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Movements of the Cold War: How the Soviets Revolutionized Wristwatches (collectorsweekly.com)
83 points by bootload on Dec 15, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 34 comments

A strange watch-like device that came out of the USSR was the watch-sized circular slide rule. Looks like a small pocket watch, and has two knobs, one for the inner dial and one for the cursor. I have one of these. Pictures:



These date from the era when the US was making pocket calculators, an area in which the USSR lagged.

Very cool! Here is mine with the original box and receipt/instructions: http://mroatman.wixsite.com/watches-of-the-ussr/slide-rule?l...

There are watches that incorporate this mechanism.

See the following: https://www.amazon.com/Seiko-SND255P1-Flightmaster-Pilot-Chr...

How easy is it to actually turn those dials? I would expect a regular (linear or circular) slide rule to be much faster to work.

Very, very easy. Though I wouldn't argue that a linear slide rule isn't easier to work with.

I just got in to soviet watches myself. If you've not seen them, the Raketa brand from the Petrodvorets Watch Factory in St. Petersburg had some beautiful, non-traditional timepieces that are still classy enough to avoid 'gaudy'. I picked up a Raketa Kopernik for my brother for Christmas, and I'm damn tempted to keep it for myself...

I grew up in the Eastern Bloc. The Raketa brand (tr: "Rocket") were quite popular - and had a good reputation too.

Nice article, it brought back memories. Like many child geeks back then, I was intrigued by the innards of wristwatches. The rubies used in those tiny bearings were fascinating.

Of all the Soviet brands, Raketas are the most interesting, aesthetically speaking, in my opinion. To me, it seems like the designers were just having fun. My Raketa collection now numbers 241 pieces(!!), with my favorites being those with stone dials (jade, jasper). These were a nod to the origins of the Petrodvorets Factory.


I had one of those square designs when I was a kid. I'm pretty sure it was a Raketa. But the color scheme of the face had a deep blue background.

reminded about another, and extremely significant, jump start of USSR tech by a US business around the same time - the car factory GAZ set up by Ford : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GAZ#1929_to_2000

In 1930s, USSR was buying American and European technology like crazy, especially the heavy industry technology. USSR was able to pay gold for that; gold still was the monetary metal at the time. The gold was earned by selling wheat and other agricultural supplies. The wheat was also produced like crazy, but, being a dictatorship, Soviet authorities just took however much they could from the collective farms (private farming was mostly eliminated). This likely contributed to a famine in 1932-33 in Ukraine, then a part of the USSR [1].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor

It's worth remembering that, while the famine had its peak in Ukraine, and claimed by far the most lives there, it didn't end at the border between Soviet republics - adjacent regions of RSFSR and Kazakhstan were also affected. The term "Holodomor" usually specifically refers to the events in Ukraine, while the famine as a whole is just the "Soviet famine of 1932-33":


You also have to wonder how WW2 would have turned out had the USSR not been in such a rush to industrialize (not that they knew at the time)? Then again, they may have had more people to fight the Nazi's.

> (not that they knew at the time)

well, the previous 1000 years of history there could have been a hint :) By the 192x-193x that history took specific forms of "export of revolution" (into which hundreds of years of the Russian Empire's expansion morphed) on one side and the Mein Kampf's "new living space for Germans" (into which the hundreds of years, from the times of Teutonic Order, of "Drang nach Osten" morphed) on the other side.

If Germany didn't attack USSR in 1941, it would be pretty real possibility that USSR would attack it few years later. Especially in the alternative Universe where Stalin didn't destroy the very modern-military-technology-minded Red Army leadership - like Tuchachevsky and his elk - in the 1936.

Manpower wasn't the limiting factor in the war.

Mismanagement, and lack of materials was. An agrarian Soviet Union would have had no chance.

> but, being a dictatorship, Soviet authorities just took however much they could from the collective farms

This phrasing makes it sound like they were just swimming around in big piles of wheat like Scrooge McDuck except with a much higher chance of asphyxiation.

What I tried to depict is not swimming, but rather sweeping: sweeping out everything, down to the last grain.

People actively tried to hide some of the wheat, to keep themselves from starving, so the methods of taking were rather harsh.

Not even slightly isolated examples:


Neither Americans nor Russians wanted to say much about this, especially after 1945. So, memory hole.

I'm not totally sure it's valid to use 'Rust Belt' to describe Ohio in 1929.

Right. It was still iron back then.

Vostok Amphibias are interesting due to the clever way they chose to make them waterproof (as the outside pressure increases the domed crystal flattens). They're still making new ones, although the older ones tend to be slimmer.

The problem with cheap watches is if anything goes wrong it will probably be uneconomic to get repaired

Depends how you look at it. I have spent the value of a 1960's Certina DS many times over servicing and repairing it over the last couple of decades.

Totally worth it; it was my grandfather's favourite watch.

(Idea being - if you have some sort of emotional attachment to a watch, it doesn't really matter all that much what financial value the rest of the world puts on it.)

I would guess collectors of these watches feel much the same way - they are maintaining a bit of history, not a watch. Besides, a lot of them probably do routine CLA (Clean, Lube, Adjust) on their own; it is surprisingly simple given a very modest investment in tools - and guess how good it feels when you've successfully dismantled and reassembled your watch - and it still works...)

Nailed it.

They also seal the caseback with a screw tightened gasket, a mechanism similar to that used on common mason jars. Almost no other watch does that, instead using simple screw down tops. It was a necessary and clever design at the time (1960s) because Soviets weren't able to import machinery with sufficient tolerances to get good waterproofing using a threaded cap.

Correct on all fronts. For those curious, see below for some nice further reading.

http://timeway.ru/articles/na_sushe_i_na_more/ (Google Translate is your friend)


I was curious about the workers from Ohio who went to the USSR to help setup the transferred equipment (did they make it back? end up in a gulag?), found this short article:


Sounds like they were treated like kings and came home after their contract was up

Well, people smuggled those watches to Poland after the collapse of USSR to get economy going.

Post-soviet state could not arrange proper exports, imagine that.

>Post-soviet state could not arrange proper exports, imagine that.

it was the time of "privatization" and the exports were "privatized" too.

For example Putin got his start in the Russian "business" (after running scared away from his KGB job after the failed coup of 1991) as one of the key persons - he was issuing export licenses, ie. representing that "Post-soviet state" - in the massive export channel of the "privatized" commodities (mostly metals, some oil, etc) through St.Petersburg(Leningrad). A typical, and relatively small, example of such "privatized" export back then :


There was perhaps a long list of people who could have save the day, and nobody did. As far as I am concerned, the whole society has failed. Blaming it on a handful people is pointless IMO.

A bit OT, but Poland used Soviet movements before the collapse as well: http://forums.watchuseek.com/f10/1mwf-alfa-poland-3474649.ht...

If I were to have a watch one day, I would want a Lip watch ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LIP_(company) ), and I want one of the watches that was hidden in the caves.

Better link: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/how-the-soviets-rev...

The current link at Hodinkee is just a summary of the collectorsweekly.com article.

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