Vostok Watches Review

War and the impact of a dictator

Vostok, one of the most famous Russian watch factories, had its beginnings in 1942. When one of the plants from the First Russian Watch Factory was evacuated from Moscow. They relocated to Chistopol, a small town in Tatarstan to avoid incoming German forces. While Stalin’s plan was to rival the Swiss in manufacturing watches. Under skilled they lacked expertise and equipment to do this at that time.

Manufacturing of Vostok watches began after the war and started using the brand name Vostok in the 1960’s. Named after the Russian Space program. Firstly they began to manufacture the Komandirskie line in 1965. Claiming the title official supplier of watches for the Ministry of Defence of the Soviet Union.

Determined to challenge the Swiss with a dive watch that could reach 200m depths. In 1967, two designers were given the task of creating this watch. Without being able to emulate the tried and tested designs of their Swiss counterparts. Mainly due to lack of equipment and skill. The designers, Mikhail Novikov and Vera Belov had a massive task on their hands.

Amphibia was born a dive watch which to a casual observer looks the same as many other dive watches. However, underneath houses some extremely innovative and unique quirks. Major developments meant that in some cases, they are more capable at depth than it’s Swiss rivals. Another bonus here is they are produced at a fraction of the cost.

Dial

Custom Vostok 5

Today’s Amphibia range has a staggering array of dials, from gaudy KGB inspired madness to the more classy and refined looking dials such as the 512. All the cases are similarly different, from the porthole styled 420 case to the retro space inspired 090 case. Each dial and case has it’s own unique 3 digit number for identification and are interchangeable – every dial will fit every case with only the stem and crown length being different. Every caseback has it’s own charm, with stamped pictures and logos highlighting it’s Russian pedigree. There lots are even SE editions made by individual stockists which are improved and refined versions of the originals.

Now mostly famous for the Amphibia is the Scuba Dude, which comes in a variety of different colours and designs. Primarily they feature a small scuba diver design on the dial. My own Scuba Dude is a 420380 model, with an orange Scuba Dude directly in the centre and Russian text underneath detailing its features and water resistance.

Movement

Underneath the dial is an in-house 19,800 mechanical creation that was designed in order to be maintainable by even the most basic of watchmakers. It has 10-year intervals between services. Not nearly as refined or elaborate as a Swiss movement but a true workhorse. These movements have since been developed to be automatic. And are still produced for a very low cost. To my knowledge, no other watch manufacturers can offer in-house movements for less than $30. Even more staggering is that, as well as the movement, the Amphibia and Komandirskie are produced from start to finish in the Vostok family. Every single aspect of the watches are made on site.

Accuracy, which is stated as -20/+60 spd by Vostok is much better than I expected. Averaging around +15 spd through daily wear. As it is 19,800 bpm, it doesn’t sweep anywhere near as smoothly as a 28,800 bpm 4Hz ETA. Similar in a sweep to a Seiko 7s26 21,600 bpm. No hacking or quick change date is available.  There are tricks of the movement to access these features. Enthusiasts find these quirks add to the appeal of these unique timepieces.

Case Design

Design of the 420 case is unlike any other watch I own. A very round porthole shape with an 18mm lug width, 39mm case, and 46mm lug to lug. It wears bigger than its dimensions appear and is a comfortable and functional watch. Vostok is well known for its awful bracelets, so these watches are best suited to rubber or NATO strap.

An acrylic domed crystal is big, thick and bold, giving a beautiful curvature to the dial when viewed from the side. However, these crystals are a scratch magnet, as are all acrylic crystals. The beauty with them is they can be fixed easily with some polywatch or even some toothpaste.

Shaped in such a way that when depth is increased, the crystal actually changes shape. Through pressure and causes the watch to become even more waterproof without shattering. The watch crystal also has enough clearance so that the hands are not affected by the change in shape.

This large crystal works in harmony with the caseback. Placed on top of a large rubber gasket, has two keys that slot into holes in the case. Meaning that the caseback does not move at all. Its then held in place by a threading ring which locks it into place. Causing the gasket to be compressed inside. And gives a total seal surface far greater than the standard O-ring used in many other watches. Again, the waterproof seal is increased with pressure.

It also means that the gasket is relatively undamaged when the caseback is removed for servicing. Making the requirements to replace a lot less.

Bezel & A Famous Crown

Ensuring the screw down the crown is secure to provide waterproofing at this point of submergence is essential. Although when first unscrewing the crown, a user may feel that they have broken their watch. As the crown wobbles loosely – this is an intentional design. Protection if the watch suffers any shock, there is no load on the stem and this will not be damaged.

Topped off with a bidirectional bezel with not a single click to be found. These Vostok watches are unlike any other brand of watch I own.

Watch Gallery

  • Price deserves an additional star or two below as Vostok watches are definitely worth the money.
  • Quality diver watches with fans far and wide. Personally I think these watches are fantastic.
  • Variations of dials and choice is incredible.
  • Customisable is almost every aspect. 

  • The original bezel on Vostok watches are not great but can easily be replaced.
  • Note the need for a new strap as the bracelets are terrible and famously so.
  • Constantly thinking you’ve damaged the crown

Final Thoughts

Finally, that brings us to the enthusiasts. These watches have an almost cult-like following throughout the world. Collectors who become addicted to buying these oddities and making them into original designs, homages, and works of art. Due to the design, it is incredibly easy to modify the watch to make it your own. Even the official Vostok stockists sell parts for this to be done. My 420380 has had a custom bezel installed. My third Vostok, a 120512, has had the bezel, hands, and caseback completely changed. I also have plans to replace the dial and crown once the supplies arrive. Levels of customisation is a major source of why people love these watches.

With 4 Vostok Amphibias with another 2 on the way. Many people will find them as addictive as any watch brand can get. Relatively inexpensive, this becomes even easier. Just be aware that to get the best deals, you will need to buy directly from Russia. So a long wait for postage can be expected – anywhere from 3-10 weeks in some cases.

Every watch collector should have a Vostok Amphibia – from their unique beginnings to their individuality and collectability. These watches are just as relevant as any other in your watch box.

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Price
5/5
Build
4.5/5
Finish
3.7/5
Mainternace
5/5
Strap / Bracelet
0.8/5

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