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The 7 Best Raketa Watches - A Guide to the Famous Russian Brand

Posted on October 21 2020

Raketa is one of the few watch brands in the world to produce its own watches from start to finish. They’re also a brand with true heritage - they are produced in Russia’s oldest factory and have been issued to the Russian Navy, Army and Polar Expeditions.

What I and others find so exciting, is the eclectic mix of designs that the brand creates. They’re just as famous for their Avant-Garde model as they are for 24hr watches designed for use in the Arctic. Let’s take a closer look.

 



A History of Raketa Watches


In my post about Sturmanskie I noted that the Russian watch industry doesn’t have the same history as that of the Swiss and American companies. Raketa is another example. They are produced in Saint Petersburg at the Petrodvorets Watch Factory.

Founded by Peter the Great in the early 1700s, this factory began by manufacturing luxury objects for Europe’s elites, with pieces now held in Versailles, the Louvre and other palaces. It continued in this vein into the 20th century, creating iconic works like Lenin’s mausoleum and the red stars installed on the Kremlin.

Following the factories destruction during the Second World War, it was rebuilt on the orders of Joesph Stalin to manufacture watches. The first watches were soon produced under the Pobeda moniker.

So much of Russian watchmaking is influenced by the military in general, and the Space Race specifically. Raketa or ‘Rocket’ is no exception. When the Russian’s beat the American’s into space, with Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok 1, the brand was created in tribute.

To give some sense of scale, the plant had its own schools, university and hospital. The 8000 staff could fit into its two atomic bunkers, and at its height, the factory was producing millions of watches a year.

Are Raketa Watches Good Quality?


Pobeda was the Petrodvorets Watch Factory’s affordable brand and Raketa the higher end, luxury label. As mentioned earlier, Raketa is one of the few watch brands to produce every part of the watch in-house. This was due mainly to Stalin’s order that the plant in no way be dependent on the West.

Raketa is at the top end of what I would consider affordable. They’re not like the bullet-proof, budget watches that Vostok produce, and they tend to be priced above Sturmanskie too. But you do get a lot of watch for the money.

At the brands core is the in-house production.

Most other brands buy in their movements from a third party. That could be movements from Chinese giants Sea-Gull, Japan’s massive Seiko Corporation or the dominant Swiss brand ETA.

Other brands may customise or modify movements, and even companies that create their own movements may buy in a few components, usually hairsprings and escapements.

Raketa makes everything for their watches. Including the springs. The quality is there.

Raketa Watches Now


The mechanical watch industry suffered in the 1970s due to the introduction of battery-powered quartz watches. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, causing even more havoc for Russian watchmaking.

It wasn’t until 2014 that we really saw the rebirth of Raketa when they launched the high-end watches that we see now. What I’d like to do is highlight the best seven watches that the factory currently produces, demonstrating the scope and quality of the brand.

The Best Raketa Watches

 

Raketa Copernicus 0231 Watch

 

I’m going to jump straight in with a unique piece. A watch that demonstrates why watch fans find this brand so interesting.

The Copernicus model was originally launched in the 1980s and was inspired by Nicolaus Copernicus’ proposition that the Sun was at the centre of our universe. Raketa’s aim was to create a watch design that celebrated this scientific achievement.

The result is this quirky piece that replaces the minute hand with a ring that symbolises the Earth and the hour hand with a circle representing Jupiter. It takes the Earth a year to rotate around the sun and Jupiter twelve years, so they do this over a 12 hour period on the watch.

The dial construction has a beautiful blue background for the sky and the contrasting circles for the planets. It takes a little getting used to but makes for an eye-catching model. In terms of build and quality, it has an in-house Raketa movement and a sapphire crystal.

At 40mm it’s a mid-sized and slim dress watch.

Raketa Copernic 0231

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • 2615 Automatic Movement movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

 

Raketa Big Zero 0220 Watch

 

The vintage Raketa Big Zero is a watch that I featured in my post about the best Russian watches. It’s a fun and very affordable mechanical watch that was launched in the 1970s (see Vintage examples on Ebay).

In terms of design, it’s had a big impact on the current range. If you study the dials of the other models on this list you may notice a common feature. All Raketa watches with numbers use a 0 in place of 12. This started with the Big Zero watch.

Why did they incorporate this across their collections? Legend has it that Mikhail Gorbachev was spotted by the Italian press wearing one and they ran a newspaper headline that the Russians were starting from zero. Raketa picked this up and ran with it.

The current Big Zero is a part of the company’s Classic series. It is another high-quality automatic that displays the in-house movement through an exhibition case back. It’s a more conventional design than the original and has smaller numerals on a lovely textured dial.

At 38mm it’s a little smaller than most modern watches, and that does give a nod to its vintage heritage - in most aspects, however, it's a thoroughly modern watch. There are a couple of colour variations, including a bold green limited edition.

As Raketa state in their marketing material this is the watch that "conquered the hearts of the western capitalist world".

