Posted on February 10 2021
I get bored looking at pictures of watches and reading long technical articles about them.
In every post, the watch snobs recommend a Rolex. The guys into affordable watches post a picture of a Seiko. The Kickstarter nerds join in with watches that don’t exist yet.
Do you want something different?
An uncommon watch that few people wear? Very affordable but also celebrated for its ruggedness?
If yes, the Vostok Amphibia is the watch for you.
I’ve collected and sold exotic Russian watches for years, and the bulletproof Vostok diver is still the best bang-for-buck.
Let’s take a look at this outstanding watch and afterwards, if you want more detail, I’ll go into the watches history.
Vostok Amphibia Scuba Dude
This watch is the real deal and had to be durable.
In a country where queuing for hours to get bread was the norm, it wasn’t easy to get your watch repaired. The solution? Design a mechanical watch that didn’t break. And that’s what we have here - a bomb-proof automatic watch that was built to last.
Until the fall of Communism in the early 1990s, we didn’t have easy access to Russian watches. We do now, and the Vostok Amphibia is our favourite.
It’s quirky and mid-sized and powered by a tough Vostok in-house movement. It’s a legitimate dive watch - remember, that was its main function. It has 200M water resistance and a screw-down crown.
There have been endless variations of the Amphibia - a great selection of cases and dials. But this is the classic. It’s nicknamed the Scuba Dude and features the iconic graphic on the dial.
It has a simple, spartan case and a rotating bezel that doesn’t do much. To perform at depths and in tough weather, the designers had to cut a few corners to stay in budget. Surprisingly, that makes Vostok fans like the watch more.
The Amphibia looks like it was built in the Soviet Union, where function always trumped aesthetics. This was the home of brutalist architecture and the Vostok has a similar utilitarian vibe. The rear of the case has the various markings in the Cyrillic alphabet which is a nice touch.
If you want an absolute bargain of a watch that you won’t see on anyone else wrists, start with this model.
The History of the Vostok Amphibia
The history of the Amphibia begins in WWII. At the tail end of 1941, one of Moscow’s watch plants was evacuated. 150 railway carriages fled to Kazan in South-West Russia.
The factory’s workers and their families covered the final 100KM to the city of Chistopol in a convoy of three thousand carts and horses.
By April 1942 the factory was up and running but not yet producing watches.
Wristwatch production didn’t begin until after the end of the war. The story that we’re interested in begins in 1965. It was then that the Chistopol Watch Factory became the official supplier of watches for the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union.
It was also the same year that the factory, now using the Vostok name, released the Komandirskie or Commanders watch. This is an iconic military timepiece that has its own unique story and fans.
The Komandirskie had a direct influence on the design and creation of the Amphibia.
The brief for the Vostok team who designed the Amphibia was no small task. It was to create, for the Russian Navy, a watch to compete with the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. These iconic dive watches were being used by the British and French navies.
They couldn’t steal the patented technology of the Swiss firms and they didn’t have a great budget for their own development. Importantly, one requirement was that the watches were to be produced cheaply and be equally cheap to repair and maintain.
The job was given to chief designers Mikhail Fedorovich Novikov and Vera Fedorovna Belova.
These unfavourable conditions forced the team to innovate.
They had to find cheaper solutions to familiar problems encountered by mechanical dive watches. That’s what they did. As Novikov said, “Seemingly the Vostok Amphibia is not so different from the regular watches. But in fact almost every element in it is exclusive and each of them required a lot of work”.
One notable feature was the method by which the glass aids the watches water resistance.
The Amphibia’s construction uses the outside pressure of the water to squeeze the glass into the case, making the seal tighter. The deeper the watch goes, the more water pressure and the tighter the seal.
To do this the watch uses a plastic crystal, 50% thicker than normal, that can deform under pressure. Glass and sapphire crystal would crack rather than deform. This crystal is cheap and doesn’t need a rubber seal or a high-pressure crystal retaining ring.
The same functionality as expensive Swiss-divers, but at a fraction of the price.
The first Amphibia’s were released in 1967. The watches for sale now are authentic modern versions produced in the same Chistopol factory.
The Vostok Amphibia is a classic dive watch. Communist Russia’s reply to Rolex and Blancpain. What the Swiss achieved with cutting edge watchmaking technology, the Russian’s matched with their own innovation.
They built a bombproof watch - with an in-house automatic movement - that was unavailable in the west. With the fall of Communism, we now have access to these uncommon watches.
The Amphibia has a cult following, and for good reason. It’s a great looking watch and a legitimate diver. Yes, it’s clunky and utilitarian in its design, but that is part of its charm.