On 12th April 1961, First Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin became the first person to journey into space on board Vostok-1. Only two years later, on 16th June 1963, Valentina Tereshkova achieved the same feat commanding the Vostok-6 mission.
So what did these two cosmonauts have in common? Both were officers in the Soviet air force before joining the Soviet space programme (although Valentina graduated with an honorary degree). The officers who graduated as combat pilots received, as a gift on completing their training, the watch that we are showcasing today, the Shturmanskie1.
We’ll return to the cosmonauts later. For now, let’s look at the origin of our featured watch.
We need to go back to 1936, when Fred Lipmann, director and technical manager of Lip SA d’Horlogerie, signed an agreement with the Soviet government to supply it with factories, engineers and calibers. This agreement saved Lip from bankruptcy and modernised the emerging Soviet watch industry. Soon, all the factories began production of the well-known “Pobeda” watch. Anyone interested in learning more about this interesting period in the history of USSR horology should read the wonderful book of my good friend Alan Garratt.
During 1949, in the already-renamed First Watch Factory of Moscow, the first version of the Shturmanskie was launched, manufactured in limited numbers for the Soviet air force, until 1954. The image below shows an example of one of these watches from my collection.
Being a military-issue watch, it was never marketed to the general public, so we have no illustrative references in any of documents of the time, except the ones that I discovered in a post on the watchuseek forum.
Although it’s difficult to appreciate in detail the characteristics of this watch, we’ll try to describe them.
Let’s start with the dial. This is slightly convex towards the edges and is painted with reflective paint (commonly referred to as sparkly). The numbers are painted with radium and the upper part bears the name of the brand, in a semicircular arc, as well as the factory logo. On the lower part, the air force logo is printed. The following images illustrate this clearly.
The hands are painted with radium and edged in blue. The seconds hand is long and slender and it ought to be red. In my watch, the paint has almost fully worn off.
The caliber carried in the first edition of the Shturmanskie was a variant of the Lip R-26 and has a central seconds hand, 15 jewels and a seconds hand hack. As you can see in the following image, my watch is dated 3-53, i.e., almost at the end of its production.
The chromium-plated case is a smallish 33 mm and has an oversized crown so that the pilots could handle it with gloves on. The case-back, which is pressure fitted, is slightly convex and carries no inscription.
In this way, the Shturmanskie became the first military-issue watch developed in the USSR after the Second World War for air force pilots, following on from the Urofa 59. The star plane of the time was undoubtedly the Mig-15. The images below show the aforementioned watch and the famous fighter plane.
In 1954, production of the Shturmanskie 15J ceased and the 17J version appeared. This latest version, as indicated by the name, incorporated an improved movement from the 2608 caliber, with two more jewels, a shock-absorbent balance wheel and several aesthetic differences. The caliber was exactly the same as that used for the Sportivnie, which we have already discussed in the “The Russian Watch Corner”, and it was designated as the 2634. Its manufacture lasted until approximately 1960.
The most notable aesthetic differences from the first Shturmanskie were to be seen in the shape of the hands and the inclusion of a screw-down case-back that was stronger than the previous pressure-fitted one. The following images are from the collection of a friend and great collector, Dashiel Stanford.
Even though there is no photographic or documentary evidence, it is more than likely (if we take into account the dates of manufacture) that both Gagarin, who graduated from the academy in 1957, and subsequently Tereshkova, wore the second version of the Shturmanskie on their space journeys. This feat immortalised the watch at the centre of our story.
In the images below, we see Tereshkova with her Shturmanskie. We can also see the watch that Gagarin probably wore and which is kept in the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Moscow. In the video from the museum, the guide states that it is the original.
The fact that the Shturmanskie (in its two versions) has become a true icon of Soviet and space watches, means that it has attracted forgers who are happy to exploit interest in these pieces. I recommend that before you embark on the purchase of one of these watches, you find as much information as you can, starting with this concise and accurate article. There are many subtle distinctions that need to be observed with these watches in order to make a clear identification and authentification.
1 The correct transliteration of ШТУРМАНСКИЕ is Shturmanskie. However, even the brand has abandoned the use of the letter “h” in the non-Cyrillic version, as evidenced by its own website https://sturmanskie.ru/ru/. This is why the title of this post uses the name Sturmanskie, which is more widely recognised by search engines, whereas throughout the body of the text we use the correct transliteration which is Shturmanskie (the Cyrillic consonant Ш sounds like “sh”).