Slava 114 ChN. A Brief History Of Electric Watches In The Soviet Union.

@invitado

Nota del editor:
Este artículo está escrito por Lars Ivansen y apareció en watchuseek por primera vez el 21/08/2020. Este trabajo cita el nuestro y esta versión editada se reproduce con permiso del autor.

Después de un largo periodo de tiempo, en @therussianwatchcorner volvemos a tener el placer de contar con la presencia de nuestro amigo Lars Ivansen. Si con su anterior entrada nos deleitó con la historia y una reseña sobre el Cosmonavigator, esta vez nos brinda una concisa guía sobre los relojes eléctricos que se desarrollaron en la Unión Soviética.

Este segmento de la relojería soviética es bastante desconocido, pero no menos interesante para los aficionados. Si bien aun nos queda mucho por trabajar, investigar y escribir, el trabajo realizado por mi amigo Lars puede calificarse como un magnifico punto de partida y una base desde donde podremos avanzar en el curso de esta fascinante historia. Creo que todo aficionado a la relojería soviética debe tener bien presente esta categoría.

Sin más preámbulos, os dejo con este excelente artículo. Como veréis, está en inglés. Podéis hacer uso de la herramienta de traducción en lo más alto de la entrada, justo bajo el título.

Introduction

Dear watch-collecting friends, today I present to you my recent acquisition of a Slava 114ChN Electric.

The information about it is sparse and I have based this article mainly on three sources: 1) Paul (Silver Hawk) from Welcome to Electric Watches! – Electric Watches, a site dedicated to electric watches in general, 2) Miquel (miquel99) from safonagastrocrono.club, a Spanish-Language watch website where Miquel has posted a number of in-depth articles on Russian horology (often linked to from WUS), and 3) Часовой форум watch.ru, a Russian watch forum. Since I do not read Russian, I have had to rely on Google to help me out, so some information might have been lost in translation.

At first, I intended to focus exclusively on the Slava 114ChN, but when I did the research, I found so much interesting information about electromechanical watches in general that I decided on a broader scope. Please note that I am no expert on the subject – I have merely summarised the various sources I found to get an overview of the story line. I welcome your feedback if you discover errors or have something more to add.

Electric Watches


According to Paul’s definition, “electric” means that the watches have a battery, either a balance wheel or a tuning fork, and either electrical contacts or a transistor. The latter featured in a short-lived transitional phase when transistors were just becoming available and mass-produced quartz watches had not yet appeared.

There were a number of different types of electric watches developed and manufactured in the Soviet Union between the 1950s and the 1980s and I will not cover all the details here, but to understand how the Slava 114ChN fits into the story, we must have a brief look at its predecessors as well as its successors. For a more in-depth review, please see Miquel’s series of articles.

Hamilton would be the first to produce and retail an electric watch beginning in 1957. It was the very first battery-powered watch ever made available to the public. The Hamilton caliber 500 was the result of more than a decade of research. The movement featured a balance wheel with an integrated coil and two magnets placed in the movement plate. As soon as the coil in the balance wheel was between the magnets, the contact springs were closed, and a current would run through the coil. Because the current would run within the magnetic field created by the magnets, this would create a pulse which powered the movement. The watch was not a commercial success and a decade later, the quartz crystal technology put the Hamilton 500 out of business for good. The 500 was used in a few different cases, the most popular of which was the asymmetrical Hamilton Ventura.

Figure 1. Hamilton 500 Ventura from 1957

Luch NII Chaspron

The first electric watch to appear in the Soviet Union, around 1958, was the Luch NII Chasprom, which had an electromechanical transistorised movement without contacts. While semiconductors were a new technology at the time, we know from a CIA document from that year that Soviets mastered the manufacturing of transistors. The CIA report mentioned for instance that the “Sputnik III satellite’s programming unit was completely transistorised”.

Because a transistor can act as switch, this type of battery-powered watch did not need physical contact switches, removing the problem with contacts wearing out. This type of movement had magnets on the balance wheel and coils in the base plate. The voltage to feed the transistor was generated by induction in the trigger coil; the visible coil in these watches are two coils side-by-side. As the fixed magnets on the balance pass over these coils, the trigger coil generated a voltage, the transistor completed the circuit on the impulse coil and the balance received an impulse. When the balance swung back due to its spring, the trigger coil generates a reverse voltage and the transistor broke the circuit to the impulse coil. The balance assembly of this watch, as usual, was the timekeeping element. This assembly differs in function, however, from the balance assembly in ordinary mechanical watches in that it drives the train of the watch instead of the other way around.

