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The 10 Best Sturmanskie Russian Watches (Watches Worn in Space by Cosmonauts)

Posted on October 20 2020

Sturmanskie is a Russian watch company that has supplied the Russian military with timepieces. In the West, watch fans know the brand as creators of the first watch worn in space. The company has a long and distinguished history with their watches still being designed and built in Moscow - just a stone's throw from the Kremlin. I’d like to give you a brief overview of the brand along with a selection of my favourite Sturmanskie watches.

The History of Sturmanskie Watches and The First Moscow Watch Factory


Russia doesn’t really have the long watchmaking history of the Swiss, British and American’s. The interest for us doesn't begin until 1930 when Joseph Stalin ordered the founding of a watch factory.

To achieve this the Russian’s created their Moscow based factory by purchasing two American watch factories and shipping them to the Soviet Union. Importantly, twenty-one American watchmakers and technicians trained the Soviet workers in the art of watchmaking. The First Moscow Watch Factory was born. Within a year the factory had produced its first watches. A batch of fifty timepieces that were presented at the Revolution Theatre.

To give an idea of the rapid development of the factory, in the following decade the plant produced nearly 3m watches.

The history can be a little difficult to pin down, but it appears that Sturmanskie was created in 1949. The name translates as ‘navigators’ and was the branding on watches designed to be used exclusively by the Russian military.

Sturmanskie Watches and the Space Race


Yuri Gagarin cemented his place in history when he became the first human in space. His Vostok 1 made one orbit of Earth in April 1961. It was a significant victory for Soviet Russia and a personal victory for Gagarin, a model communist. Capitalist America was now clearly behind in the space race.

That 108-minute mission had provided a number of firsts, most importantly demonstrating that a human could survive in space and cope with the zero-gravity environment of space and the high speed of re-entry.

Gagarin wasn't just the first man in space. He was also the first man in space who needed a watch. The watch that he wore hadn’t been designed specifically for use in space - it was is military issue Sturmanskie (more about iconic space watches here). The original can be seen in the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics.

Since then Sturmanskie became the official watch suppliers to the Russian space program. As they state

Our watchmakers, engineers and designers often consult with specialists of the Mission Control Center at the Russian Federal Space Agency in the development of new models of watches. We also receive pertinent information and helpful suggestions on improving the watch Sturmanskie from astronauts themselves."

The company don’t limit themselves to just space watches. They’ve produced watches for a number of different missions and expeditions, including the first Soviet expedition to the North Pole. They note that they also work with the Russian Geological Society in the development of their arctic collection.

 



Sturmanskie Watches now


Sturmanskie watches weren’t available to the public until 1983 and since then the brand has developed. The First Moscow Watch Factory ran into economic trouble and a collection of former employees bought the remains of the factory - they now produce the Sturmanskie, Aviator and Buran brands.

Sturmanskie has a range of watches that are built around collections that reference Russian and Soviet history. The Gagarin, Pioneers of Space, Open Space and Heritage lines are designed around the brands work on space exploration.

Other collections reference their collaborations with the Navy or polar exploration.

The watches are distinctive and often quite unique. They tie in well with my love of Russian watches and I’d like to present a selection of my favourites, beginning of course with their most well-known model.

 

Sturmanskie Gagarin Heritage 2609-3745128 Watch

 

Central to the Sturmanskie brand is their association with the Russian space program and their watches are built around this signature model. However, it’s not meant as a direct reproduction of the original - a 33mm piece that is very small by today’s standards.

This new, and improved model, is a larger and more contemporary 40mm diameter. There are stainless steel and titanium versions of the watch, with the latter being more expensive.

In keeping with the original, this reissue has a Russian made hand-winding movement. Of course, it’s not the specifications that really interest us, rather it’s the beautiful Soviet-era design. Of the dial variations, I prefer this authentic beige version. The dial is simple and legible, with bright green numerals, blue hour and minute hands and a red second hand. It’s quite colourful for a military watch.

A nice touch is a case back which features a portrait of Gagarin, again confirming that this is a tribute to the era, rather than an exact homage. This is definitely your best place to start with the brand.

Sturmanskie Gagarin Heritage 2609/3745128

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11.7mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Russian Handwinding Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance


 

 

Sturmanskie Sputnik 2609-3735430 Watch

 

This next model references the Sputnik 1 satellite that the Russian’s launched in 1957. As the first artificial satellite to orbit it the Earth it was one of the triggers for the space race.

The watch is another 40mm, hand-winding model. It’s powered by a Russian made Poljot movement.

This watch is all about the dial. Aside from the cool retro-fonts, there’s a couple of references to the satellite. The indices are small rockets and in a very unusual feature, the second hand is actually a disc that rotates the small satellite around the Earth. The Earth also has Russia highlighted in red.

This really is a one of a kind watch, with a very specific design that celebrates a very specific event. I love it.

Sturmanskie Sputnik 2609/3735430

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Poljot 2609 Handwinding movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


 

Sturmanskie Stingray Dive Watch NH35A-1825897

 

The Stingray is quite a departure from the previous two heritage models. It’s an over-sized, heavy-duty divers watch. It’s 48mm wide, which makes it a bit of a monster. But like the previous watch, it has its own character.

The crown at 2 o’clock is the first uncommon feature, and on some variations, there are built-in metal guards to protect the crystal. Each of the models has lumed screws on the bezel and a large lumed triangle above the 12. Another unusual design point is the repositioning of the date window to 9 o’clock. That takes a little getting used to.

It has a Japanese Seiko automatic movement.

What I like about this watch is that it isn’t just another Submariner clone. It’s a unique Russian design that includes the quirky touches that keep me interested in Eastern European watches.

