How the Soviets Revolutionized Wristwatches

Of course there are folks who collect vintage wristwatches from the Soviet Union. They are a challenge to collect, and have a fascinating story. Dashiell Oatman-Stanford is one of those collectors, who tells us how the Soviets got serious about the wristwatch business -with the help of the United States. Two bankrupt American watch companies, the Dueber-Hampden Watch Company and the Ansonia Clock Company, went out of business but were bought up by the USSR in 1930.

Three Soviets traveled to Canton, Ohio, where these two companies were based, to pack up all the manufacturing equipment, leftover watch movements, and pieces to ship back to Russia. Twenty-one former Dueber-Hampden employees from Ohio sailed with them to help set up this new facility in Russia, which was aptly named the First State Watch Factory. They began making 7- and 15-jewel pocket-watch movements made with parts from Ohio. The Soviets changed all the lettering to Cyrillic to signify their new ownership, and there were slight design modifications, all very minor. Starting around 1935, they began taking ownership a bit more, using different insignias that said “First State Watch Factory,” and as the years progressed, they began customizing their pocket watches to be a bit more Soviet-specific.

When World War II began, the demand for watches was unprecedented, and the Soviets went into overdrive. By the end of the 1940s, the Soviets had nearly a dozen factories producing watches, though some had been relocated during the war. They were still using the same movement designs from Ohio, but putting them into new forms.

These original so-called “Type-1” movements are still available today, and I have several dozen in my collection in various dial patterns. A wristwatch Type-1 variant was also produced, though a pocket-watch movement on your wrist makes for an enormous wristwatch, and it was very outdated with a noisy ticking sound. The old joke was that during the war, the Germans didn’t have to seek out any Soviets—all they had to do was listen for their ticking watches and shoot in that direction.

There's more to the story of the Soviet wristwatch industry, and an interesting lesson on mechanical vs. quartz watches, at Collectors Weekly.

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I used to have a mechanical Soviet watch that had Yuri Gagarin's picture on it. As long as I remembered to keep it wound up, the watch was very accurate and I only had to adjust the time every couple of months.
But last year the spring got unsprung in it. I took it to a jeweler who didn't know where to get a replacement spring for that old watch. Sadly, I had to throw it away.
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