This design was based on the Hamilton 500 but was slightly modified by Soviet engineers. The first iteration was a prototype made by the NII Chasprom Scientific Research Institute in close collaboration with Luch and developed for the exclusive use by cosmonauts and was never commercialised. NII Chasprom was an elite horological institute, which not only designed and built experimental electronic watches, but also did the certification of marine chronometers. The batch size of this prototype is unknown.

Figure 2. Luch NII Chasprom prototype​

In addition to the Luch logotype on the dial, the Luch icon on the bridge, and the number 207 on the battery compartment, there is no additional information on where it was made, the number of jewels it had, or information about water protection, anti-magnetic and shock proofing. This supports the theory that it was never intended for the market.

The prototype version never made it to space, but a 24h variation with date complication did. I guess it makes more sense with a 24h movement in space when you have no impression of night or day in low Earth orbit. It is believed that the production run was just 29 pieces and that they were awarded exclusively to cosmonauts. I have been able to find some references to specific space missions where the NII Chasprom was used, but the list is far from exhaustive – there must have been considerably more missions when it was used.

  • Pavel Belyaev, Voskhod-2, 1965
  • Yevgeny Khrunov, Soyuz 5, 1969
  • Andriyan Nikolayev on Soyuz 9, 1970
  • Yusi Artyukhin on the Soyuz 14, 1974
Figure 3.
Top: Flight Engineer Aleksei Yeliseyev and Research Engineer Yevgeni Khrunov of Soyuz 5
Bottom: photo from the exhibition “Time and space”, 2019
Figure 4. Andriyan Nikolayev and Vitaly Sevastyanov in preparation for the Soyuz 9 mission
Figure 5. NII Chasprom 24h watch description from the book Time Devices, 1976 – S.V. Tarasov
Figure 6. NII Chasprom 24 watch and movement

The NII Chasprom would of course be a dream watch to add to any collection, but it will most likely never happen. The following watch can instead serve as a good substitute for this impossible dream.

Slava 114 ChN Electric

This brings us to the watch in focus in this article, the Slava 114ChN. This was a commercial version of the Luch NII Chasprom produced by the 2nd Moscow Watch Factory (Slava). Machinery was prepared to manufacture the 114ChN and in 1959 they appeared on the market. My example has the serial number 05315 which is the lowest I have seen so far, although the significance of serial numbers is somewhat mysterious in the history of Soviet watch making.

Figure 7. First generation Slava 114ChN

There were two different versions made of the 114ChN. My example is what Paul refers to as type #1. I have not been able to find any reference to this movement in old catalogues. According to Paul, it has the characteristic Hamilton 500 contact and trip wires, but it is not an exact copy of the full Hamilton movement. Neither is it a copy of the Epperlein 100 Prototype but instead a mixture of both. The 114ChN movement has a balance wheel with integrated coil and permanent magnets in the movement plates. As the coil passes over the magnetic field, the mechanical contacts are closed, and the balance/coil receives an impulse from the electromagnetic force. The balance spring ensures there is a reverse impulse and the cycle then repeats itself. It may seem odd that they decided on using contacts that are wearing parts and subject to friction, as it seems like a step back from the transistor based Luch NII Chasprom. However, we must keep in mind that the transistor was a brand-new technology back then, and available only for military and space applications. It therefore makes sense that the simpler design was chosen for the civilian market, especially since it resembles a mechanical watch which may be more familiar to work on for any traditional watchmaker.

The following scans from a 1962 journal and a 1960 sales brochure have sections on the Slava 114ChN, but it is a different movement than in my watch. The movement in the scans is what Paul refers to as type #2 and appears to be remarkably like the Hamilton 500 movement.

Figure 8. Ogoniok weekly journal, 1962
Figure 9. Slava sales brochure from 1960

You can read about our forum friend Ill-Phil’s example of this type #2 version here.

Figure 10. Second generation Slava 114ChN (courtesy of Ill-Phil)

It is evident that the government wanted to modernise the civilian watch market with this technology, but these new movements meant high production costs for a watch industry optimised for traditional mechanical watchmaking, alongside the possible priority to jump to quartz technology. Thus, the electromechanical watch was a short-lived phenomenon. The production of the Slava 114ChN ceased in 1964 and it is not known how many were made. Only a few examples have survived until today, perhaps a consequence of the less than robust design with mechanical contacts. I am therefore happy to finally add a clean and working example to my collection.

Raketa Electronic

Raketa “Electronic” watches were of experimental design, and I have been able to locate two different movement types.

