This is the first watch review I have written, so if it is slightly hamfisted you shall have to forgive me. Having amassed a reasonable collection of watches, I thought it best to start reviewing some of them, both to help me look objectively at my collection and to help others should they consider purchasing any similar watches.
The subject of my first review will be a Russian made Vostok Komandirskie Model 811055. This watch was purchased new at the end of March 2015 from eBay and shipped direct from Russia to the UK. The seller on eBay was MoscowTimeSeller and the watch took two weeks to arrive (typical delivery time).
Vostok – The Company
I would like to start with a small amount of history on the company behind this watch as it may not be an immediately familiar brand.
The Vostok Company was founded in 1942 when one of the Moscow watch-making plants of the First Moscow Watch Factory was evacuated to Chistopol, a small town located on the Kama River in Tatarstan. Only defence equipment was produced during the war years, but as soon as the war was over the company started making mechanical wrist watches.
The company was appointed an official supplier of watches for the Defence Department of the Soviet Union in 1965. This year also marks the creation of the well known Komandirskie (“Commander’s”) watch. The experience gained through development of the army watch led to the Amphibia, a stainless-steel watch able to withstand a 200 metre depth (20atm). By 1980, Vostok Watch Makers was producing 4.5 million timepieces per year.
Vostok watches have frequently been worn in space by Russian cosmonauts, some of the more famous Vostok watch users are the cosmonauts Gerogi Grechko and Yuri Romanenko
Komandirskie – Summary
Case: Brass alloy, chrome plated
Case, Bezel & Crystal
The case itself is made of a brass alloy that has been chrome plated, this produces an effect similar to a polished stainless finish but is not as durable. With a watch at this price point I do not think this detracts from its construction and the finish on this watch is excellent, there are no rough edges and the bevelling and shape of the case is very pleasing, both on the wrist and off. The crown is set at the 3 o’clock position, it is unsigned and has a coin cut effect for improved grip, it is protected by a crown guard that flows out from the right hand side of the case between 2 and 4 o’clock. The guard is beveled down from the bezel allowing the crown to sit slightly proud, this provides easy access without sacrificing protection.
The crystal used on the Komandirskie is a domed acrylic crystal. This does come with some disadvantages over mineral or sapphire crystal, most notably the ease at which it scratches (I have written about the benefits and drawbacks of different crystals in an earlier blog post So You Want To Buy A Watch?) on the plus side most surface scratches can be removed with a little elbow grease and a tin of Brasso. What it does lose in scratch resistance it gains in shatter resistance, it is unlikely unless great force is applied that the plastic face of this watch will shatter. As with a lot of domed crystal watches (but not all as this effect can be mitigated) there is a lensing distortion effect when viewed at acute angles, this can be seen in the above picture where the area between 7 and 4 is slightly distorted. When this watch is in normal use and on the wrist this is rarely an issue.
The bezel, is a unidirectional smooth movement non ratchet affair. On mine it is not particularly smooth and it requires a reasonable amount force to get it moving, is not easy to set to a particular interval and it really makes it a aesthetic feature rather than a practical one. Design wise it looks good and maybe I just have a badly manufactured one that could be fixed by removing, cleaning a reseating. Given that this watch is only rated for 3ATM and is never going to be used as a dive watch I do not think this is a particular loss, that said it would be nice to have done away with movable bezel altogether and had a differently designed case.
The caseback is a two piece construction in stainless steel and features an intricate engraving of a double headed imperial eagle, the coat of arms of the Russian Federation, this is an excellent flourish for a watch that is under £30
The case dimensions are 41.5mm wide and 44.5mm high, with a thickness of 11.2mm, I would say this is a comfortable size that will suit most wrists, it falls into what is currently considered the gentleman’s standard size of 39 – 42mm. I have always found this watch enjoyable to wear and although smaller than some of my dive watches it sits well on the wrist.
