Soviet Russian watches have a rich and interesting history dating back over 80 years with the creation of the First Moscow Watch Factory, which today manufactures Poljot watches. A highlight of Russia’s watch history came in 1961 when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin took the first ever flight into space with a watch from the First Moscow Watch Factory.
Here’s a chronological summary of key events in the history of Russian watchmaking.
1927 - The Labour and Defense Council passed a decree to establish a watch industry to serve government and Red Army needs. The Soviet watches were to be accurate, reliable and not inferior in quality to their Western counterparts. The equipment for the production of these watches was purchased from the USA. This was the origin of the First Moscow Watch Factory.
1930 - The first 50 Russian-made watches were presented at a ceremonial meeting in the Revolution Theatre, now known as the Bolshoi Theatre.
1940 - The “Commander” watch produced by the First Moscow Watch Factory was commonly used by officers of the Red Army. Watches with distinctive engravings were given by the army as a form of reward. In the ten years since the factory opened it produced 2.7 million pocket and wrist watches.
1941 - During World War II The First Moscow Watch Factory was evacuated to the city of Zlatoust. Throughout the war the factory worked for needs of the front producing aircraft watches and sea and aviation chronometers.
1942 - The Chistopol Watch Factory was created and began manufacturing products for needs of the front. This is the origin of today’s Vostok brand.
1943 - The Chistopol Watch Factory started production of the K-43 man’s watch.
1946 - The First Moscow Watch Factory began production of Pobeda (Victory) watches. The name, design and characteristics of these watches were personally approved by Stalin himself.
1949 - The First Moscow Watch Company began production of the Shturmanskie watch. These watches were produced for the air force and were not available for the open market.
1957 - The Sputnik watch was produced, in honour of the launch of the first Soviet satellite. This watch was produced in two versions: with a central second hand and with a transparent disk with a mark in the form of a satellite instead of a second hand. In the same year, by special request, the watch Antarktida (Antarctica) with a twenty-four-hour scale, was designed. This watch was intended for the participants of the first Soviet expedition to the South Pole. Both Antarktida and Sputnik are today a collection rarity, due to the fact that both models were only in production for one year.
1959 - The first Soviet mechanical watch with an alarm function, Signal, was developed. The manufacturing of the watch-chronograph Strela with a one-hand stopwatch and 45-min minute counter commenced. Its dial had extra telemeteric and tachometric scales. Strela watches were not available for open sale, as they were specifically developed for the commanding officers of the air force.
1960 - The First Moscow Watch Factory produced the first watch under the Poljot brand.
1961 - The first ever flight into space in the history of mankind took place. Yuriy Gagarin took the watch of the First Moscow Watch Factory into space with him.
1962 - The “Vostok” watch was awarded a gold medal at the Leipzig international fair. Production of “Komandirskie” watches began at the Chistopol Watch Factory. The factory becomes the official supplier of these watches to the Ministry of Defence of the USSR.
1963 - The Vimpel watch produced at The First Moscow Watch Factory won a Diploma and gold medal at the international exhibition-fair in Leipzig.
1964 - The manufacturing of the watch Orbita with an automatic winding system and 29 rubies was mastered. From this year on the watches of The First Moscow Watch Factory are marked with the trademark Poljot.
1965 - Cosmonaut Andrey Leonov took the Strela watch on the first ever space walk. In the same year the USSR Council of Ministers passed the decree wherein The First Moscow Watch Factory was appointed as the head enterprise in the exportation of mens wrist watches. The watches were exported to 70 countries: USA, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Federative Republic of Germany, Hong Kong, Greece, etc. Vostok was appointed an official supplier of watches for the Defense Department of the Soviet Union.
1966 - For successfully developing the national watch industry The First Moscow Watch Factory is awarded with the highest Soviet award the Order of Lenin by the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.
1969 - All watches manufactured by Chistopol Watch Factory now use the Vostok brand.
1972 - Vostok exports watches to 54 countries of the world.
1972 - The First Moscow Watch Factory increased the volume of production of mechanical wristwatches to 2.7 million. 70% of what the factory produced was sold abroad. Among the new designs was the water-tight watch Amphibia, capable of working under water at a depth of up to 200 meters.
1976 - The First Moscow Watch Factory commenced the production of a the 3133 model. For this development the association of the designers of the The First Moscow Watch Factory was rewarded with the USSR State Prize. Since these watches were intended for the needs of the army and navy, they were produced in limited editions and were not available for open sale. The cosmonauts of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany took these watches with them into space, and together with V. V. Polyakov, this chronograph set the record for the duration of a space flight.
1992 -The administration of the Russian president selects Poljot to be the rewarding watch “From the President of the Russian Federation”.
2000 - Volmax is formed by ex-Poljot employees.
2004 - Vostok-Europe is created.
Sturmanskie (also called Shturmanskie) enjoys the prestige of being the first watch in outer space. Russian cosmonaut Juri Gagarin wore a Sturmanskie when he become the first man in space on April 12, 1961.
Sturmanskie watches are still manufactured and sold today, though they have been updated considerably for the current market.
Gagarin’s Sturmanskie was a small, basic mechanical watch. Today’s Sturmanskies, manufactured by Volmax, are larger, heavier and generally have more complications. Dozens of different models are available, including Gagarin commemorative models. Many are automatic chronographs.
