Hello again, friends of “The Russian Watch Corner“!
Today I would like to show you a watch that I consider to be highly significant and that I have managed to track down after a long search. Before I start, I would like to point out that this would not have been possible without the help of my good friend and collector, Lee Chin Sheng, and without having at my disposal the Russian language skills of someone very dear to me.
As you will have worked out from the title of the article, we are talking about a 24-hour Raketa, made to order for the Soviet North-West Shipping Company.
As you can see, the watch in itself is not extraordinary; it is a 24-hour Raketa equipped with the well-known and reliable caliber 2623N. These models were very common at the end of the 1980s. They typically have a second crown (situated at 4 o’clock) to operate the inner bezel, with a 24-hour scale, which allows for the display of a second time zone. The 40 mm size of the case (substantial for its time, yet still contemporary) makes this type of watch a real collector’s item, as it is a very good option to enjoy a watch with a 24-hour complication at a reasonable price. The domed acrylic crystal makes for clear, transparent legibility, as well as giving it the warmth so loved by collectors of vintage watches.
In the absence of any documentation we cannot be certain, but it seems that this Raketa is the result of an order carried out for the aforementioned North-West Shipping Company around 1990, the year in which this type of case appears in Raketa catalogues.
The North-West Shipping Company was based in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) and transported cargo along the Volga. The company still operates, under the name of Volgaflot.
It was fairly common during Perestroika for companies to commission personalised watches from the various Soviet watch factories, as a way of self-promotion. This Raketa is a good example of this type of watch. As a general rule, these personalised commissions were produced in very limited numbers. It is very possible that they were destined to be gifts for company workers and loyal customers.
But what distinguishes this watch, the reason for its being so collectable, is the extraordinary design of its dial. Being a declared fan of Avant-Garde Soviet art, I could not avoid making a connection between its design and the prevailing aesthetic trends that dominated the art scene at the time. I can recognise elements of Constructivism, Rationalism and the purer Avant-Garde in its design, almost as if we were looking at a palimpsest. On the subject of Avant-Garde Soviet art and watchmaking, we published an article (Maslennikov Watch Factory) from which we show the following significant image.
Let us examine the architecture of the dial. The first thing we see is that its design is based on four distinct areas, each clearly defined within the circular form.
The first of these areas is the uniform white inner rotating bezel, with 24-hour markings in black. A second area corresponds to the concentric ring that occupies exactly double the space of the first one. This space, which is grey, is divided into radial segments separated by white lines that align with the hours shown on the inner bezel. Within this grey ring, we find the third area, represented by a semi-circular, red ring divided into segments by white lines. It covers the first 12 hours of the day, making them easily and quickly readable.
The fourth and final area corresponds to a perfect, cream-coloured circle. On the upper part of this circle we see the Raketa logo and opposite, on the lower part of the circle, the legend “Made in the USSR” in Cyrillic. On the middle left, opposite the third area, there is another red, geometric shape in the form of a sector. This is clearly defined between the radii of two of the hour markers (17:00 and 19:00), the inside of the grey ring and the centre of the cream-coloured circle. Within this sector we see the shipping company logo.
The combination of all these areas means that, however strange it might seem, the readability of the hours is clear and precise in a watch with this type of 24-hour complication.
The red triangle reminds me of the flags that the shipping company boats used to fly, as we can see in the earlier image. However, if we delve deeper, we could suggest an alternative inspiration; let us investigate.
As we have already seen, the dial as a whole was clearly inspired by Soviet Avant-Garde trends from the beginning of the 20th century. In spite of the 60 years that separate the high point of these aesthetic trends and the production of the watch, its design is, as already stated, one of the most “Rationalist” that has been used in a watch with a 24-hour complication.
A good example of this is seen if we compare it with the artwork “Beat the whites with the red wedge”, by one of the greatest exponents of Suprematism: Lazar Markovich Lissitzky. I am no art historian and in this field it is very easy to create links between objects that we are passionate about and aesthetic phenomena. However, I would like to believe that the designers who took charge of this work were clearly inspired by Lissitzky’s work. We see the same geometric forms and the same colours. Other arguments, such as the nationality of the artist and the cultural influence that these Avant-Gardists had on Soviet society in the final decade of Communism, reaffirm my thoughts. Another clear example of this “revival” can be seen in the well-known design of the Raketa Copernicus and it is no coincidence that currently Raketa has returned to this path with its Raketa Avant-Garde line of watches.
Given that Raketa is currently reissuing some of its “rarest” models from the archives, it would be no surprise if the “Raketa North-West Shipping Company” were also to be reissued at some point.
I am supremely happy to have found this model, a “must-have” in any serious collection of Soviet watches. The only “but” that I can attach to it concerns the hands, which seem to me to be too thin and not very attractive. This is a problem that I see in the majority of the 24-hour models produced by Raketa, although this is only a personal impression.
To finish, I have taken the liberty of photografying the watch against a Constructivist background. I hope you like them as much as I do.