Dial & Hands
For me the dial on this watch is a particular treat and one of the main reasons I purchased it. The chapter ring is presented in a bold white with the Russian red star at the 12 o’clock (representing the Russian army) and an anchor intwined with cable (representing the Russian navy) at 6 0’clock. The numbers are clearly legible and presented in a cursive style font, a date window is present at the 3 o’clock also in white with black font. All hour markers have a small ball of lume next to them (excluding the 3 o’clock) and the 12 o’clock position has two that sit either side of the star. The centre of the watch depicts an ocean scene with a submarine riding the waves whilst surrounded by ivory gulls. The Komandirskie moniker is written into the wave line just under the submarine and the Vostok logo is displayed above the 6 o’clock.
The hour and minute hands are of a thin pencil style with about 80% of their area covered in lume, the are in black with no borders or trim. The second hand is painted red with a short counterbalance and is unlumed. All hands are easy to read at a glance and are functional if plain. The lume itself, both on the hour markers and the hands is nothing spectacular but is functional just don’t expect to get hours of glow if you plan on wearing it at night.
There is a lot of iconography present on this watch but it does not feel overloaded and I find it very pleasing to the eye, the dial is easy to read and the hands are clear and register accurately against the markers.
The Vostok in house 2414A movement is at the heart of this watch. It is a stem winding shock proof non automatic mechanical movement that has been around in one form or another since 1960. It has an excellent record of both reliability and accuracy (within stated ranges), it has a beat of 19800 semi-oscillation per hour and has 17 jewels, it is manually wound with a screw down crown and does not hack. It’s accuracy range is quite wide with -20 to +60 seconds per day, but put in context this is not far off the Seiko SKX007 at -20 to +40, with simple regulation this can be improved massively and out of the box it is not uncommon to have much much better accuracy, as low as +3 seconds per day. (Mine unregulated is roughly +20 to +30, but I plan to regulate this myself soon)
Of worthy note is the fact that this movement does not have a quick set date, which is a pain if you plan to not keep it on the wrist and maybe only cycle it in a few times a month, it also has for the novice who has never owned a Vostok watch, a very alarming screw down crown, once unscrewed you feel like you may have broken the watch as the crown is exceptionally loose in the surround. Having research this when I first got the watch I was relieved to note that this is perfectly normal and does not effect the watch in any way.
If you would like a detailed look inside the 2414A movement I would highly recommend the Vostok Caliber 2414 Service Notes page on the WatchUSeek forums .
I will not sugar coat this, the strap that comes with this watch is naff, really really naff, I doubt anyone who buys one of these watches keeps the original strap, it is a faux leather affair in black that is really just unpleasant and makes the watch feel and look very cheap. I was aware of this before purchasing the watch so had ordered a red, white and blue NATO strap (from www.cheapestnatostraps.com) to match the colours of the watch face which is what is seen in all the pictures in this review. You really should consider when buying any of the Komandirskie watches the high likelihood that you will need to buy an alternative strap, but again with a watch this cheap, I can hardly be critical about watch straps.
With the strap changed, the on the wrist feel of the watch is great, the design is different and feels fresh, the case is a good size and styled well, it is comfortable to wear (on a NATO at least, I would assume the same for the after market strap of your choice) and no part of the watch catches or digs into the wrist.
So what does a sub £30 watch from Russia get you? It turns out quite a lot, for the price I paid for this watch I could not be happier, the design, style and movement is in my view fantastic for the money. For the cost of a cheap meal out in a restaurant you have got a mechanical watch with a rich history and an excellent record of reliability and accuracy, yes it has it’s flaws, it has a junk strap, it has an acrylic crystal and a bezel that it more for show than use. But don’t let that put you off, you are getting so much for your money here, you are buying a watch that contains it’s own in house mechanical movement (something that is rarer nowadays but is making a comeback due to restrictions on ETA movements) that is mostly still made by hand, has a style that is unorthodox and a watch that if well maintained will last for years and years. Add to that a watch that has been into space with Russian cosmonauts (Komandirskie range with same movement and case, read more here) and that you are unlikely to find it on the wrist of those outside Russia or collectors, why would you not buy this watch?