Today, I would like to introduce two “unusual” clocks in our dedicated Russian section, because they were part of the daily lives of thousands of people in the USSR.
These two chess time-measuring clocks were manufactured in the “Orlovsky” watch factory. As you will likely already know, the Soviet Union was, and Russia remains, one of the best chess schools in the world, which has produced a string of world champions! Do you remember the image below? Surely!
It is from the 1984/85 World Championship, which attracted global interest. The initial match was abandoned without result, after 48 games and 5 months of play. A fresh match, in 1985, saw Kasparov crowned a champion of the series. The rivalry between the players went beyond the board. Each represented a different way of seeing the world: Karpov, the official representative of the Communist regime and Kasparov, the dissident movement seeking an opening of the regime.
Below we enclose a great documentary about the match, with English subtitles.
When I was child, my chess-master gave me a magazine about this match, that I obviously still retain.
But let’s move on to examine the clocks.
The first clock is the “Exhibition” type, used in tournaments or exhibitions where spectators and judges could observe the time. Its size is purposely large, and it is housed in a wooden box.
As you can see, it has two buttons, used to activate/stop each of the clocks. The central crank, when in a horizontal position, blocks the two clocks. When positioned vertically, both are ready for operation. The seconds counter for each is located at the 12 o’clock position. At the 6 o’clock position, we can observe the Orlovsky factory logo. In the base of the wooden case, we can see the clock registration stamp and the date of manufacture, in this case August 1961.
In the back of the clock we find an engraving with the model reference (caliber 6979-54) as well as two keys, one for winding the clock and the other for time setting. Lastly, there is an external lever to regulate the precision of the clock.
Below we show the inside of the clock, with the see-saw actuator.
These clocks can be found in old watch catalogues, between 1940 and 1959. It is important to note that the list price of 75 roubles was very high for the era.
On the dial side, the red cam that controls the last two minutes of play time is visible. It is activated by the minute hand and controls the last two minutes of a game, when it is of course at its most exciting if both players happen to be time constrained. A player’s time ends when the cam “drops”, which occurs when the final two minutes have elapsed.
Ruhla, of the GDR, built a variant of this clock that was used in international competitions. Below we include a picture (taken in Leipzig in 1960) sourced from the amazing website about Ruhla watches run by my dear friend Sekondtime.
The second clock that I want to introduce is the “Yantar”, or “Ambar”, that was built in the 1980s. It is smaller and cheaper than the “Exhibition” clock, and therefore the most common of chess clocks encountered in the Soviet Union. It can be found in thousands of homes there and remains part of everyday life for many Russians today. Built entirely out of plastic, it houses the same caliber 6979-54.
When thinking of Soviet watchmaking, it is most common to recall military watches. Therefore, I believe it is important to recall that not all Soviet endeavours were military. I think this last image also represents a very important part of its history, and of the people who lived during the Soviet era.