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Sticky PostThe Care and Feeding of Vostoks... (Warning-Modem Burner)

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May 03, 2011 05:32PM
The Care and Feeding of Vostoks

One of the more common complaints that I encounter when it comes to Russian watches concerns servicing. Many of us Russian watch collectors have had the unfortunate experience of bringing one of our watches to a jeweler for a simple service only to be turned away by someone who won’t touch a Russian watch. While this experience is not universal, it is pretty common. Fortunately, Vostoks in particular, are really quite easy to do simple repairs on. Vostok movements are generally quite robust. Unless one is very old or very dirty, it probably will need little in the way of servicing. (The exception that proves the rule is my Vostok Radio Operator. It just suffered a broken mainspring. This was the very first time I’ve had a Vostok spring go on me.) However, two of the more common irritations that I have encountered with Vostoks, at least, concern cosmetic issues. For these, some basic repair skills can go a long way.

First off, if you have never worked on a watch before, don’t try it for the first time on one of your prized possessions. I would hate to think that I encouraged someone to blunder into damaging a desirable piece. (You can find loads of beat up Vostoks on the bay for sub-$20. Pick one up and experiment on it) Secondly, you will need some simple tools. A case back tool is a must. These are generally not expensive for a simple model and can be had from Ofrei and ebay quite easily. I recommend a three prong model with replaceable bits. It provides a more even distribution of torque and it will work on a number of different watches.

The example I use looks like the third one at the link below. It costs $16.95 and works just fine for my needs:


Using one is pretty simple. Select the appropriate tip, line up the prongs with the slots in the case back locking ring and give it a twist. Just make sure that the prong tips are properly seated in the locking ring. Otherwise, you can scratch the case back.

Our victim today is a Vostok Ministry Amphibia whose hour hand lume has crumbled. I’ll send this one off to Kent Parks at Everest Watchworks for a re-lume one of these days. For now, it makes a good test bed for illustration purposes. We will open this poor unfortunate up, remove the movement blow out the mess and put it back together.

First off, we need to remove the case back.

That slotted ring running along the outer edge of the case back is where the case back tool’s prongs fit when adjusted properly. When the locking ring is removed, things should look like this:

Note: This method of holding a case back on a watch is largely unique to Russian watches to my knowledge and is found on all traditional Vostok models. The new Vostok watches (the expensive ones) use a conventional one-piece case back.

With the locking ring off, use a wooden or plastic stick (a Swiss Army knife toothpick works nicely) to separate the case back from the watch case without scratching anything. You will see one or two slots at the edge of the case back on a Vostok (one for a Komandirskie, two on an Amphibia). Lever the case back off there.

Here is how things should look now:

The next step is to remove the large flat rubber gasket that sits between the caseback and the watchcase. Again, using a something that won’t scratch anything, carefully lift the gasket away from the case.

Now it is time for the tricky part. To get the movement out of the watch, we have to remove the crown. Be advised, once the crown is removed, there is nothing holding the movement to the inside of the watchcase. If you flip the watch over with the crown removed, the movement will fall out. Obviously, not advisable. First unscrew the crown and draw it out to the time-set position (all the way out). Then, very carefully using a pin, depress the recessed button as shown in the photo below to release the crown. BE VERY CAREFUL. Don’t hit anything else with that pin, in particular the balance wheel/escapement (the thing that rotates back and forth and makes the ticking sound)

If you have done it right, the crown should immediately come loose and become possible to draw away from the watch with very little pressure.

Now, you should really have a movement vise to hold the movement when out of the case. For quick jobs like removing dust though, a clean piece of cardboard will do. Make sure your hands are clean. Cover the back of the open watchcase with your palm and let the movement gently drop into your hand. Be careful not to touch the hands or the watch face. The hands will bend very easily and the watch face can be smudged.

With the movement out, use some canned air to blow any dust out from the underside of the crystal or off the watch face. Two words of caution. The propellant used in canned air can stain a watch face (it will wipe off a crystal with no damage) if sprayed too close to the target in question. Hold the nozzle from your canned air back a few inches to avoid this problem. That or you can purchase a rubber dust blower (a sort of rubber bulb that will blow air when squeezed) at Ofrei. Either will work. The second thing to be aware of with canned air is that it will cheerfully blow your watch movement across the room if allowed to. Steady the thing with your finger before use.

Putting things back together is pretty much the reverse of taking them out. I find it easiest to put a movement back into a watch case by holding the movement from below and lowering the watch case over it. This reduces the possibility that you will hit the hands on the watch case. Once the movement is back in the case, it is time to re-inset the crown. Turn the watch case back over on to the crystal. Make sure the watch face numbers are where they are supposed to be relative to the rest of the watch and put the crown through the crown tube and into the movement. Now, you need to press that button that released the crown and press the crown in a bit.

