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PMWF Presents A Roundtable >>>

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December 03, 2007 02:46PM
I wish to thank our roundtable participants, they are:
Ed: forumer Ed Brandwein.
Micha: forumer Micha.
Jeff: forumer TakesALickin'.
Kevin: forumer Strela.
The best material below belongs to our participants, the worst is entirely my own. Smiley


Some of Adam's past & present USSR or Russian Watch watches.


PMWF related post: How did you find out about Russian watches?
Ed: About fifteen or so years ago, I encountered a vendor at the old QP?s flea market in Queens Plaza, New York, USA. He had recently arrived from Uzbekistan with a box of Vostoks. I knew nothing about Russian watches at the time but they looked interesting and, if I recall correctly, he wanted $20 for one. I bought two of them (I still remember the seller saying in a thick accent ?Is very good watch, wind once a day, very good, very accurate.?). Since then, I have always been interested in them. The Internet and ebay have made getting them much easier obviously.
Micha: My dad showed me an online store which sold Russian watches. The Poljots were way too expensive for me (being a poor student at the moment), but the Vostoks got my attention. A couple of days later I scored a Vostok Komandirskie on eBay ? it was all downhill afterwards Smiley
Jeff: When I first started collecting watches, I used to spend quite a bit of time just browsing the watch auctions on Ebay. I looked at literally thousands of watches there and it was a great way to learn about all the different brands available. Naturally, I encountered auctions for Russian watches. The prices were very competitive, so I was intrigued. Eventually, I bought a Poljot alarm watch. That was my first Russian - many, many followed.
Kevin: I had picked up a cheap vintage Sekonda watch in London in the mid 1990's, that was the first I ever knew of them. However, it was not until I became interested in the Soviet space program, and the horological pieces connected to it, did I really become interested. Before that I only had owned Swiss, American, or Japanese made watches.
PMWF related post: What's your favorite Russian watch?
Ed: The Vostok Amphibia.


Ed?s Vostok Amphibia Submarine Cal. 2416b 31 jewels.

Micha: Tough question ? I guess this Poljot Buran chronograph as it was the first ?expensive watch? I bought ? I paid around 130 Euros back then Smiley


Micha?s Poljot Buran chronograph made in ?02-?03 with Poljot cal. 3133.

Compare Ed's no-date Poljot Buran chronograph.

Jeff: Of all the Russian watches I've owned and sold, the one I'd like to have back is the Poljot homage to the Omega Dynamic. I had a display back on the one I had and it was a really neat watch. It was keeping time at a rate of about minus one second every five days. That's unheard of accuracy for any mechanical watch - Russian, Swiss, Japanese, whatever. Unfortunately, it had terrible lume and I think that was what led me to sell it. Interestingly, the guy that bought it offered to sell it back to me a year later, but I was broke at the time.


Jeff?s Poljot Dynamic chrono, ca. 2004, Poljot cal. 3133 based on the Valjoux cal. 7734, dial is an homage to the Omega Dynamic.

Kevin: My personal favorite is a black dialed Strela 3017 chronograph.


Kevin?s Sekonda chronograph, note the 45 min. counter.

PMWF related post: What do you like about Russian watches?
Ed: Aside from offering great value for the money, Russian watches are generally very rugged. Additionally, there is often an interesting historical story behind most Russian brands and models. (The Russian watch industry actually got its start in the U.S.. The first of Russia?s watch factories (The First State Watch Factory) was actually the re-assembled American factory of Deuber Hampden (an old pocket watch manufacturer located in Canton Ohio that had gone bankrupt in the mid twenties. The Russians bought the whole factory with the permission of the US Government.)
Micha: They?ve got character, I think that says about everything. They?re simple, unrefined and their quality control is poor, yet their designs are very original and they?re very rugged. When you get one that works (wink) it will run forever.
Jeff: I really enjoyed the Cold War connection at first. The ability to own vintage watches from the Soviet era had great appeal for me when I first got into Russians. As time has passed and the US has become obsessed with terrorism as the principal threat to our national security, my fascination with Cold War relics has waned.
Kevin: I loved the history, but I must admit, the price point was very appealing to me when I was building my collection of them. They offered a decent product at an iota of what similar Swiss watches were selling for.
PMWF related post: Do you prefer any brands and why?
Ed: My favorites are Vostoks. Affordable, solidly built and often either actual military models or derived from military watches.


