Design, a word synonymous with appearance. But does a good design have to equate to a good look? Today, we look at how the Vostok watch company design watches with something a little different in mind – Practicality.
To understand the ethos behind their design, we first have to look at their past.
The Vostok Company was founded in 1942, when one of the watch-making plants of Poljot(previously known as the First Moscow Watch Factory) was evacuated to Chistopol, a small town in Russia during the Battle Of Moscow. The factory produced only defense equipment during the war but transitioned to mechanical watches right after World War II.
However, just as with other Soviet watch-making brands, the name ‘Vostok’ was inherited from Soviet space programs. That happened in the 60s era, as with the appointment of the factory as the official supplier of watches for the Ministry of Defence of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, despite being in such a celebrated position, there was the limitation of funds for innovation and developments. It’s really costly, back then, to be manufacturing watches. After all, the Soviet’s weren’t in a position where they would need an extravagant watch for the military.
Vostok Amphibia Line
So, the first flagship model released by Vostok was their Komandirskie line, which was developed in the year of the brand’s appointment as mentioned above. From there, the brand took that experience into conceiving a more robust dive watch. Here we have two watches from their line of Amphibia watches, we’ll be looking at their design elements and concluding with why they are actually great designs.
What Makes A Watch Water-Resistant?
Before looking into these dive watches, let’s look at how watches are “water-resistant”. For most watches, there are three entry-points for water: Case-back, Crystal and Crown. To create a capable dive-watch, manufacturers then looked at ensuring that those parts are secured as well as possible to prevent any liquid from entering.
Enter the designers of the Vostok Amphibia – Mikhail Novikov and Vera Belova. Who looked at the dive watches landscape, and naysayed that practice of designing watches that fight the inflow of water.
Instead of fighting against the water pressure, these designers wanted to utilize it. But how exactly?
In short, those entry-points area where water can get in, had been revised such that instead of fighting against water getting it, they use the pressure to enhance the water-resistance.
Amphibia 710 “Scuba Dude”
This watch features a square-ish cushion case and a teal dial. The all-polished case of the watch measures at 41 millimeters wide and 15 millimeters thick. But with a 45 millimeters lug-to-lug, it’s quite a wearable watch. This Scuba Dude includes a 5-link bracelet which is polished as with the case, but it felt cheap from the hollow links to the pressed-clasp. I quickly swapped out the bezel and bracelet for a black bezel and a leather black one-piece NATO strap from Cozy Handmade.
I quite like the resulting look. It doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously with the teal dial, but remains classic-looking by closely mimicking a vintage dive watch. At the same time, it is a rather old design, but is it an outdated one?
Amphibia Classic 090
On the other hand, despite being only 2 millimetres larger, the Model 90 is not nearly as wearable. This is because the tonneau-shaped case occupies a large area on the visual aesthetic when on the wrist, which on the contrary, is all-brushed. Admittedly, the case looks very much like something right off of my childhood…
Then we have the dial, which is reminiscent of a Panerai. It features large indexes at every hour but is numbered only at 3,6,9 and 12. It also states “Amphibia” in Russian as opposed to the Vostok branding. The polished-bezel has a scalloped-edge and looks distinctively military with rule-markings instead of the typical bezel markings.
While these watches have their very own distinct look, their design features is actually more geared towards practicality. Let’s look at how so.
A Practical Design
Compared to the Swiss, the Soviet’s didn’t exactly have a budget to match the level of swiss-watchmaking. Instead of relying on state-of-the-art machineries to operate on the highest-of-quality materials, the Soviet’s had to rely solely on design. They had to ensure their watches stood up to the test, while remaining inexpensive for mass-production. So for their Amphibia line, these features set the Vostok brand apart from competitors of similar price-point.
While an acrylic crystal is often seen as a more backwards alternative to sapphire and mineral, it has it’s own merits too. Especially so when met with water pressure. The acrylic crystal of the Vostok Amphibia is machined in a way such that, when submerged, the increasing water pressure flattens the crystal, increasing its circumference along the way. This enhances the effect of the seals between the case and crystal, as it tightens the deeper the watch is.
Now, on first impression, the crown felt really cheap when i first handled it. For both of the watches in this review, the crown was wobbly. My previous interpretation of a crown is a pin-like stem attached to a knob, securely. This wasn’t it, it initially felt like the crown was going to fall off, but that wasn’t it.
In fact, just as with the other aspects of this watch, that design was entirely intended. As we know, the stem of the crown is incredibly fragile, even with a small bend, it could lose it’s effectiveness for preventing water. At the same time, it’s the only bridge connecting an outside component(The crown) to the inside of a movement. So for the Amphibia line, Vostok made sure that the ‘wobble’ a feature, that would prevent unnecessary pressure on the stem, therefore enforcing it’s security.
If you had ever performed a mod on a Seiko diver, you likely would have interacted with the caseback to get into the watch. Just like every other diver, the caseback is removed by just loosening the steel backing of the case, which is tightened with a rubber gasket.
The change made to the Amphibia line was by incorporating two keys instead of the conventional steel back. The caseback prevents the caseback from rotating by pressing onto the rubber seal. Then a threaded locking ring is screwed in, which presses down the caseback owith a much larger gasket, which bears only compression load.
This way, the gasket can be sized-up, enhancing the water resistance. Needless to say, the gasket would need no replacement as it isn’t a part that is met with friction.
All in all, I think that the Amphibia line, as well as the Vostok brand, is quite overlooked for even most enthusiasts. The initial impression is that of a budget option by a Soviet brand.
But after the amount of research poured into creating this article, I really do think they are fun and interesting watches that could be had for an affordable price-point. Which is what makes reviewing these watches so fascinating, I look how different watches present different values. In this case, the brand was able to look at watch design in another way, and given that this was done back in the 20th century, it is admirable.