Russian watchmaking goes back to the 18th century under Tsar Peter the Great who founded the first factory in St. Petersburg. Most of the vintage watches that you find today were made in the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain and are available for few coins. Soviet watches have a really interesting range of industrial design that you may not expect to find. Seeing is believing, so check out the video for more information!
Soviet vintage watches are one of the easiest ways to get into mechanical watches for the lowest price possible. One interesting feature is the strong connection of the Soviet state-run factories to contemporary politics. Some watches were dedicated to the Olympics in Moscow in 1980 or to a Congress of the Communist Party. Soviet watches can claim some firsts in watchmaking like the first watch in space with Yuri Gagarin in the Vostok spacecraft.
Let me give you some important tips before you buy some Soviet watches.
1. Best source is eBay or a local sales site depending on your country. Shipping will depend on your location and availability of watches. All of my sellers were located in Eastern Europe or in ‘stan’-countries. Commercial Western watch sellers will probably dismiss these watches because of their low price and small margins.
2. Common watchmakers or brands are Vostok, Raketa, Poljot, Pobeda, ZIM, Elektronika, etc.
3. There are probably a lot of Frankenstein watches out there that combine several authentic and replica parts into a single functioning watch. Look out for cases and dials that show no decay which is nearly impossible for older Soviet watches. All cases that I found are plated base metal with metal dials that wear down or corrode over time. It is less likely to get a Frankenstein or complete fake if you pay less than 40$ and buy from a smaller private seller. Watches that look pristine and are over 50$ are probably using at least some replica parts. However, maybe you shouldn’t care too much, after all you are still getting a functional watch with some remade parts.
4. There are also complete fakes out there like a ‘Masonic’ Soviet watch which makes no sense.
5. Take a look at the movements and its engravings and if they match one of the online databases because it is less likely that someone would fake an old mechanical Soviet movement.
6. Letters are either Cyrillic/Russian for the local market or in Latin/English if the watch was made for export into the West. Russians today use standard Roman or Western (Arabic) numerals, there are no distinctive Cyrillic numerals.
7. It will say ‘Made in CCCP or USSR’ or Cyrillic ‘СССР’ for watches made in the Soviet Union on the dial. Models after ca. 1990 will have a ‘Made in Russia’ or Cyrillic ‘Россия’ instead. Some watches have no markings at all on the dial.
8. Servicing a mechanical watch can be expensive between 50-200$ depending on the service so more than the cost of most watches. Some sellers promise to have serviced the watches themselves and charge a bit more which is well worth the money if you trust them.
9. Soviet quartz watches can be quite unique as well and alleviate most of the problem of old mechanical movements.
10. You will most likely need new straps and maybe new spring bars that you can find online as well.
Check out my Flickr album for more watches! Take a look at some examples that you can find for 15-60$ online.
Thanks for reading! You can check out more of this blog or my YouTube channel.