Ed?s NOS Komandirskie from the early ninties, 2414a 17 jewel stemwinder.

Micha: I?ve owned Zaria, Orion, Raketa, Slava, Poljot, Vostok and Vostok Europe. I prefer Vostok and Poljot. Vostoks are great, cheap and collectible ? esp. the military inspired ones. Poljots are IMHO the best Russian watches in term of quality, with great heritage.
Jeff: Although I think I've owned more Vostoks, I prefer the Poljot chronographs - I just like complicated watches a little more.


Jeff?s Poljot Jetfighter chrono, Poljot cal. 3133 based on the Valjoux cal. 7734. dial is an homage to the Breitling Chrono Avenger.

Kevin: I like the the First Moscow Watch Factory and Poljots because of their rich history and high quality (especially the earlier FMWF stuff,) and I love the Vostoks for their rustic charm, durability, and extremely attractive prices.
PMWF related post: What do you consider a good starting point?
Ed: You can?t go wrong with a Vostok Komandirskie. They are very inexpensive, reasonably accurate for a mechanical watch and quite rugged.


Ed?s NOS Komandirskie, late eighties vintage, 2414a 17 jewel stemwinder.

Micha: Depending on your budget either a Vostok Komandirskie/Amphibia or a Poljot or a Vostok Europe.
Jeff: I think most collectors would be happiest with a Vostok Amphibian. The cases are stainless and consequently more durable than the Kommandirskies. And the automatic movements are more convenient for most people. There have been some reports of problems with the auto winding mechanisms malfunctioning, but if you get a good one they're very good value for the money.
Kevin: Before the prices went through the roof, I would tell people to get a nice, brand new, Poljot 3133 chronograph, and a Vostok Amphibia, for a solid collection starter. Now I would tell people to look at used watches first, before making a larger commitment dollar wise.
PMWF related post: What are the do's and don't's when collecting Russians?
Ed: Beware of ebay sellers who claim to have a ?rare? model. Many of them are either poorly re-dialed versions of another model (Shturmanskie Gagarins in particular are commonly faked) or are so-called Franken watches (one watch assembled from the parts of several others). Always check an e-bay seller?s feedback rating and, if you have doubts, throw a question out to either the Poor Man?s Watch Forum or the Russian Watch Forum at Watchuseek.com.
Micha: Do: do some research on the watch you like as well as the seller before you buy. Don't: Stay away from non-working watches on ebay or Vostoks with crowns that are obviously too small (see later).
Jeff: One of the first things I'd do if I were starting out collecting Russians is to buy Juri Levenberg's "Russian Wristwatches". It's a geat source of information about movements and dial variants. One of the things that I chafed at initially was people Frankening Vostoks. I have to confess that I did it myself eventually - it's just so damned easy and the ease of swapping parts makes it tempting when trying to resurrect a dead watch. But I would never have sold a Frankened Vostok without fully disclosing what I had done. I don't think other sellers are quite so circumspect.
Kevin: Don't always believe what a seller is telling you about the watch. It's a minefield out there. Check the forums and ask around. A lot of watches are cobbled together from disparate parts, frankenwatches, or out-right fakes. Do some research first, and be a savvy buyer.
PMWF related post: What's a good source of info on Russians?
Ed: Yuri Levenberg?s book ?Russian Wristwatches? is a good start. That and the watch forums.
Micha: There are some good books on Russian watches by Juri Levenberg and Michael Ceyp. Some are available in English, but most are only available in German. Unfortunately most are no longer available new, but they do pop up on ebay every now and then. Quick info is available in Fora. IMHO there are two places to look for info. Our very own PMWF has some very experienced members. The second place to look is the Watchuseek Russian watches forum.
Jeff: The aforementioned book, and also the Russian forum on WUS.


Jeff's Vostok "3AKA3" Kommandirskie, late 1980s, Vostok hand wind cal. 2414, military issue to the Soviet Russian Red Army.

