Vintage Cold Warrior Meets Vintage USSR Watch

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Vintage Cold Warrior Meets Vintage USSR Watch

Post by Mortuus on 2013-12-19, 03:32

No one needs to tell me it's passé to continue to hate the entity we nowadays refer to as the "Former Soviet Union."  Yet, old habits die hard for many of us graying 'Cold Warriors.'  It's in the nature of things for those of us who let go of the past with only the greatest reluctance.

From my first day in the U.S. Navy, as an Aviation Officer Candidate, I learned to gnash my teeth at the mere mention of Those Soviet Bastards.  The Marine Corps Drill Instructors at USN AOCS pounded it into our young skulls full of college mush: "Eh-you are not here to become future airline faggots!  Eh-you are here to learn how to fight the got-damned SOW-viet YOU-nion and their bloody-damned BOWL-shevicks!  Eh-you must make it your primary mission in life to hate Those Soviet Bastards, and hate them with every breath eh-you draw!"

Fast forward 33 years, and I look back and cringe at the thought of those many times I thought about how much I hated Those Soviet Bastards.  Their goofy, over-sized and clownish military hats, and their goose-stepping, jackboot-wearing soldiers were clichés right out of central casting for a half-Jew such as myself to hate right into the ground...  Never mind that Yuri Gagarin was an heroic, larger-than-life aviator who went into space, not at all expecting to come home again.  And never mind that more than 600,000 of Those Heroic Soviet Bastards went forth and faced almost certain death to keep Reactor Number 4 at Chernobyl from generating a second, more devastating explosion that would have destroyed the complex's other three reactors – and probably the whole of eastern Europe – with them.  All these years later, and it's good to know that that sniveling little twerp, Sting, was right when he expressed the hope that the Russians loved their children, too.

But I criminally digress here...

Damn, Mort, all of that just to introduce a little something that came in the mail a couple of weeks ago.  Of course, it came in the mail because I bought it...but, still, something as simple as buying a certain watch really can be part of a larger, more cathartic experience that is itself many years in the making.  (Either that or Mort's been drinking way too much Russian tea from his trusty old samovar...)



My very first Wostok (AKA Vostok), complete with "Made in USSR" at the six-o'clock position.  Yup, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, aka CCCP or Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (phonetically pronounced ‘Soyuz Sov-yet-ski So-tse-al-eesti-chess-keek Res-poo-blick’). Old Mort, despite his later despising the despicable USSR, was a Russian minor in college and even studied abroad – well, several broads, actually (buh-dum-boom-chish, I’m here all week, try the veal) – at Moscow University, for two summers back in 1978 and '79, respectively.  But it wasn't all of that that first attracted me to this diminutive bit of tangible Cold War history; it was, rather, its overall appearance.  Take a good look at that dial here:



Note the very subtle raised patterns in the dial; they may at first look a bit on the random side, but in actuality, they are a very delicate and attractive floral pattern that, despite what is normally considered to be a feminine affectation, looks right at home on the dial of this Soviet man’s watch.  Even the darkish yellow of the dial has a masculinity that fits in with its large (for the time) 38mm case size.  Unfortunately, this most attractive of things about this watch has proven to be next-to-impossible for my limited photographic talents to capture, so I’m using the seller’s excellent photos – with his permission, of course.  (He’s a very nice Bulgarian chap who, surprisingly, lives and works in, of all places, Bulgaria.  Go figgur…)

The second really amazing thing about this watch that captured me like a Cold War fly to Cold War Fly-Paper was the sword-style hands.  Nyet, not ‘broadsword’ hands, but sword-style hands that look as deadly straight as any US Civil War cavalry poker back in the day.  Yet, far from looking warlike – even to this particular onetime war-monger – they just look damned smart, as do the eleven baton-style hour markers, topped off by the double-baton at 12 o’clock.  (Damn, this is one purty Rooski warch, ain’t it?)



The gold plating on the case is of a darker shade than I’m used to seeing, but it is nonetheless very appealing and fully in keeping with the overall look of this watch.  The total effect is, as already mentioned, one of warmth and charm, something I once thought the Soviets incapable of accomplishing.  Add to that an exceptionally thin case that houses 18 jewels (just like it says on the dial!) in its Soviet-made mechanical movement, and you’re talking some pretty sophisticated watch technology, circa 1970, which was right about the same time that the doomed city of Pripyat – a so-called “nuclear city” that housed power plant workers and their families serving the V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Complex, built at a place in the then-Soviet Socialist Republic of the Ukraine, that was simply referred to as ‘the Chernobyl plant’ – was being founded.



