The Digital Revolution In The Soviet Union. Part 3

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As we discussed in the previous chapter, the progressive decrease in production costs, and the price charged consumers, led to the appearance of different models, with various functions, that satisfied user demand. If we examine catalogues of the era, we can appreciate the diversity of models and popularity of digital watches among the bulk of the Soviet population.

In Sergei Frolov’s “Soviet Digital Electronics Museum” and on the Electronika-5.Ru website, it is possible to find practically every model produced referenced chronologically, so in this post I will limit the presentation to the most representative models, most of them part of my personal collection.

Elektronika B6-02 (3049)

As previously discussed in this series, this was the first digital model (No. 3049) released that incorporated an LCD screen. Its production spanned from 1974 until 1980, and it was one of the most popular models. It can be found in a multitude of different case variants.

It has very basic functions. It has a 4-digit display showing hours and minutes, in 24-hour format. The seconds are displayed through the blinking colon between the hour and minute indicators and can be adjusted. It has three buttons that are recessed into the case. Pressing two buttons at the same time enables the energy savings mode, for when not in use. The watch is powered by two 1.5 V batteries and operates with a minimum nominal voltage of 2.4 V. The batteries, under normal use and with the module in good condition, last approximately 12 months. Its accuracy is approximately 0.5 seconds/day.

Elektronika B6-03 (3051)

The 3051 is one of the most iconic models among Soviet digital watches, as it is the first digital watch created in the USSR. It is better known as the NII Zavod Pulsar, in reference to its origin at the Pulsar Institute in Moscow, where the first prototypes were developed in 1973, although it was not commercialised until 1976.

It has an LED display and it was marketed until 1989, approximately. Its main handicap was the high power required for the LEDs, and thus limited battery life. The module offered an accuracy of 0.5 seconds/day. It has a 24h hour and minute display, as well as seconds, day of the month and day of the week (initially represented numerically). During its long production run, the module was modified to enable the day of the week to be displayed with the alphabet. It was also presented in a variety of case formats.

Elektronika B6-202 (30350)

Model No. 30350 is one of Elektronika’s most interesting models, in my opinion. It was first manufactured in 1977 and was in production until 1985, in different cases and display-side presentations. It had the first 6-digit LCD indicator, displaying hours, minutes and seconds in 24-hour format, alongside a day of the week indicator. It has a power save mode, and a pusher to display the month and day of the month. Again, its accuracy is approximately 0.5 seconds/day. Some later models also incorporated a second light pusher on the lower left side of the case.

Below we can show some variants of the model.

This model was produced entirely by Integral and was also the first to bear the brand name “Elektronika 5”. It is also, possibly, the first digital wristwatch that was worn in space. In the photo below we see it on Viktor Vasiliyevich’s wrist in the Soyuz 37 Mission.

Elektronika5-207 (30354)

The module for this watch was the first to incorporate a 1/10 of a second stopwatch, and a countdown function. Its production run was very short, only between 1984 and 1985. It has the usual time and calendar functions and can be switched to energy saving mode.

Elektronika 29361

This is perhaps one of the most complex modules that left the Integral factory, and a bit of a grail for collectors focused on this segment, as very few units were manufactured during their production run (1985-88). Its most outstanding features are the Dot- Matrix LCD display, programmable dual time, two alarms and perhaps the most important one, digital regulation. Although the stated accuracy of the module was an impressive 0.1 seconds/day, its digital trace corrector allowed the user to adjust for much greater real-life deviations, of up to +/-6.8 seconds/day. It is believed that this was due to the very severe seasonal weather, and temperature, patterns seen in the Soviet Union. It basically enabled user-driven temperature compensation. Many others attribute the need for digital regulation on the low quality of Soviet quartz, but we do not believe this to be the case.

This user regulation was a major development, in our view, and has arguably only been superseded by radio control of timekeeping. As Alexander Lazarevich explains, the exact time was set automatically at the factory via a mechanised process reliant on an accurate signal, and the module offered outstanding stated accuracy. Further to this, the user was given the ability to digitally regulate the watch for its operation in the real world, under real use conditions.

Water Resistant Elektronika 52B

The main feature of this module was its water resistance, something quite unusual among Soviet digital watches.

The testing procedures we have reviewed suggest that the following tests were carried out. First, the watch was immersed under water, to a depth of 10 centimetres, and subjected to pressure for 10 minutes, corresponding to an immersion down to 50 metres. Second, tests were then carried out to determine the absence of condensation inside the case. Third, the watch was then heated to a temperature of 30ºC, for 30 minutes. Fourth, 18ºC water was then poured over the glass, and within a minute no condensation at all should have formed on the glass. Only after these steps was the unit considered waterproof.

Elektronika 59

This is Elektronika’s ani-digi creation. Its module is fully integrated, i.e. the analogue and digital modules are synchronised and when setting the time, through the digital unit, the hands automatically move to the digitally assigned time (in the 59B version that I own). This watch pretty much represents the end of the generation of Soviet digital watches and was produced between 1989 and 1993. The model shown below features the words Glasnost and Perestroika on the dial, the reform steps associated with Mikhail Gorbachov’s period as leader of the Soviet Union, which ended with its dissolution in 1989.

Conclusion

I could have presented many more models, such as the 5X series, incorporating the digital regulator, or model No. 29367, which was the first to offer alarm melodies, or the strange prototype shown below with a crown to regulate its functions. But this series must end somewhere.

Electronic digital watches represent a very important part of Soviet watchmaking history, yet they are not a big focus for watch enthusiasts, in general. I hope that this series will widen the appreciation for them, which I believe is certainly warranted.

I would like to finish with a quote from an article in a 1985 issue of Radio Journal, in which a rather striking forecast is made about the future for electronic watches. It shows incredible foresight in predicting something akin to the current widespread sale of products online, and the personalisation of products that is now possible.

“А теперь заглянем в недалекое будущее и представим, как будет происходить покупка электронных наручных часов по индивидуальному заказу в фирменном магазине-салоне «Электроника». Вы приходите и заполняете (кодируете) карту технических характеристик изделия, то есть выбираете из представленного перечня функциональных возможностей, типоразмеров индикатора, блоков те, которые отвечают вашим требованиям. Аналогично выбираете вариант внешнего оформления часов и его исполнение по степени водонепроницаемости. Далее вводите карту в считывающее устройство и взамен получаете карточку-распечатку с выбранным перечнем технических характеристик, точной датой изготовления и стоимостью изделия. Оплачиваете заказ и, придя в указанное время в магазин, получаете часы. Фантастика? Нет — закономерный ход развития электронной техники, ее будущее!”

“And now let’s look into the future and imagine what the purchase of an electronic wristwatch by an individual in an electronics store will look like. You arrive and fill out a card with product specifications, i.e. you choose from a presented list of functions, indicator sizes, and features that meet your requirements. Similarly, you select external design options for the watch and performance criteria, such as the degree of water resistance. Next, you enter the card into a reader and in return you obtain a printout with the selected list of technical characteristics, the exact date of manufacture, and the cost of the product. You pay for the order and, after arriving at the specified time at the store, you receive the watch. Fantasy? No – the natural course of development of electronic equipment, its future!”

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2 comentarios sobre «The Digital Revolution In The Soviet Union. Part 3»

  1. Me los he leído del tirón los tres Miquel. Es increíble lo que sabes de rusos electrónicos. No me extraña que tengas un libro prácticamente escrito sobre este tema.

  2. […] 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. […]

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