Review: Vostok Amphibia Automatic Watch

Back around 1999 I bought a Vostok from Harbor Freight Tools for $18 new. Odd that they carried them, but whatever. That one had the paratrooper on a green dial. It came on a (really crappy) leather strap. It was an $18 automatic watch, kind of amazing, really. I eventually got bored with it and sold it on eBay a few years ago for maybe $25.

Not long ago I watched The Life Aquatic, in that movie Bill Murray wears an iconic Vostok Amphibia(n), which reminded me of the watch (here it is in the movie, also here). So I went on a search for another Vostok Amphibia. While I like the dial used in the movie, I prefer the “SCUBA Dude” variant seen here. Last week I put out a WTB on several forums and ended-up with this watch. It was manufactured about a year ago and only lightly used.

Note that you can click on any of the pics below to see them full-size. Also, there are useful links placed throughout the post, and a good list of topical links at the bottom of the post. Enjoy the review and feel free to comment. Thanks! ;-)

 [ A Brief History of Soviet Space Watches ]

 

I remembered three main things about the 1999 Vostok I had:
1. It’s easy to take a quick-set date feature for granted, this auto movement doesn’t have it.
2. The crown, when pulled-out, feels so wobbly and loose it’s actually scary.
3. It ran consistently and surprisingly well.

I’ve always thought of the Seiko automatics such as the 7Sx6 line to be the Kalashnikovs (see how the AK-47 was designed) of the mechanical watch world. Not particularly pleasant to look at, rather crude in some regards, but amazingly functional. Function 100% over form. This Vostok movement seems to be like that to an even greater degree. Though I have read a few reports of poor lubrication issues from the factory on these. I imagine that the consistency and quality control is a notch below what you would get with Seiko. Oh, almost forgot, the the beats at a rather odd rate, 5.5bps, instead of the more common 6, or much more common 8.

 

 [ Do read about how the Vostok Amphibia was designed for water resistance ]

Last weekend I bought a slightly used ‘SCUBA Dude’ Vostok Amphibia. Some initial thoughts:
1. I hadn’t realized that there were two case styles, this one has the more retro 70s-look cushion case. Apparently the “ministry” case.
2. The lack of a quick-set date still sucks. (Here’s how to deal with that)
3. The bracelet is horrific, and a hair-puller.
4. The bezel is bidirectional. (I can live with that, no actual SCUBA diving for me)

 [ The Care and Feeding of Vostoks ... (Warning-Modem Burner) ]

Let me expand on the bracelet. It is truly horrible. It’s as though someone took a Seiko jubilee bracelet and said, “How can we make this as worthless as possible.” I’ve seen many mall watch kiosks with better bracelets.  It’s also a notorious hair-puller. It actually doesn’t look to bad at all, but is horrifically designed and constructed. But that’s part of the charm I guess. ;-) When I’ve had enough of the bracelet, I’ll pop a nylon/NATO strap of some kind on it. Or maybe a rubber strap.

[ Paul Delury's wonderful gallery of Russian watches ]

I’d love a Poljot 3133 Sturmanskie Chronograph chronograph. (more & more)

Note that several of the pics on this post, about half, are from the seller I acquired the watch from. Thanks, Rick!

This ‘SCUBA Dude’ appears to be on an Isofrane dive strap, I love the look. Correction, while similar, the strap in the pic is from Timefactors.

You can see the manufacture date, exactly a year old as of this writing.

Definitely read VOSTOK AMPHIBIA: An Analysis of Design Methodology. Lots of great historical and technical info in this article. I now realize that that well-known Vostok wobbly-crown isn’t simply slipshod design or manufacturing, it was created that way intentionally. The backstory on how they designed the case to be water-resistant is also interesting.

[ Mark Gordon has an amazing collection of Russian watches ]

One way to discern an Amphibia(n) from a Komandirskie is the larger crown on the former. Here’s a bit on the history of the 2416b Vostok movement. Apparently, this movement is a true in-house design.

I hope it really is water-tight. I do plan to get it wet. Oh, and the bezel. The bezel is bidirectional, in case that’s a deal-breaker for some of you hard-core SCUBA divers. And there’s no real click action, it just kind of turns smoothly. Check out this Vostok review a friend wrote in 2003.

All that said, love it, no regrets. These things are cool. Now I think I want an additional SCUBA Dude with the Life Aquatic dial, just like Bill Murray wore.  ;-)

 

Additional Vostok-Related Links:
Scuba Dude on an Isofrane Dive Strap
Short description of the NEW ERA Vostok
Ed’s Corner: The Ministry Amphibia “Scuba Dude”
VOSTOK AMPHIBIA: An Analysis of Design Methodology
Vostok Amphibia SCUBA Dude Video Review – YouTube
Ed’s Corner: Vostok Ministry Amphibia Review
Vostok Amphibia Review – webWatchWorld
Vostok 2416b Service notes
Russian Times watchnews
Vostok screw in crown question
Russian Watch Guide: How to Set a Vostok Amphibia Watch

Additional Soviet/Russian Watch Links:
Soviet newsreel about watch production – YouTube
yuri gagarin flight video – YouTube
Capturing Time: Russian Watches
Russ/Russian Watches
Michele Cuoccio’s Russian Watches Website
Russian Space History, Sotheby’s 1993 and 1996