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A PEEK BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN: WATCHES

While this is general knowledge, the Soviet Union built the first space watch and the first watch exposed to emptiness. The latter appears to excite the most attention. Despite the lack of evidence, it is widely accepted that Alexei Leonov wore a Strela for the first EVA (extravehicular activity) in space. Is it true that Alexei wore it both inside and outside of his spacesuit? Was his watch on his wrist when he performed the EVA? The Soviets did not provide the level of evidence that we have come to expect from NASA. With these two countries always at odds, the USSR was hesitant to reveal its secrets. We know the watch was with Alexei in orbit. This reinforced the OMEGA Speedmaster's standing as a cultural icon before the Ed White space flight.

The arrival of the Strela has been announced. So, how did this watch end up on the wrist of the first man to leave Earth's atmosphere and cross space? Let's take a quick look at the Moscow Watch Factory. According to the infamous Joseph Stalin, self-sufficiency is a critical characteristic of life in the Communist regime, which ordered the firm's foundation in 1930. After purchasing two defunct American companies, Ansonia Clock Company and Deuber-Hampden Watch Company, twenty-eight freight cars of equipment were delivered to Moscow. Deuber-Hampden, Canton, OH was still stamped on the movements of early

watches. As part of the USSR's socialist objectives, former watchmakers and other artisans were hired from these firms to help train a new generation of Soviet craftspeople. New watches were branded Sturmanski and delivered to Soviet pilots as they came off the assembly line. The Sturmanski is a 33mm watch that was launched into space in 1961 alongside Yuri Gagarin. Four years later, Alexi Leonov emerged from his space capsule wearing a Strela with the now-famous Poljot 3107 column-wheel chronograph. Since this was a clone of the Swiss Venus 150 movement, the term "column-wheel chronograph" has become well-known. The Speedmaster and other chronographs of the time used the same movement principle.


Alexei's watch has not been authenticated, according to anecdotal evidence. However, it appears to be a Strela with a white dial, a non-luminous dial, and Cyrillic characters. Poljot is also proud of its space heritage, with Gagarin watch reissues still on the market. In 1975, ten years after the spectacular spacewalk, Poljot was handed equipment and the rights to design motions based on Valjoux. This caliber, known as the 3133, is well recognized in the Soviet watch collecting world. Soviet watchmakers increased the number of jewels and frequency, and the 3133 became a legendary manual wind movement. This is the spiritual heir and the foundation for future reissues.

The 3133 movements are no longer active. Despite the movement's demise, millions of 3133-equipped timepieces are still available on the secondary market. They don't appear to be going away anytime soon. Fortunately, the rights to Poljot were purchased by a German corporation. Former employees of the First Moscow Watch Factory, on the other hand, obtained the Sturmanskie rights. Vomax is the company that manufactures modern Sturmanskie watches, and it is also where you can find vintage reissues. Traditional Sturmanskies are pricey, but modern Russian variants are less so.


If you want to feel connected to Soviet history, a classic Strela is a way to go. If you are interested in the Soviet story, the Sturmanski Strela is an inexpensive, beautiful watch commonly available for roughly $400. There are a few modifications, like the exhibition case back and the larger 44mm case, but the similarities are unmistakable. Whatever manner you take to connect with Soviet watchmaking history, the effort will be beneficial.

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