Kevin: In all honesty, the watch forums are a better source than most of the literature out there. Watchuseek's Russian watch forum is the online bible IMO, and the PMWF which has a large coalition of Russian and Soviet watch collectors, are very good resources, and are good jumping off points to gain some knowledge. One must get a feel for the forums first and make sure the information they are getting is correct though. People often times weigh in on a subject they are not 100% proficient in. And that can cause more problems in the long run. Ask questions. Then ask some more.
PMWF related post: What are some of your favorite vendors of Russian watches?
Ed: I?ve had good luck with an ebay seller named Zenitar. Russia2all.com has also been a reliable vendor in my experience.
Micha: Unfortunately my favorite no longer exists. www.russiansouvenirs.com and www.poljot24.de are both reliable. The ebay seller Zenitar is good too.
Jeff: I always had good experiences with Frank Spar at RussianSouvenirs.com.
Kevin: I like russiansouvenirs.com , but I have bought from most of the larger sellers out there.
PMWF related post: Any bad experiences with Russian watch vendors?
Ed: Personally, no. That being said, there is a wide range of opinions about Mr. Levenberg himself. He sells Russian watches on ebay under the name Sonnenflasche. While his book is very good (and I have bought watches from him without incident mind you) I have heard some horror stories about his responsiveness. For whatever reason, Ukrainian sellers on ebay have a reputation for making a lot of Franken watches.
Micha: Personally, no. Juri Levenberg (sonnenflasche on ebay) has a bad reputation. My deals with him were ok, but I speak fluent German and live in Germany. Buyers from abroad should use simple English in communication, as his English is rural.
Jeff: I'm currently waiting on a Molnija pocket watch to arrive from Ukraine. It's been about six weeks since I exercised the "BIN" on Ebay and I've begun the process of disputing the transaction with PayPal. The seller, "Drozdalex", claims the watch was rejected at US Customs and returned to him and that he reshipped it. It may show up yet - such are the problems with ordering watches from former Soviet states.
Kevin: Oddly enough, I have had good luck, even with the sellers people some time have issues with. Knock on wood.
PMWF related post: Tell us about fake Russians, ever seen any? How can we spot them?
Ed: The first thing you need to know when trying to spot a fake is what the real thing looks like. Levenberg?s book is very helpful in this regard as it has lots of pictures of the real watches. That being said, however, certain details can be a giveaway that a watch is a fake. Russian watches are generally made of chrome plated brass (the Amphibia above is an exception along with the newer Poljot chronographs-those are stainless steel). A chrome plated case is going to show signs of age beyond a certain point. If you see a well worn case with a perfect dial inside it, stay away, it?s probably a Franken. Another point to check is the movement. Russian movements are generally pretty rough looking. Their model number should be plainly visible on the movement (2416b, 3133, 3602-there are a number of movement numbers). Try to learn about the movement of the watch you are interested in. There are some Chinese fakes of Russian watches out there. Their movement design is very easy to spot once you?ve done some research. Also, a Vostok should always have a two-piece back (a thin notched ring surrounding a large circular back plate). If you see a one-piece back on a Vostok, odds are it is a fake.
Micha: Unlike common believe, there are a lot of Vostok fakes out there. They especially pop up on German eBay every now and then. The can most easily be spotted by looking at the crown, which is usually much smaller than usual. The dial print is usually more ?cheesy? too. Another problem with Vostoks is that most parts are interchangeable among Vostoks, this means there are many Frankenwatches out there. The parts are original, but the combination was never produced like that. Here it only helps doing some home work. I?ve never seen any fakes of other Russian brands.
Jeff: If you're referring to Chinese fakes, I know they exist. Why they exist mystifies me! But I've never seen any in person.
Kevin: They are everywhere, with dials, hands down, being the most highly faked property. If the dial looks new and the watch is supposedly 60 years old, use common sense, and proceed with extreme caution. Also, if the dial has lume and the hands don't, or visa verse, something is wrong.
PMWF related post: What do you see as the most consistent problems with Russian watches?
Ed: The most serious problem with Russian watches is getting them serviced outside of Russia. There are few, if any, US based service centers for Russian watches. That?s usually not an issue with Vostoks, which are generally quite reliable, but the fancier Poljot chronographs will, sooner or later, need servicing. In addition, if high quality lume matters to you, be wary of Russian watches. Vostok lume is notoriously bad and even Poljot is hit or miss. Lastly, Russian watchbands stink. Their leather is uniformly awful. It is not a big deal to me as a new watchband is not expensive but don?t be surprised by what you see.
Micha: Their sloppy quality control. Russian watches could be much better. Substantial they?re great watches, but most problems occur directly out of the box. This scares away many people. When you get a working one, it will probably go on forever.
Jeff: Cosmetic flaws and poor attention to detail are the most consistent problems I see. I used to joke that I could spot a cosmetic flaw on a Poljot within five minutes of opening the shipping box. The last few I've gotten have been better. The watch pictured below arrived with dust under the crystal. When I removed the movement from the case to clean it, I was unable to re-insert the crown and stem assembly, and the watch was ruined.