As far as accuracy goes, I performed a largely unscientific test, fully winding the Wostok and placing it between my also-fully-wound vintage Movado automatic high-beat and one of my vintage three-hand Omega mechanical watches, for a period of 24 hours.  It sounds pretty straightforward but, unlike its Swiss counterparts, the Wostok movement doesn’t hack, so the set-up was a bit of an on-the-fly affair.  Nonetheless, the Soviet-made mechanical three-hand held its own for the most part, with a delta of -36 seconds from its test counterparts, both of which stayed within five seconds of each other throughout the test period.



Soooo, as I am often wont to ask, what, if anything, is a ‘down-check’ with this lovely little vintage trinket?  I mean, c’mon, we all know that there’s no such thing as a perfect watch, right?  (Okay, for what it’s worth, I think the Patek Calatrava comes awfully close, but I’ve always had rather pedestrian tastes in such things, so I think I can be forgiven, just this once…)  Okay, there are actually two things that concern me enough to mention when it comes to describing this very-much-liked (despite myself) timepiece.  (Yes, I know that’s a bad word, but I just couldn’t help myself…)

The first is its base metal caseback.



Admittedly, this is probably just my 2014 sensibilities being reflected here, but I guess I’ve always had something of a prejudice against the use of base metal in any watch, despite its relative commonality in watches of this period.  It obviously doesn’t bother me enough to forgo ownership of this – or any – of my vintage watches containing this unfortunate element, but it does bear a mention here.


The second issue I have is a bit on the ‘uber-subjective’ side of things, but I think it is one that will get a couple of nods (if not actually nodding off, altogether) from the ‘provenancial purists’ out there.  Note the very neat, easy-to-read writing on the dial.  Simple, no-nonsense black lettering, just like you’d expect from those Soviet Bastards, right?



The ‘problem’ is that it’s simple, no-nonsense English (or, if you prefer, ‘Arabic’) writing, and not Cyrillic.  Instead of reading ‘Boctok,’ it reads ‘Wostok’ which, for all intents and purposes, means the same thing as ‘Vostok.’  Instead of reading ‘18 часы драгоценности,’ the piece of writing above the baton marker at six o’clock reads ’18 Jewels.’  And instead of ‘Сделано в СССР’ at the extreme southern end of the dial, it reads ‘Made in USSR.’

These three examples of plain-English labeling means (in all likelihood) that this was either a rare attempt by the USSR to enter the western market with one of their higher-quality products, or it was one of their ‘souvenirs of the Soviet Union’ presentation pieces, normally given to English-speaking ‘useful idiots’ who often paid call on their Soviet friends to commemorate the joys of unfettered Communism in Europe’s Eastern Bloc.  Either way, it wasn’t necessarily a watch that would have been worn by an ‘everyday’ Soviet citizen.  Still, that doesn’t mean that this watch is any less a product of the former USSR, nor does it detract from the goodly amount of inherent charm it possesses for all of that.

Or, put another way, old Mortuus, retired USN flyer, former Cold Warrior (& hater of Godless Communism) and 21st-century aviation entrepreneur, genuinely loves this little piece of Soviet-era horological engineering.  After all, when the history books are closed once-and-for-all on the so-called Cold War, it will hopefully be recorded that there was no monopoly on courage or heroism on either side of the political sphere. In the end, we were all men and women of duty and honor, who loved the country of our birth and served that country with professionalism and dedication. Even at the cost of our lives.

As always, your readership is very appreciated, especially after a long, rambling read like this one.

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Re: Vintage Cold Warrior Meets Vintage USSR Watch

Post by wottime on 2014-01-12, 19:37

Love that dial. Great find.

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Re: Vintage Cold Warrior Meets Vintage USSR Watch

Post by Mortuus on 2014-01-13, 03:09

wottime wrote:Love that dial. Great find.
Thanks, wotts Exclamation  I'm very fond of the dial, as well...  What a Face 

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