Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vostok Generalskie Desert Shield edition

The Desert Shield Generalskie represents a fascinating piece of history between the United States and the Soviet Union. Here is a Russian made Vostok watch, the standard supplier to the Red Army, building a watch for the U. S. Army during Operation Desert Shield. As I understand it, some 200,000 pieces were ordered for sale. The watches were advertised in Stars & Stripes, the U.S. military's newspaper, at $99 for service personnel or $149 for everyone else. The distributor reportedly presented one of these watches to then President Bush and another to Senator Kerry. Several different cases and movements were employed by this series of watch. To the best of my knowledge, there was the Generalskie model you see above, an Amphibia, a Komandirskie and a mini Komandirskie. Movements apparently varied from the old 21 jewel 2416b to the 2409 and the 2414a, I believe. For more information, see this excellent post at the Military Watch Forum.

The Generalskie model above uses a case style that has unfortunately been discontinued by Vostok. It outwardly appears similar to Komandirskie models of the period except that the case is significantly larger than the bezel. Like the Komandirskie, the case is made of chrome plated brass and features Vostok's signature acrylic crystal and wobbly screw-down crown. This particular example came to me by way of eBay. It was advertised as being new old stock (NOS) but in fact had a scratched bezel and lug. I fortunately had another bezel of the same design to replace the damaged one and a little of my wife's clear nail polish should protect the exposed base metal on the lug hopefully. Such is life when shopping on the bay. Caveat emptor.

Aside from these issues, the watch appears to be running fine. Accuracy seems to be in the typical Vostok range of 20 seconds or so deviation per day. Not bad for a 20 yr old mechanical watch in my opinion. The old style Generalskie case goes well with today's large watch trend. It measures 45mm in width (including the crown), 48mm lug to lug and uses Vostok's standard 18mm band lug width. The stock leather band had dried out and become quite brittle so I replaced it with a padded leather Hirsch band that suits it quite nicely.

I am quite happy to own this historically interesting watch. It represents a brief moment in time when two old enemies found some common ground between them. It would have been most interesting indeed if the cooperation that this watch represents could have continued and strengthened over time. Who knows what sort of world we would be living in now?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Vostok Komandirskie Revisited

On the Brown leather replacement band

Freshly unwrapped on the original black band

It's been a few years since I did a review of a new Vostok Komandirskie. I was curious to see if much had changed since the last time I picked up one of these. When this one became available, I took the plunge so to speak. (For what it's worth, buying a Vostok is never much of a plunge, financially that is. This model appears on Zenitar's ebay store from time to time for less than $50). The example above has the insignia of the Russian Space Forces launch crew as I understand it. There are pictures of it aboard the International Space Station which was enough to get me interested. I'm pleased to see that the Komandirskie is still a solidly made mechanical watch that sells for a bargain price.

The Komandirskie these days is still powered by Vostok's 2414A 17 jewel stemwinder movement with a date display and a screw-down crown. The 2414A has an excellent track record for durability and acceptable accuracy. The case is still made from chrome plated brass and the caseback is still the Vostok 2 piece stainless steel water resistant design. (Note-Water resistant means washing your hands, rain and maybe immersion to a depth of one or two meters. For diving, go with a Vostok Amphibia. It is rated at 200 meters water resistance and is more robustly made. For a good article describing the differences between the Komandirskie and the Amphibia see this post at Another terrific Vostok article can be found here). In common Vostok fashion, the caseback is intricately decorated, this model sports the Imperial Russian 2 headed Eagle (Symbolizing the Tzar's role as head of church and state I believe).

The Komandirskie still uses a domed acrylic crystal. The choice of acrylic has the disadvantage in that it can scratch fairly easily. However, unlike glass, it is very shatter resistant and scratches can be polished out with a cotton ball and a little toothpaste from time to time as needed. (There are proper watch crystal polishes available that do a better job if you are interested. Crystal Clear and Polywatch work very well).

In typical Vostok fashion, the stock watch band is of so-so quality. I replaced it with one from Nilsen's ebay store (I recall that Randy Nilsen sadly passed away a few years ago. I believe his wife now runs the place). In the past, Vostoks were usually sold without bands in a plain plastic box. The buyer was expected to pick a band that suited them. I personally believe that Vostok hasn't quite gotten the stock watch band idea yet. They really should ship a better quality band. It would do a lot for their overall image.

Vostok's Komandirskie line is something of a design classic these days. It has been around since the 1960's, I believe, and is still largely made the same way. While the Komandirskie was originally marketed to the Soviet military, Vostoks are now popular in civilian markets as well. It is true that one could certainly quibble that chrome plated brass and acrylic crystals are not the latest or the greatest choices. That being said though, they are both quite durable and should last for years. Realistically, at the Komandirskie's price point, plastic cases and simple digital displays are more the norm. That Vostok can still produce a well made 17 jewel wristwatch for an affordable price is really quite remarkable. And that this example has a space program connection of sorts is just icing on the cake for me. Recommended.
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