Poljot watches are manufactured by the First Moscow Watch Factory. The factory began producing watches in 1930, and started using the Poljot brand name in 1961.
Poljot watches are higher-end Russian watches and cost more than most Russian watch brands. An average Poljot watch costs around $300. Some gold President-series Poljot watches sell for upwards of $10,000.
The Sturmanskie watch manufactured by the First Moscow Watch Factory has the distinction of being the first watch in space.
In 1966 the First Moscow Watch Factory was awarded the highest Soviet award, the Order of Lenin, for developing the national watch industry.
In 1992 the administration of the Russian president selected Poljot to be the rewarding watch from the President of the Russian Federation.
In recent years, the First Moscow Watch Factory scaled back production. Some of its equipment was purchased by Volmax, a Russian watch company launched by ex-Poljot employees. Volmax now uses the term “Poljot” for some of its watch movements.
Raketa, which means “rocket” in Russian, is perhaps best known for its 24 hour watches.
Raketa went through major restructuring in 2010. The company bought new equipment, adapted its production to modern quality standards and is working on a new collection that includes a modern redesign of the Polar expedition 24 hours watch from 1969.
Raketa watches are manufactured at the Petrodvoretz (Peter Palace) Watch Factory in Saint Peterburg, which was founded by Peter the Great in 1721. The Petrodvorets Watch Factory has been producing watches under the Raketa brand since 1962.
Raketa is one of the last surviving Soviet Watch Factories that produces its movements from A to Z.
Raketa has told Russian Watch Guide that they welcome visits to their factory in Saint Petersbourg and their design studio in Moscow.
Luch is a brand of watches manufactured at the Minsk Watch Plant. They make inexpensive mechanical and quartz watches for men, women and kids. Most of their watches are made for the domestic market.
Outside Russia Luch watches are available at eBay and at stores specializing in Russian products, souvenirs and novelties.
Despite the company’s claim of “elegance, refined adornment, and modern design wich corresponds to world standard”, the designs are not in keeping with modern trends. Men’s watches are often small, thin and plain. Many watches in the collection look years out of date. In fact, some people buy Luch watches, such as the Luch Perpetual Calendar, strictly for their retro appeal.
About Minsk Watch Plant
Minsk Watch Plant (MWP) produced its first watches more than a half-century ago in 1956. Nowadays Minsk Watch Plant is a modern automated enterprise that employs more than one thousand people. According to the company website, the plant meets the ISO 9001 international standard for quality control.
Vostok is one of the best-known Russian watch brands. They manufacture durable, good quality watches with mechanical jeweled movements that don’t cost a lot of money. A typical Vostok watch sells between $50 and $150, though some models cost more. Many Vostok watches are designed in the style of military or diver’s watches.
Vostok started producing watches in 1942, though didn’t start using the Vostok brand until the 1960’s.
In 1965 the company was appointed an official supplier of watches for the Defense Department of the Soviet Union.
Vostok has won a number of international prizes for both quality and commercial success.
According to the company’s website, their current philosophy “is to create mechanical watches maintaining precise timekeeping at any temperature, in any environment, surviving heavy pressure and blows.”
In 2004, Vostok entered into a joint venture with a Lithuanian company to create Vostok-Europe.
Vostok means “east” in Russian and was the name of a Russian spacecraft first launched in 1960.
Several sources have reported that Vostok filed for bankruptcy in early 2010, though production has continued and the watches are still available. The official Vostok website is closed as of this update.
Molnija is a Russian manufacturer of mechanical pocket watches and clocks. The company was founded in 1947. Many of their clocks were produced for military use.
With the current trend toward extremely large wrist watches, some manufacturers have adapted Molnija mechanical pocket watch movements for use in wrist watches. One example is the Moscow Classic 3603 previously reviewed on this site.
Although some Molnija pocket watches are currently available on the market, it appears the company stopped production in 2007
Slava is a long-time manufacturer of inexpensive watches for the civilian Russian market. Slava watches tend to be conservative, traditional and austere in style.
According to one industry insider, “Slava movement and case production at the Second Moscow Watch Factory was closed 4 to 5 years ago. However, they still make watches using imported cases and original Slava movements from old factory’s stock. They use Chinese movements as well. The current operation is located one kilometer from Red Square.”
Volmax is a Moscow-based company that produces the Aviator, Buran and Sturmanskie watch brands. They also produced the Russian Watch Factory brand (RChZ).
Volmax was formed in 2000 by former Poljot employees.
In 2002, the company registered three of the most famed Russian watch brands, Aviator, Buran and Sturmanskie, with the latter holding the distinction of being the first watch in space.
The Aviator line is the official watch of the Russian military aerobatic flying team, the SWIFTS.
Most Volmax watches use Russian movements. Others use Swiss ETA movements.
Volmax says it sets itself apart from other Russian watch companies “with a direct link to the heritage of the First Moscow Watch Factory combined with young, aggressive watchmakers determined to revive the Russian watch industry to its previous glory.”
Some retailers refer to Volmax watches as Poljot watches. However, this is not strictly accurate. Volmax watches do not use the Poljot brand name or logo on their watches. However, some do use Poljot movements (made by Maktime).