Sturmanskie Stingray NH35A/1825897

  • 48mm Diameter
  • 16.5mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Seiko Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance


 

 

Sturmanskie Open Space NH35-1811840 Watch

 

The Open collection was inspired by the first-ever Spacewalk, performed by Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov in 1965. The collection is quite broad in the range of styles, and this classic dress watch is probably my favourite.

It reminds me a little of the Poljot Strela watch, but without the chronograph function. The off-white dial, with the red accents, certainly feels similar and they both reference the same event. There’s also a little of the JLC Master Control here - the indices and numbers for example.

It’s just a really well thought out design, with a real vintage appeal. As for specifications, it runs off a Seiko automatic movement and comes in at 42mm wide.

Sturmanskie Open Space NH35/1811840

  •  42mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Seiko Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance


 

Sturmanskie Gagarin 2426-4571143 Watch

 

The second watch on my list from the Gagarin collection is another attractive design, this time with a GMT/24hr feature.

Again, it’s a colourful watch with a distinctive style. Like a lot of Sturmanskie watches, it has a busy dial but it doesn’t feel overwhelming like some modern watches. There’s just enough to tie all the colours, crowns, numbers and indices together and finish with a cohesive design.

With some Sturmanskie watches using Japanese movements, it’s satisfying to see that this watch uses a Russian made Vostok 2426 automatic movement.

Sturmanskie Gagarin 2426/4571143

  •  44mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Russian Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance


 

Sturmanskie Arctic 2431-6821347 Watch

 

The Arctic collection recreates watches that were originally designed for Russia’s first trip to the North Pole in the late 1950s. The styling is close to the Gagarin Heritage - the pared-down dial and bold numerals - but with the obvious change of a 24hr dial.

There are a few colour options for the watch but this deep blue variant caught my eye. It’s an automatic and is once again powered by a Vostok movement. The other specifications are probably familiar now - 42mm case and minimal water resistance.

It has an acrylic crystal, which isn’t usually seen at this price-point, but maybe it’s an attempt at creating a real vintage aesthetic. It’s a nice watch, again with an uncommon design.

Sturmanskie Heritage Arctic 2431/6821347

  •  42mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • 2431 Vostok Automatic movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

Sturmanskie Vintage Classic 9015-1271833 Watch

 

It’s not obvious, but this watch is another from the Gagarin collection. It’s more of a mainstream style - a classic dress watch - but there’s still a little flair. The dial is a curved guilloche design - an intricate geometric pattern - that adds something more to what is a restrained aesthetic.

What I like about all the Sturmanskie range is the Cyrillic fonts on the dial. In this case, the exotic font and the textured dial, really add to what could have been a relatively uninspired piece. This can also be seen on the case back. It has a common Miyota automatic movement, but the rotor has been signed and the watch has a neat exhibition back.

The overall impression is of a watch that has been well designed and strives to excite by playing attention to the small details.

Sturmanskie Vintage Classic 9015-1271833

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Miyota 9015 Japanese Automatic movement
  • Domed Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

Sturmanskie Traveller 2431-255286 Watch

 

Like Raketa, Sturmanskie produces quite a few 24hr watches. The Traveller is one of those.

There was a black dialled version of this model, with larger numbers that I really liked - but it’s no longer available. This silver version is equally as attractive, but does have a slightly different dial layout. This is a world timer watch so there’s an additional crown at 4 o’clock that rotates the inner bezel. The cities on the bezel are mostly European and Asian which I find interesting.

The dial does contrast really well with this chapter ring and the red second hand works well too. At the risk of repeating myself, Sturmanskie excels when they’re creating these busy tool watches. Remember, this has a 24hr dial, a rotating chapter ring, two-crowns and the date. Yet, it would still work as a dress watch worn with a suit.

There’s an elegance among the functions.

Sturmanskie Traveller 2431/2255286

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Russian Vostok Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

Sturmanskie Open Space NE86-1855016 Watch

 

I’m in two minds about this Open Space model. It’s another one that reminds me of the Poljot Strela, one of my favourite watches. It’s perfectly understandable that there would be a common style, with the shared history of Poljot and Sturmanskie. There’s no doubt that this watch is a beauty. It has that vintage chronograph aesthetic that I lusted over.

It’s also the best part of £1000.

At that price I’d go for the Strela - it was the original and has an interesting backstory. It also has a Russian movement, more authentic than the Seiko in this watch.

But that isn’t to take anything away from the Sturmanskie. This has a delightful style and a vintage charm that few modern watches achieve. It’s just too much like the Strela for it to be my first choice.

Sturmanskie Open Space NE86/1855016

  •  44mm Diameter
  • 14.8mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Seiko Japanese Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

Sturmanskie Open Space 2431-1767936 Watch

 

The final watch on my list is another Open Space model and another bold, retro piece.

It has a brown dial, which once again, is relatively uncommon. And once again, it has 24hr markings and movement. This is what I enjoy about Russian and other Eastern European watches - they have their own style which seems to be informed by a different world view.

This particular watch has a round Titanium case and prominent crown. I like that the cyclops lens above the date is also round. The dial is like a drawing from a Soviet era postcard and really evokes that period. The authenticity is strengthened by the inclusion of a Russian made movement.

The final part of the design is the case back, which features a motif of Alexey Leonov’s first spacewalk.

Sturmanskie Open Space 2431/1767936

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Titanium
  • Vostok 2431 Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

Conclusion


It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Russian watches. Heritage brands like Sturmanskie are one of the reasons. They have well designed mechanical watches that are often powered by Russian movements. All at a really affordable price.

Just as importantly, they have a real backstory. These were the watches used by the Soviets during the Space Race. These were the watches on the wrists of Russian soldiers and civil servants. Watches designed and built at a time when the Russians didn’t have access to Western technology or finance.

If you’re interested in watchmaking history I suggest that you give Russian watches a closer look.

 

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