At this point, screw the crown down and listen for a click. Sometimes Vostok movements are finicky about crown reinsertion. I find, if I don’t hear that click when the crown is screwed down, giving the movement a nudge towards the crown will usually seat things properly.

You can tell if you’ve done this correctly very easily. Unscrew the crown. If it doesn’t come off in your hand, it is back on correctly. If not, repeat the steps above again.

Lastly, replace the gasket and the caseback and screw the retaining ring back on.

Another cosmetic detail that occasionally needs looking after with Vostoks is their bezels. The case on an Amphibia is a very solidly made piece of stainless steel. The crystal is a thick piece of acrylic that can be polished free of scratches pretty easily. The bezel though is chrome-plated brass. It does get scratched too easily for my taste. If I could get Vostok to make one change to their watches, switching to a stainless steel bezel would be it. Fortunately, new bezels are cheap and can be obtained both from ebay and from KevinsRussianTime.com.

Removing and replacing a bezel is pretty simple. Get a decent quality knife (I use a Swiss Army knife although you can buy one especially for this purpose form Ofrei). Wrap the blade with tape to keep it from scratching the bezel when being used.

Insert the flat edge of the blade between the bezel and the watch case and lever the bezel off.

With the bezel out of the way, take the opportunity to clean the gunk that has collected under it. There is usually a mess under there.

To replace the bezel, first turn it over.

You should see a thin copper wire sitting inside a narrow groove in the bezel’s inner edge. Make sure that wire is seated evenly in the groove. It shouldn’t sit flush with the circumference of the bezel. Instead, it should fit like a 11 pointed star sitting inside a ring. It is those parts of the wire that you can see that hold the bezel onto the watch case.

Place the bezel back over the crystal and press it firmly back into position. If you have to take it off to adjust the wire, by all means do so. If it is really fighting you, the wire has probably slipped out of that narrow groove.

Here we are back where we started. Everything you see above was done at my desk, in my office, in about 15 minutes, start to finish. The above instructions sound a lot more complicated than they really are. If you have an old beater Vostok to work on first, this whole process can become pretty easy. It can also save you both time and money in keeping a Vostok looking good.

Ed Brandwein

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/06/2011 01:17AM by Reto.

Sticky PostThe Care and Feeding of Vostoks... (Warning-Modem Burner) Jpeg Attachments URL

Ed Brandwein8263May 03, 2011 05:32PM

Re: Sticky PostThe Care and Feeding of Vostoks... (Warning-Modem Burner)

Chachy227February 04, 2012 07:18PM

Fully agree smile (n/t)

Ed Brandwein145February 15, 2012 03:34AM

Re: Sticky PostThe Care and Feeding of Vostoks... (Warning-Modem Burner)

Blurter198January 04, 2012 09:28AM

Thumbs Up Thumbs Up smile (n/t)

Ed Brandwein115January 05, 2012 02:42PM

Re: Sticky PostThe Care and Feeding of Vostoks... (Warning-Modem Burner)

Blurter265December 05, 2011 07:11AM

Yes. I've taken those apart too. The one thing that's different...

Ed Brandwein244December 05, 2011 07:02PM

Re: Yes. I've taken those apart too. The one thing that's different...

Blurter178December 06, 2011 09:10AM

Interesting... can you put a 24xx movement in without the spacer? (n/t)

Anonymous User206December 06, 2011 04:33AM

Excellent post Ed Thumbs Up clapping (n/t)

Reto148October 25, 2011 04:50AM

Ed send me the hour hand and minute hand and I will relume them for you n/t (n/t)

KMJ1966272September 30, 2011 10:16PM

Cool! (n/t)

Ed Brandwein214October 01, 2011 02:07AM

A few questions

LGH637May 30, 2011 08:58PM

Great article, Ed! I sometimes have trouble re-inserting the stem...>>

Anonymous User326May 08, 2011 02:16PM

Re: Great article, Ed! I sometimes have trouble re-inserting the stem...>>

Ed Brandwein276May 08, 2011 06:10PM

Thanks for a nice post

LGH282May 05, 2011 07:25PM

Glad you enjoyed it smile (n/t)

Ed Brandwein242May 05, 2011 09:40PM

Great Ed. It all seems so easy >>>

JP277May 05, 2011 05:55AM

They started using plastic rings a few years ago. ...

Ed Brandwein360May 05, 2011 04:43PM

Clapping! Good work, Ed ! Very interesting and helpful too!Thumbs up! (n/t)

IF239May 04, 2011 07:00AM

Thanks man smile (n/t)

Ed Brandwein206May 04, 2011 12:42PM

Thumbs up!Thumbs up! on your article, Ed! Just what I needed to know! Thank you! (n/t)

EdH230May 03, 2011 07:44PM

Glad to hear it smile (n/t)

Ed Brandwein263May 03, 2011 07:57PM

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