Raketa Big Zero 0220

  • 38.8mm Diameter
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • 2615 Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 

 

Raketa Avant-Garde Watch 0239

 

Like the Copernicus model, this is a watch from the ‘Curiosity’ collection - a line of Raketa’s most unique designs. Or as they note, the watch reflects “Raketa’s legacy of dabbling with the unconventional”. And it certainly is unconventional.

The design is clearly inspired by Russian abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky. There’s the same use of bold and colourful geometric shapes. As with the Copernicus, the hands have been replaced by these shapes, and in this case, the numerals are also quite distinctive.

If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know that I have a soft spot for brands that have a good backstory and a connection to a place. Raketa is a master of repurposing the history of their own culture for watch design. This watch is a great example of that. They’ve taken the work of the Russian Avante-Garde art movement and used the style in their watch. To do this they’ve had to rethink what watch hands should look like.

It’s not for everyone and isn’t meant to be. But it’s worth a closer look.

Raketa Avant-Garde 0239

  • 40.5mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • 2615 Automatic Movement Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

 

Raketa Baikonur Watch 0247

 

As I mentioned earlier, Raketa began as a state-run factory and were involved in providing timepieces for the military. Their ‘Tool’ collection builds upon this history and has lines for The Polar Circle, The Sea, The Sky and Space. This watch is from the Sky and Space line.

In general, the Raketa tool watches have been built with robustness in mind. It’s worth quoting the brands philosophy:

We follow the Soviet design principle that the more complicated a thing is, the less reliable it will be. Thus, our watches use an exceptionally simple, yet robust mechanism, that has undergone over 60 years of incremental adjustments, simplifications and improvements”.

This was one of the factors that originally interested me in Vostok watches. They were built to last and run for a decade without a service.

The Baikonur isn’t as quirky as a couple of the previous watches, but it still has the unconventional zero instead of twelve and a 24hr dial and movement.

Having been designed in collaboration with the cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, this model was created to be practical in an environment where there isn’t a night and day or gravity. It can be manually wound for example, as a lack of gravity can mean that the rotor won’t automatically wind the watch.

Style-wise, it looks like the multi-functional tool that it is. There’s a slight contrast between the steel case and the titanium bezel and the decorated rotor - complete with a little cosmonaut - is visible through the back. The hands are large and bold and easy to read making it a very practical watch.

Raketa Baikonur 0247

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • 2624A 24hr Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 

 

Raketa Seaman Watch 0218

 

Another watch from the Tool collection, the awkwardly named Seaman. Raketa’s location near the Saint Petersburg naval base, and their work with the military, has meant that they’ve made a lot of watches for the Russian Navy.

This Naval tool watch has a very busy and colourful dial that references a number of nautical themes. Again, it has 24hr markers, with the zero at the top. This is a fun watch and has a movement that is also decorated with seafaring graphics.

 

Raketa Russian Watch Automatic Movement

It’s a little larger than some of the other watches, but not over-sized. There are a couple of strap and dial combinations, but as with some of the other Raketa watches, I prefer the stainless steel bracelet and silver dial. Anything more is probably going to be a little too colourful for me.

Raketa Seaman 0218

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Russian 2624 Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 

 

Raketa Polar Watch 0241

 

This Polar watch from the Tool collection is essentially the same watch as the previous Seaman. It has the same case, movement and hands. Really, it’s only the dial that is significantly different.

The inspiration comes from the 1970s Raketa watch that was specifically designed for Soviet polar expeditions. Like in space, there’s no distinction between night and day at the poles, so the wearer would benefit from a 24hr watch.

There’s not a great deal to add, other than the rotor decoration is unique and aims to be reminiscent of the Northern Lights.

Raketa Polar 0241

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Russian 2624 Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 

 

Raketa Pilot TU-160 C307 Watch

 

I’m going to round out a list of the best Raketa watches, with a limited edition piece from The Sky and Space collection. I love this watch. It manages to do all the things I want from the brand. It’s tough, recognisably Russian and has some great little quirks.

At 43mm and with a 22mm bracelet this is a substantial watch. It has decent specs, with a sapphire crystal, titanium bezel and the in-house Russian automatic movement. The large hands have Superluminova as expected.

As with each Raketa design, there’s a specific inspiration behind the model. In this case, the supersonic Tu-160 aircraft. So the sunray dial, for example, is meant to represent the sky seen by the high-altitude pilots.

Like many traditional aviation watches, there’s an over-sized crown that makes adjusting the time realistic with gloves on. The bezel is also heavily knurled for the same reason. The numbers on the bezel, and the dial, are familiar as Soviet era and the little quirk? The date at 12 o’clock.

It’s a great watch to finish the post with. A true modern piece that references the best of the company’s, and the nations, engineering history.

Raketa Pilot-Tu-160 C307

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Russian 2616 Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 

 

Conclusion


Raketa is a well-respected Russian watch brand, and as we’ve seen, they make unique pieces. They’re not the cheapest Russian watch manufacturer, but they do have the distinction of producing every part of the watch themselves. There are only a few companies in the world that can make the same claim.

I’ve highlighted a selection of my favourite Raketa designs and I’d urge you to explore their collection in more detail. If you want to learn more about other Russian watches then you may also want to check out Sturmanskie and Vostok.

Add your own thoughts below.

 

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