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The Stunning Russian Watch First Used in Space

Posted on February 16 2021

Sturmanskie Gagarin Watch

Few watches can be said to have been world firsts.

There are a couple that comes to mind - Edmund Hillary’s Everest watch for example. But on the whole, watches either gradually attract attention or have a famous owner.

It’s rare that one watch becomes a legend due to a single event. But that is what I love about this watch. It was the first watch worn in space.

For 108 minutes in 1961, a Russian cosmonaut made one full orbit of the earth. The world’s first.

This is the watch that he wore. And the same factory in Moscow that made his still produces the watch now.

Let’s have a closer look at the watch, and afterwards, I’ll give you more of the background to this amazing piece.

Sturmanskie Gagarin Watch

Sturmanskie Gagarin Heritage 2609-3745128

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

 


This is the new, updated version of the first watch worn in space. It is full of vintage charm, with the same original cream dial and hand-winding Russian movement.

There are a few changes to Yuri Gagarin’s model. Most notably, the case is now a comfortable 40mm rather than the very small 33mm of his. But I’m sure that you’ll agree - this is an improvement.

This new release has been updated just enough to make it functional for today’s watch buyer.

It still retains the other elements that make it such an attractive piece. The dial is authentic and marks this as a Russian military issue watch. It’s simple, carries the necessary logos and is highly legible.

It’s worth noting that this watch wasn’t specifically designed for Gagarin or the space race. This was a standard model presented to all newly qualified military pilots.

So it has the attributes of a Soviet-era pilots watch. It’s spartan, with a simple case - both Stainless steel and Titanium versions are available - and a modest crown and a utilitarian leather strap.

This watch was built as a tool to be used in life or death situations. There are no unnecessary features. So the simple case has a tidy dial, with large lumed numbers - not dots, or Roman numerals - but clear Arabic numbers.

The red second hand provides a nice contrast and a little colour.

Importantly, the original was designed at a time when the Soviet Union didn’t have access to the same watchmaking technology as the Swiss. (I noted this with the Vostok Amphibia military diver here). So the movement was a workhorse Russian-made mechanical calibre.

It’s great that Sturmanski has kept this as a hand-winding watch. It feels true to the original. When you wear this watch you will have to wind it every morning the same way that Yuri Gagarin wound his.

One final change. The case back has an image of Gagarin in his cosmonaut helmet - it finishes the watch perfectly. A reminder that this watch was there at an exciting event in human history.



A Brief History of Sturmanskie Watches


Sturmanskie is a Russian watch brand that has supplied the Russian military with timepieces. In the West, we know the company as the designers of the first watch worn in space.

The company has a long and distinguished history. Their watches are still designed and manufactured in Moscow - a stone's throw from the Kremlin.

Russia doesn’t 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.

The Russian’s created their Moscow based factory by purchasing two American watch factories. These were shipped to the Soviet Union. 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.

The factory grew rapidly. In the next ten years, the plant produced nearly three million watches.

Sturmanskie’s history can be a little difficult to pin down. It appears that the name was first used in 1949. It translates as ‘navigators’ and was the branding on watches designed exclusively for the Russian military.

Sturmanskie Watches Soviet Space Program


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.

America was now behind in the space race.

That mission had provided a number of firsts. Most importantly demonstrating that a human could survive in space. It proved that a man could cope with the zero-gravity environment of space and the high speed of re-entry.

Gagarin wasn't only the first man in space. He was also the first man in space who needed a watch.

As I noted earlier, the watch that he wore hadn’t been designed for use in space. It was is a military issue Sturmanskie and the original can be seen in the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics.

Since then Sturmanskie has been 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 space watches.

They’ve produced watches for different missions and expeditions. This has included the first Soviet expedition to the North Pole and a watch line created for the Russian Geological Society.

Conclusion


It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Russian watches - The Sturmanskie Gagarin is one of the reasons why.

It’s an iconic timepiece, famous for being the first watch used in space. It’s stylish, functional and visibly Russian.

The Gagarin is a tough military watch that is still made in Moscow. And since 1983, we’ve been able to get our hands on them too. Not only is it a modern remake of the famous original, but it is very affordable.

A real bonus is the use of a Russian hand-winding movement.

I’ve sung the praises of Vostok’s Amphibia model - it's brilliant value for money. But if you have a bigger budget, the Sturmanskie Gagarin would make a great first Russian piece.

It has that amazing backstory - at a fraction of the cost of Omega’s moon watch.

If you’re interested in watchmaking history or the space race, I suggest that you give the Sturmanskie a closer look.


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