With their timepieces going for $70 on eBay, one might not guess that Vostok is a brand rich in history. It’s easy to label watches like the Amphibia as another second- or third-tier affordable mechanical piece in light of the popularity and premium prices of Swiss or Japanese automatics, but that wouldn’t be fair to the Vostok brand and its heritage. Before diving into the piece itself, I thought I’d share a little about the brand’s history.
In 1942, the Vostok Watch Company was founded by the First Moscow Watch Factory (which went on to produce such venerable brands as Poljot). During WWII, the factory halted production of wristwatches to manufacture defense equipment but resumed watch production after the war, although the brand “Vostok” wasn’t used until the 1960s and was presumably named in honor of Russia’s Vostok space program. Immediately after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space (wearing a Sturmanskie pilot chronograph), Russian watch manufacturers rushed to name watch brands that celebrated Russia’s victory in the space race, which is how Poljot (“flight”) and Raketa (“rocket”) got their names.
In 1965, Vostok became the official watch manufacturer of the Soviet Union’s defense department. Shortly thereafter in 1967, Vostok produced the Amphibia, a watch capable of resisting water damage at 200m with an automatic, shock-resistant 31-jewel mechanical movement. In 2006, Vostok returned to producing this watch with the 2415 and 2416 calibers (central second hand and date complication), which are the same watches that you see now on eBay and in the watch forums. Vostok continues to make watches at the time of this writing and supplies movements for several other brands.
Case & Dial
You will get no frills or sophistication from this watch, and that’s fine because it’s supposed to hearken to the days when Vostok produced military instruments. The case has this 1970s Darth Vader style that you’d find on a vintage Omega Flightmaster or a Seiko Bullhead. Reading the dial is easy through the acrylic crystal and, of course, there is a scuba diver painted on the black dial, which is definitely its main attraction. The rotating bezel, leaving much to be desired, is bidirectional and does not ratchet. Overall, the watch exudes a quaint look. Sitting next to someone at a bar, I would bet they’d never notice it, but once they do it’s likely they’re curious to hear more about it.
Inside the stainless steel case is a rugged 2416B caliber automatic movement, which is similar to the 2415 caliber except the main difference is that the 2416 version has a date complication. It’s essentially an in-house movement that is heralded for its simplicity and reliability. This workhorse beats at 19,800 VPH and you should expect about 31 hours of power reserve when fully wound.
Unscrewing the crown will give you the impression the watch is broken. The crown itself is hollow and very wobbly on the stem, although it’s unlikely it will ever detach. It takes getting used to but will probably give you pause the first time you set the time. Setting the date and time can be quite a chore if you haven’t worn the watch in a while. The crown has only 2 positions, one for winding and another for setting. You can set the date in one of two ways, either the really slow way or the really, really, slow way. To set it the second, really-really slow way, just rotate the hands around the dial until the date flips to the correct one. You can set the date slightly quicker by advancing the watch to the 1am position, reversing it to the 8pm position and then advancing to the 12am position. When you cross over the 12-hour marker, the date will flip. Here’s a short video that explains how to set the date.
Don’t expect the most accurate timekeeping. My Amphibia tends to be off by about +30 seconds/day, and from reading the specs on the Vostok website, it looks like you can expect variation from -20/+60 seconds per day.
The watch comes with a stock bracelet that I wouldn’t strap to my worst enemy. I kid you not, it’s a stainless steel bear trap that will rip off your arm hair and maybe even a little skin with it. Stick your arm in that thing only if you’re feeling adventurous. I immediately swapped the stock bracelet for an 18mm leather strap. Nothing fancy. I wish I could squeeze in a black and red NATO, but the way the spring bars are so close to the case, it’s incredibly difficult (another reason to go with the Ministry case).
Comfort & Wearability
As long as you switch out the strap, you’re in good shape as far as wearability is concerned. It wears a little larger on the wrist than you’d expect given its Darth Vader case style, but I hardly remember I’m wearing it due to its light weight and low profile. That’s a good thing for a watch that’s designed to be simple and rugged.
For $70, it’s hard to go wrong, although I recommend picking up a version with the Ministry case so you can have more contemporary strap widths and a wider selection to choose from. It’s an affordable, historic piece that works well as a weekend beater at a price that is nearly guaranteed to leave you with no regrets. Pick one up on eBay when you get around to it.