The first can be seen Figure 11 and comes from a private collection and is allegedly from the early 1960s. On the dial we can observe the stamp “ПЧЗ” in a rhombus which indicates that the watch was made before 1962, so it was probably made sometime in 1960-1961. The design is remarkably close to the Slava 114ChN from the same period and features fixed coils, moving magnets and contacts. One source claims that it was not purely experimental and that it was manufactured in small numbers for the market. In any case, it is an exceedingly rare piece, and these are the only photos I have found of this configuration. One reason for the cancellation of the programme could be that it was not commercially viable and that it was considered too early to introduce battery operated watches to the mass market – in the Soviet Union, at that time, it was difficult to buy batteries for them.

Figure 11. First generation Raketa Electronic experimental watch from private collection

The photos shown in Figure 12 are from the Raketa Museum in St. Petersburg and show a completely different movement. This one is supposedly from the early 1970s. Commissioned by the Chasprom Scientific Research Institute, this Raketa was developed in parallel with two other well-known designs: the Luch 3045 and the Slava Transistor. The Raketa is an all electro-mechanical watch with transistor switch-controlled electromagnets. But, apparently, the mass production of this type of watches was awarded to Luch, specifically the 3045 (made between 1974 and 1981). It seems like various experimental designs were outsourced by NII Chasprom to three different watch factories in what we assume was friendly competition: Minsk Watch Factory (Luch), Second Moscow Watch Factory (Slava) and Petrodvorets (Raketa).

Figure 12. Raketa experimental watch from the Raketa Museum in St. Petersburg

Slava Transistor

With the beginning of the development of electronic watches in the USSR, a sub segment of the industry focused on the production of watch microcircuits, quickly leading to the appearance of quartz watches. All this gave incentive to the launch of various projects. The USSR could see the development in the West and strived to make similar developments. Times were uncertain, no one knew which technology would win.

Even in 1974-75 it was not clear whether quartz would become the dominating technology. While the Japanese initially created the 1Hz quartz-controlled step motor, the USA developed the first calibers with a tuning fork motor and a smoothly sweeping seconds hand. In the USSR, several types of watches were created at once. The watch with a quartz-controlled stepper motor eventually won, becoming the familiar Soviet caliber 3050. But few know that there were several working samples of quartz watches and with tuning fork technology.

During this period, the Slava transistor appeared, the first tuning fork watch made in the Soviet Union and based on the Bulova Accutron 214 which went on sale in 1960. An anecdote is known about Nikita Khrushchev being so impressed by this new technology that he brought an example with him on his return from a trip to the United States, so that the Soviet engineers could reverse engineer it. This story might be a myth, but there is no denying that Slava’s caliber is undistinguishable from the Bulova’s, and consequently Bulova sued the Soviet Union for patent infringement.

Figure 13.
Top: Bulova Accutron 214
Bottom: Slava Transistor

It is quite remarkable that the Soviets managed to replicate the 214 movement, because while the general principles of the design are quite straightforward, the manufacturing precision required was at a new level.

Figure 14. The Accutron indexing is identical to the Slava Transistor

While a mechanical watch uses a mainspring and a balance wheel, Bulova came up with a design incorporating a battery that makes a tuning fork vibrate – the tuning fork replaces the balance wheel as a regulator, powered by electromagnets attached to a battery-powered transistor circuit. The vibrations of the tuning fork are impossible to see – the frequency is 360Hz; later models from other brands vibrated at even higher frequencies. The mechanism is very small compared to a conventional watch mechanism and is virtually invisible. The teeth of the ratchet wheel measure 0.025 mm in width and 0.01 mm in height. The wheel itself has a diameter of 2.4 mm and carries 300 teeth. The index mechanism means that tuning fork watches are characterized by a constant sweeping seconds hand. It is rumoured that the production of the watch at the Second Moscow Watch factory was so delicate that they had to halt the assembly when the nearby subway train passed. It is probably not true, but production was indeed very demanding.

Figure 15. First generation Slava Transistor

The Slava Transistor and the Bulova were so similar that many parts are directly interchangeable. This next Slava watch, however, was different from both the Bulova 214 and the subsequent Bulova 218 calibers. I believe that this second generation Slava was further developed in the Soviet Union from the original 214 design. The now deceased Mark Gordon referred to a document stating that 1,100 pieces of this caliber were planned for the period 1974-1975, but we do not know with any certainty how many were made.

Figure 16. Second generation Slava Transistor with date complication

NII Chaspron Tuning Fork

The following watch is a real treat. It is a NII Chasprom experimental design with a tuning fork movement regulated by a quartz oscillator. Mechanically, it has some similarities with the mechanical Slava 2427 with respect to the calendar. In a post by Andrey Babanin, moderator at forum.watch.ru, he cautiously dates the watch to 1975.

