There is an antiques alley a few blocks from my house. Clustered there are small shops and garages that during one Sunday a month become an outdoor plaza for buyers of furniture, paintings, and nicknacks.
One such Sunday, my wife and I were out on an exercise walk, but we slid in for a peek at the wares. I tend to poke through boxes of mechanical items. There were manual typewriters, assorted tools, knives, and watches at many sellers’ locations.
I was rummaging in a shoebox full of watches when I saw an old diver-style watch with which I was unfamiliar. Curses! I had not brought my reading glasses. I hunted around on the folding table and found what was, I thought, a decorative hunk of glass. It had some magnifying qualities, though quite a bit of distortion, as well.
Through the improvised device, I squinted at the worn watch. The first thing that caught my eye was a red star on its face. Next, I spied the Cyrillic lettering on the dial and caseback. Russian? I was not sure what I had in my hand, but I backed out the screwdown crown and wound the watch. It ran!
Despite not knowing precisely what I was holding, it seemed…Soviet. I paid the nice lady $40 for the watch. I was so preoccupied with my new find that I forgot to haggle with her. Still, it felt like a decent price for a used watch that functioned.
The missus and I completed our four-mile walking lap and arrived home. I could not wait to examine my puzzle further. When I had some proper optical assistance in front of my retinas, I saw that there was a little submarine above the “6” on the dial. Well that gave me a clue.
After a bit of search engine diligence, I determined the timepiece was a Vostok, which is a Russian brand that has built watches for the Soviet, now Russian, Ministry of Defense since 1965. The Vostok logo is seen as a Cyrillic “B” with a partial oval around it.
This particular model is the Komandirskie, or submarine commander’s model, and was issued to them. The lettering on the dial says, “Commander’s” and “antimagnetic” below the Red Star. The back of the watch has the series, “Amphibia.” I can see “200M” for water resistance, but I cannot read the rest of the words.
This old Vostok is likely circa 1980’s, though I cannot precisely date it. It has a Caliber 2409 automatic 17-jewel movement. The steel case is 40mm, excluding the screwdown crown. Its bidirectional bezel has a single luminous dot at 12 o’clock. Tired lume coated the hands and hour marking dots.
The crystal on these watches is acrylic. Mine has a fair amount of scratches, but they can be polished out. I checked out the band. It was a Speidel Twist-O-Flex Classic that someone had put on as a replacement. Somehow, the stretchy band harkened back to times past and was therefore not unwelcome.
New Vostoks models can be purchased on the Internet for less than one hundred dollars. They have reputations for both ruggedness and good timekeeping. This example has apparently witnessed its share of abuse, but it still ticks.
One could imagine the fictional Soviet submarine commander Captain Marko Ramius from Tom Clancy’s novel “The Hunt for Red October” wearing a watch such as this. No, Ramius does not look at all like Sean Connery.
I can attest that my Komandirskie has been quite the conversation generator. I have fielded more than a few questions about this unique timepiece and its origins. My Dad was a Cold Warrior, having served in the U.S. Navy guarding our Pacific flank from Soviet intrusion. I wonder what he would have thought of this interesting little antiquing find.