What triggered your interest in these watches?
September 1991. I was visiting Russia for the first time and loving every second of it. Sure, the country was in a mess, Communism had just finally collapsed, but it had done so with amazingly little bloodshed (at least until the bloody “parade of sovereignties” began) and it was a time when everything seemed possible. Due to the economic crisis the most interesting places to shop were the markets and I spent quite a lot of time roaming through the market off Arbat street looking for interesting items. One day my gaze was attracted by a watch with a Russian imperial eagle on the dial. When I took a closer look I saw that the watch also had a 2nd time zone bezel with the names of one city for each timezone, all in Russian. I loved it and immediately bought it – for two dollars.
Although the watch was nice, the strap on it was terrible. It was made of some kind of horrible black rubber which was ugly enough to be used on truck tires but certainly did not suit an otherwise nice looking watch. Back in Geneva, Switzerland, I took the watch to a jeweler and fitted it with a nice brown leather strap. The strap costs me 20 dollars, ten times the price of the watch.
But when I started wearing the watch a big disappointment was waiting for me: the watch was not running right. It was a manual wind mechanical watch which, I believed, should have been pretty accurate, and I knew that Russian watches had a good reputation. But this one was just unable to keep time halfway decently.
I took it to a reputable watchmaker in Geneva who placed it on some kind of device which measures the number of beats per second produced by the watch mechanism and thereby measures the accuracy of its timekeeping. To my immense surprise the watchmaker told me that the watch was running just fine and that, in fact, it seemed to be very accurate. Baffled, I took it home and wore it again.
Sure enough, the watch began to run late again. I made sure that it was fully wound up, but to no avail. It was gradually running late over and over again. I was getting pretty frustrated and I ended up staring at it in complete exasperation. And then I noticed something weird for the first time. The dial had unusual numbers on it: 14, 16, 18 all the way to 24. Because nobody in Europe ever uses the silly “AM/PM” thing I was used to thinking of 4PM as 16:00, I was not surprised by the numbers, but to see them on an analog dial?! And then it dawned on me that I was looking at a 24 hour dial. Not only had I never seen one in the past, I never even heard of such a thing. Apparently, neither did the Swiss watchmaker who carefully examined the watch but never noticed a thing about the dial!
It appeared that I had paid two dollars for an accurate Russian mechanical watch, with an imperial eagle on its dial, which was a real 24 hours watch. This was truly something unique (and I have never seen that watch since). Later, I learned that this watch was a “Raketa” and that the Soviet Union and Russia had a long history of producing 24 hour watches. I was hooked, and ever since I have been an avid collector of these fantastic timepieces.
Are 24 hour watches hard(er) to read?
The short answers is: yes.
But that is not a reflection of something inherent to 24 hours dials, but rather of the way we are conditioned by our entire environment to only use 12 hours dials.
24 hours dials have a long history and 12 hours dials are really something imposed by northern Europe on the rest of the continent (check out this excellent article about the history of 24 hour dials). The so-called “German dial” was really introduced in the late 15th century. Historically, watches trace their ancestry to sundials and astrolabes which both are based on 24 hours cycles. It is a fact that the first clock face, or dial, was invented by Jacopo de’ Dondi in 1344 and that it had a 24 hour dial (more details in this article).
Let’s face it: 12 hour dials are about as logical as the “AM/PM” nonsense.
Of course, one can make the argument that a 12 hour dial is less cluttered since it presents less information, and that would be true. But by the same token, why not settle for 6 hours dials? Surely, most people know if it is morning, afternoon, evening or night and a 6 hours dial would be easier to read and watches could be made smaller. It turns out that such six hour clocks already exist and are still used in Thailand (more about this here). And dive watches could be made in “convenient” 3 hour dials since 99,9999% of all dives last less than 3 hours.
Unlike the 12 hour dials, 24 hour dials have immediate benefits. They are extremely easy to use as a compass (just point the hour hand at the sun and the North will be at 24 hours), and they allow for a convenient 2nd timezone bezel. More relevantly, 24 hour dials express a different awareness of time and a different mindset: a fundamental rejection of the absurd uniformity of 12 hour watches.
Still, 24 hour dials take some time to get used to. We are so used to 12 hour dials that it does take some time to overcome this conditioning. Also, I would not recommend switching back and forth between 12 and 24 hour dials as this would only add to your confusion. Simply try wearing a 24 hour watch for a couple of weeks and make sure your first 24 hour watch has a clear, easy to read, dial.
Be warned though, once you get hooked on the 24 hour dial, you will never want to wear a 12 hour watch again. It’s like with any form of conditioning: once you overcome it you never want to go back to your past conditioned behavior.
Where can I buy Russian 24 hour watches?
First, let me make one thing clear: I do not sell any watches myself. The purpose of this website is only to share with others my love for Russian 24 hour watches. I can give you some pointers, though.
I get all my watches from Craig Hester at Russia2all.com. After researching Russian watches on the web, I quickly found out that Craig had a truly stellar reputation on all the Russian watches fora (such as Watchuseek, Watchgeeks or BDWF) and that he was the exclusive distributor for pretty much all the major Russian watch brands for the USA, Canada and the Carribean. His prices were absolutely unbeatable and I soon began ordering watches from him. After a couple of email exchanges Craig and I decided that I would help him out with translations with various languages and that was the beginning of a very productive partnership. Craig now has a very interesting weekly show on YouTube called “The Watch Komrade” which offers a mix of educational shows about Russian watches and terrific deals on selected models. The very best deals Craig has to offer are on his (free) newsletter for which you can sign up here. Lastly – if you want to chat with Craig and his customers, check out his new forum.
There are probably other honest sellers out there, but I doubt that they would have the reputation of Craig Hester or Irina Maier.
What exactly is a *real* Russian 24 hour watch?
To meet my definition of “Russian 24 hours watch” a watch has to meet the following condition:
a) The case and mechanism have to be designed, built and assembled in Russia
b) The primary hour hand must complete only one full 360 degrees revolution in 24 hours
There are Russian watches out there which have a double 12/24 scale (some Vostoks for example) but in which the hour hand completes a complete revolution in 12 hours. Vostok-Europe has come up with another solution: a second hour hand which points towards a 24 hour scale while the primary hour hand does a “conventional” 12 hour rotation. Neither of these (otherwise excellent) watches qualifies as “real 24 hours watch”, at least not in my opinion.
Could you recommend some other websites about Russian and/or 24 hour watches?
Sure. Check out these:
Sorry, I am still confused about this 24 hour business. Can you help?
The best way to get the idea is to check out this excellent video on YouTube made by the author of the 24hourtime.info website.