. There is also a company called Maktime that seems to have purchased some of the machine works from Poljot and is now producing watches with Poljot movements. Lastly, I have heard that the Poljot alarm movement, the 2612, will now be made by Vostok (another big Russian watch maker). It is hard to keep track of these developments; this sort of news isn’t widely reported. That being said, Poljot watches seem to be readily available on ebay and through a number of Internet based businesses.

The Shturmanskie chronograph itself is a very nice watch. It has that heavy, solid feel of something that has been truly well assembled. The case measures 39mm in width (not including the crowns) and 14mm in height. The band lug width is 20mm. The watch uses a mineral glass crystal and is rated at 3atm water resistance. In a very pleasant surprise for a Russian watch, the lume is excellent, the hands and markers on the watch face easily remain visible for several hours after exposure to light. My particular model was purchased second hand from someone who owned it for only a few months but in that time he saw fit to replace the stock leather strap with an aftermarket model. As such, I cannot comment on the quality of the original strap. (However, I do own another Poljot watch, a Shturmanskie Gagarin, pictured above, and the leather strap that it shipped with is excellent. If the chronograph’s stock band was of similar quality that it would be just fine. That being said, Russian watch bands are a very iffy proposition, most seem to be dreadful. I have the chronograph on a Hadley-Roma 20mm pilot bracelet that, I think, looks and works quite nicely. FYI, got it
here.) The Shturmanskie is also a very handsome watch, with a striking appearance that doesn’t resemble many other watches.

The raison d’etre of a mechanical chronograph is its movement. The movement in the Poljot Shturmanskie is Poljot’s 23 jewel model
3133 and here for images. The 3133 is not an automatic movement and thus must be wound once a day. This movement has an interesting pedigree in that it is essentially a Russian made copy of a Swiss chronograph movement, specifically the Valjoux 7734 and here. It is my understanding that when Poljot bought the machine tools from the Swiss to make this movement, they changed the balance wheel and raised the frequency of the movement to improve its accuracy, but that some of the parts remain interchangeable. The chronograph function is started and stopped by pressing the button at two o’clock and reset after stopping by pressing the button at four o’clock. It is apparently considered important with this movement to be sure to stop the chronograph function before resetting the watch. The chronograph face itself (the dial at three o’clock) will accurately measure thirty minutes of elapsed time. The dial at nine o’clock, by the way, is an ordinary second hand. The crown at 9 o'clock adjusts the inner bezel ring, not the movement. The accuracy of the 3133 is rated by Poljot at -20 to +40 seconds per day, not bad at all. My example is running at a very fine +5 seconds.

Mechanical chronographs are something of a rare breed among watches. As a general rule they are quite expensive and must be treated carefully. (By the way, after a long search, I found a US service center for these chronographs. See the bottom of the
webpage.) I would not recommend wearing the Shturmanskie chronograph, or any mechanical chronograph for that matter, when engaged in any strenuous physical activity. That is not to say that a mechanical chronograph should not be a daily wear watch, but try not to bang it around too much, it’s not meant for that. As you can probably tell by now, I really like this watch. However, the Shturmanskie chronograph is not a no-brainer in the price department like many other Russian watches. While it costs a fraction of what a Swiss mechanical chronograph costs (generally between $1000 and $3000 and occasionally much more), it will still run you between about $265 and $400, not exactly an impulse buy anymore. However, if you like watches, it is really a pleasure to watch a mechanical chronograph in action. For this reason, the Poljot Shturmanskie, and most of the other Poljot chronographs, really deserves attention.

(As an aside-I am starting to see Chinese made chronographs with copies of Venus movements for very low prices but they don’t seem to be available everywhere in quantity yet and I don’t know about their build quality. They may be very nice but I don’t know for sure.)

The other watch pictured in this review is the Poljot Shturmanskie Gagarin (for a good read on this and other Russian re-issues, see
Reissue Issues. This model is the 40th anniversary edition of the original Shturmanskie that was reputedly worn by Mr. Gagarin during his famous flight. The original was supposedly only issued to Russian air force pilots. This one is really a very simple watch, just the time with no other features (as if anyone really needs much more). It is powered by a Poljot 2609 movement, a rather ordinary 17 jewel stemwinder with no hacking feature. It uses a mineral glass crystal and came stock with a very nice bund style watch band. The back of the watch has an image of Vostok 1 orbiting the earth and Gagarin’s words on take-off –“Let’s go!” Since this is a commemorative edition, Poljot issued it in the same size and style as the original (33mm in width not including the crown). That makes it a bit small in comparison with a modern mans watch, but the bund strap makes it look bigger. Technically, the watch isn’t much to write home about, but it is a piece of history and I think that makes it interesting. This model is getting pretty hard to find though. I only know of two sellers who still have it (Aviator-Watch, look under 17 Jewels/Date- other mech, Date and Juri Levenberg's ebay store, search for Gagarin).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice watches Ed. And informative review too..Congrats!

4:16 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thanks. Glad you like it.

5:00 PM  
Blogger John F. Opie said...

Hi -

Very nice review!

I've got 7 Russian watches, from a brand-new Poljot Journey and Gugarin Shturmanskie Chronograph to vintage Rodina and Strela, as well as a new 24-hour Arktika and a new Aviator. And a vintage Shturmanskie military issue as well...

They are really outstanding bargains and are a really, really great way to get into mechanical watches.

As you mentioned, there's a lot of uncertainty about Poljot as a manufacturer. One of the issues facing Poljot is that their major seller, the 3133 and its various incarnations, is based on a caliber that was obsolete when it was sold.

The Soviets of the day bought the entire factory for its precision manufacturing capabilities, not merely for the watches it could make (among other things, high-precision parts for inertial guidance systems used in ICBMs and the like, a definite no-no at the time).

The machinery in the factory wasn't bad, but it wasn't the newest when it was bought, and they are apparently facing increasing problems in being able to maintain the machinery and keep production up to snuff. This is part of the reason that Poljot has started to offer chronographs with the ubiquitious 7750 Valjoux.


1:33 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Interesting point. I wasn't aware of the dual use potential of the 7734 factory but it certainly makes sense. It is a shame about the disarray that Poljot is in and I do hope that they find a way to avoid becoming just another assembler of Swiss made parts. There is already too much of that and the price of admission is too high in most cases.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, you had mentioned you found a good US repair shop for your 3133. Could you tell me what that is, I could not find it ....


3:39 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Contact Kevin kevinsrussiantime.com

He knows of a local watchmaker who services Russian watches

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Kevin@kevinsrussiantime.com said...

Hello Ed, Kevin here from Kevinsrussiantime.com I just wanted you to know that our friend flashharry is almost done with the new kevinsrussiantime site it will include both warranty service center and after warranty service center all with the blessings of the Russian manufactureres and a promise to support with parts even from Maktime the current maker of 3133 calibre movements, I am told they will sell us complete movements once we send them credentials of Dmirs Certified Master Watchmaker paperwork! Thanks for the referral and keep on educating the folks out there to our wonderfully surprisingly inexpensive watches known as Russian Gems :0)


1:09 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

That's great news! Thanks for the update

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ed -

Doing some research about Reinin clock/watch company in early 20th century Russia and was curious if you could share any sources you found? You can email me at asl526@nyu.edu, if you have anything!

Thanks Ed!

12:43 PM  

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