Figure 17. NII Chasprom tuning fork watch with quartz regulator

Next is another iteration of the tuning fork technology developed by NII Chasprom. It features no quartz oscillator but has a completely different layout compared to the Slava Transistor. I think this is final proof that the Soviet watch industry did not settle with replicating western designs, instead they used them as a starting point and developed them in all kinds of different directions.

Figure 18. NII Chasprom tuning fork watch with a different layout

Luch 3045

There are a few more designs of electromechanical watches in the Soviet Union before quartz technology took over.

The collaboration between NII Chasprom and the Minsk Watch Factory (Luch) continued. In December 1964, an order was issued to organise the production of the next generation of electromechanical watches, the CHN-4M. The first prototypes were manufactured in 1971, and production for the domestic market began in 1973. The watch, named Luch 3045, was made in moderate quantities and production ended in 1979.

The Luch 3045 used a transistorized balance wheel with a fixed coil and no mechanical contacts. The basic concept was like that seen in the Luch NII Chasprom space watch that we discussed earlier, but the design was different and based on the Junghans 600 Ato-Chron. Once again, we can observe that it is not an exact copy but instead a derived design from the Junghans.

Figure 19.
Top: Junghans 600 Ato-Chro
Bottom: Luch 3045

According to a catalogue from 1977, the Luch 3045 came in two different case styles, although I have only seen the style like on my watch below. There are a few different dials colours. The case back also differs: some watches have easy access to the battery compartment via a screw-down lid, while others have the battery behind the case back with no easy access.

Figure 20. Luch 3045

Luch 3055

Finally, the last hurrah of the electromechanical watches in Soviet times – the exceedingly odd Luch 3055, which may have been the most complex analogue watch made in the Soviet Union. Being a direct successor to the Luch 3045, it represents the culmination of the company’s quest to provide a relatively affordable, technologically advanced watch for the bulk of the population. The rapid proliferation of LCD quartz watches made their production short lived. During its production period of approximately seven years, exclusively for the domestic market, it was manufactured in many thousands and featured a variation of cases and dials. The first prototypes were manufactured and tested by NII Chasprom in 1975. In 1976, the development of parts and components of the Luch 3055 began. By the end of 1977, the first test batch of watches were made. The exact time for market release is unclear since different sources cite different dates, but Miquel has found a passport from as early as 1977, so it seems safe to say that it was released soon after the test batch was completed.

Like its predecessor, the Luch 3045, the 3055 features a balance wheel with magnets driven by two coils on the base plate controlled by a contactless transistor switch. The difference lies in the regulation: the oscillations of the balance wheel are synchronized by pulses from a quartz crystal. In addition, it also introduced a day and date complication.

Figure 21. Luch 3055 with a quartz regulator

It was an odd design combining three different control technologies and already dated at the time of its debut. By this time, digital quartz calibers were available on the market. The 3055 was likely an effort by the company to improve and modernize its previous caliber, the 3045, with a simple and effective idea; to add a quartz oscillator to correct the inaccuracies of the balance wheel. Despite its obsolescence, the Luch 3055 became a rather popular watch as it was relatively affordable. There are references that claim that tens of thousands of them were made over its seven-year life cycle.

There are some references to a transitional caliber, the 3054, but little is known about it. It is said to have the mechanism of the 3055 but without the quartz oscillator. An article by Miquel on the Relojes especiales forum about the Luch 3055 contains more information – it has a short section on the 3054.

Digital Watches

Possibly as early as 1974, ZIM in Kuybyshev was producing LCD a digital watch, the model B6-02 caliber 3049. ZIM digital watches were sold under multiple brand names: ZIM, Elektronika, Pobeda and Sekonda. At the same time, the funky digital-analogue Chaika Quartz Resonator caliber 3050 was introduced.

Figure 22.
Top: Electronica B6-02.
Bottom: Chaika Quartz Resonator

Around the same time, or shortly after, NII-Zavod Pulsar in Moscow started production of their LED display Elektronika-1 model B6-03, which remained in production into the mid-1990s. The following watch from my own collection is from 1991. It astonishes me that they remained in production for so long.

Figure 23. Elektronika-1 model B6-03 from 1991

Digital watches were expensive at first and unattainable to ordinary people, but they gradually came down in price and started to compete with electrical watches. By the mid-1980s, Luch stopped producing the 3055 and thereby put a definite end to the short, but fascinating, era in the history of Soviet watch making.

Picture Gallery Of The Slava 114ChN

To round it off, here are some hi-resolution pictures of my Slava 114ChN.

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