Jeff's Poljot Aviator, Poljot cal. 2614, dial is an homage to the Fortis Aviator.

Kevin: On big problem is having to ship defective watch back to Russia for repair. Having never been available to most of the West for years and years, parts, training, and any kind of support infrastructure is practically non existent in places where they have recently become popular.
PMWF related post: Where do you imagine the future will take the Russian watch industry?
Ed: The Russian watch industry went through a huge upheaval when the Soviet Union fell. ZIM (makers of the Pobeda watch) went out of business, Poljot is a fraction of its former size, Raketa may or may not be in business anymore (reports of their demise vary) and Slava is on life support as well. Only Vostok is considered truly healthy these days. The good news is that the worst of this instability seems to have passed now. Poljot, while still a shadow of it?s former self, seems to be getting back on its feet. Vostok is still the main supplier to the Russian Army and remains popular domestically and there is some indication that Raketa is back in production as well. Slava, however, doesn?t look good.
Micha: I?m afraid we?ll see many inhouse movements disappear in the future ? they?ll be replaced by Swiss movements. It has already started at Volmax. Apart from that prices will rise even more than they already have, which is a pitty, because it already stopped me from getting more (new) Russians.
Jeff: There have been dire predictions of imminent demise, reports that a lot of the equipment used to produce the movements has aged. I haven't followed it too much lately. The changes in the Swiss movement industry may make for positive changes and increased demand in the Russian movement industry. That could bring a much needed infusion of cash to replace worn out machines.
Kevin: Hard to say. I would think that any company that produces mechanical watches at a fair price would have a viable market. However, most likely, when the Chinese get into the game on a bigger level, perhaps the need or want for Russian mechanical watches may subside. That is, unless they can massage their product line to satisfy current tastes, concentrate on their rich history of watch making and clever engineering, or re-engineering, (like what they did with basic Valjoux chronograph movement turning it into a family of complicated chronographs ranging from a simple two register timer to a three register chronos with moon phases). Also, work needs to be done on their service networks, and they need to get quality control to a point where you don't buy a Swiss watch for the reason of quality alone. It is definitely a watershed period for them.
PMWF related post: Why doesn't Slava get any respect?
Ed: Slava just couldn?t change with the times. They had no military contracts to help sustain them and their civilian designs are generally regarded as dull. It?s a shame in many respects since the Slava double mainspring movement is really a pretty good design. Absent a big change of direction, I don?t think Slava is going to be around for very long.
Micha: I guess mainly because of their designs. Slava movements are very interesting and reliable, but their designs usually are, well... uninspired or ugly, there doesn?t seem to be anything in between Smiley The split second Slava stopwatch is very collectable IMO.
Jeff: They are pretty inexpensive watches. They've produced some interesting movements though - I had one with a double barrel mainspring. But I think the absence of any military connection probably keeps most collectors from developing much interest.
Kevin: Says who? But, in reality, they were never the respected older brother, like Poljot, not the fun loving free spirit like Vostok. They were more of a quirky aunt who would often times dress funny. Slava had some gems along the way though.
PMWF related post: Finally, what Russian watch belongs in every collection?
Ed: Everyone should have a Vostok. It doesn?t matter which model (Amphibia, Komandirskie, Generalski, etc) they are all good field watches that can be had for a pittance by today?s standards.
Micha: A Vostok Komandirskie or Amphibia with handwound movement. Preferably a radio room.


Micha?s Soviet era Vostok Albatros ?radio room?, Vostok cal. 2409.

Jeff: I think the classic Strela - the re-issue of the famous 19 jewel Sekonda design - is one every collector should have, particularly the black dialed version. But I have to confess, I haven't owned the black dial yet.
Kevin: Which ever one sings to you! I like Sturmanksies, Strelas, & OKEAH's... but to each his own.

Thanks for reading,
Adam in NYC Smiley



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/28/2010 10:23AM by Reto.
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