07/06/2020

The First Chistopol Wristwatch. The Seed Of The Vostok Factory.

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@therussianwatchcorner

As the title of this post indicates, I would like to introduce the first wristwatch from the Chistopol factory produced in a case with fixed lugs and a logo on the dial.

In case you did not know it, the Chistopol factory was the seed of the much-loved Vostok brand.

As you might have guessed, it is this original model that inspired the current, and so in vogue, Vostok Retro, a piece that commemorates the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Chistopol factory.

Although I will be discussing the watch in the usual terms (describing its technical features, etc.), I will also try to address something that I have not seen in previous writings about the watch. I very much wish to make a small tribute to the people that made it possible. I want to put faces and names to the workers who, with their effort and against adverse odds, managed to make reality something that, a priori, seemed impossible.

As a collector and commentator on Soviet era watchmaking, and having had the pleasure of studying the history of these anonymous heroes, I believe this watch definitely delivers intangible satisfaction every time that I put it on my wrist. Therefore, the main purpose of this post is to try to share this intangible experience with all of you.

Operation Barbarossa

On 22 June, 1941, German troops invaded the Soviet Union, unilaterally ending the treaty of mutual non-aggression known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Treaty, signed by the two powers in 1939. The German advance was practically unstoppable in the first months of the offensive. Part of the German army was a mere 25 km from Moscow, on an open front that was over 1,600 km in length. The harsh winter ahead was fast approaching, with its characteristic gelid temperatures, and the so-called Battle of Moscow was a first turning point (defeat) of the German armies during the Second World War.

The Evacuation

The evacuation refers to the enormous displacement of people and assets that took place from the war front to continental zones further east in the country. This evacuation to the rear was governed and controlled by the Evacuation Council, created just two days after the German invasion. This Council promulgated laws and issued orders to the different administrations that ran industries and civil society. It instigated regrouping measures in the host areas to provide housing and food for the displaced civilian population. It is estimated that in total there were almost 16 million people, and more than 2,500 facilities of all kinds, that were evacuated.

Many of the measures were preventive, aimed at stopping looting by the Germans of strategic industries that might have been useful to them for the war effort, as well as goods of artistic value, and to prevent the seizing of trained civilian population (artists, scientists, specialists…). The programme ran through most of 1942.

Much of the commentary out there portrays the evacuation as a humanitarian act, effective and fast, to protect the population. However, nothing could be further from the truth. If sources are sought, examined , and compared, it becomes clearer that the evacuation was highly disorganised and chaotic, and in a further sense, very cruel towards a large number of the population. One example of this, from an article on the Russian site polit74.ru, cites clear instances of desertions, looting, executions, deportations, and poor hygienic conditions and a lack of food in the host cities, etc.

I extract some paragraph from reports that refer specifically to the evacuation process to the Chelyabinsk area:

06/30/4, in secret

To all district attorneys of the city of the Chelyabinsk region. Regional Committee of the CPSU (b) and the Executive Committee of the Region. On 27 June , 1941, the Council of Workers’ Deputies instructed all the GK and RKVP (b) and the district councils to prepare the housing stock for the resettlement of people from the western regions, whose arrival is expected soon. The resettlement of people will take place both in a free housing fund, and via the compacting of residential density in the city and rural areas (to four square metres per person – Ed.).”

The reality was very different, due to the vast number of people involved and the general chaos all around. The regional prosecutor’s office identified a series of important deficiencies in the operation of the evacuation centre, namely:

  1. Evacuees are not adequately received, so the evacuees, especially children, spend a lot of time looking for evacuation centres.
  2. Because lunch is served at 6 o’clock in the afternoon, all those who arrive in the morning, or after 6 o’clock in the afternoon, are left without food. There is nothing in the buffet either.
  3. The situation is particularly unfavourable in respect o the provision of medical care to patients…
  4. In the rooms of the evacuation centre, especially in the check-in room, dirt is uncomfortable, as is the stink. There are no basic rules of service, such as instead of drinking glasses cans of canned food are used, evacuated, disinfected. Evacuees do not get beds and are forced to wallow in corridors of benches. All these circumstances make for nervous evacuees and cause discontent.

Even so, the evacuation in practical terms was a success. The evacuated plants were transformed into war material factories, and the displaced people were put back to work thanks to the same war effort (not without a martial law, mind you, which forced them to do so). By the end of 1942, the Soviet Union was re-industrialised. It is estimated that Russia’s armament capability at the time already doubled Germany’s, offering some guarantee of success against the enemy.

Watch Factories

The Moscow watch factories were also moved to the eastern regions in the rear of the war. In the case of Moscow’s First Watch Factory, there is accurate and documented information about this event. It serves as a great example to understand how it all unfolded. By inference, we can begin to imagine how the Chistopol factory was subsequently created.

To examine this, it is indispensable to focus on the work by Ms. Inna Gusalova of the museum of the Moscow Polytechnic Institute. In her research, she cites order #104 of December 1941, instructing the evacuation of the plant to the city of Zlatoust, as dictated by the NKMV. This would become the body responsible for the existing watch factories and their reorganisation to support the war effort.

The NKMV can be translated as Popular Commissariat of Mortar Weapons of the USSR. Created in October 1941, at the end of the war it became the Popular Commissariat of Mechanical Engineering and Instrumentation.

The Watch Factory (835) Of Chistopol

Let’s now examine the establishment of the factory from whence our protagonist watch arose. Establishing the exact timeline is not easy because of the lack of original documentation and the contradictory dates that is exposed by that which is available. Nevertheless, we will attempt it. We will start with the research by Mrs. Tatiana Fokina, another researcher at the Museum of the Polytechnic Institute of Moscow. Her works includes the following (an approximate English translation):

In 1941, the team of Moscow’s Secoind Watch Factory was evacuated to the city of Chistopol in the Tatar SSR. Decree #103 was issued on 26 December, 1941. It cites that on the basis of the equipment evacuated from the Second Watch Factory and the Moscow DOZ Factory, a plant will be established in Chistopol, for the production of watches and surveillance mechanisms, giving it the name of Chistopol State Watch Factory, or GKVMV.

From the above we can establish an important fact. The factory was created from the evacuation process of Moscow’s Second Watch Factory, also known as “Slava”. No digitised copy of Decree #103 was immediately available, so I have contacted the Museum of the Polytechnic Institute of Moscow to see if they could provide me with a copy. It seems strange to me that this order is prior to the one issued for the evacuation of Moscow’s First Watch Factory and that it designates the factory by its name and not by its digits, as was usual in this period of war, specifically as factory No. 835. If I obtain a copy for examination, and it requires additional commentary, I shall provide an updated post.

The second important source of information was located on the Slava brand website, and in particular in the book by Mr. Vladimir Georgievich Bogdanov О книге Om часов – ходиков до приборов времени орбитальных космических станций.

From this publication, we can ascertain that on 20 October, 1941, the evacuation to Chistopol began, from a prior stopover in Kazan. It also highlights that in December 1941, equipment belonging to a distillery was installed in Chistopol to restart the factory, which in those early days was dedicated to manufacturing war material. Only in 1942, when at full capacity, did the factory restart production of the Type 1 watch. The book includes a transcript of a document which certifies this information. Needless to say, Moscow’s Second Watch Factory was not completely dismantled (as was also the case with the First). With the limited resources left behind, war material continued to be manufactured at both plants.

Order
Commissioner of the People of Mortars of the USSR
Moscow, No. 27, January 27, 1942

In accordance with the Government’s decision to locate the Second Watch Factory in Chistopol and return part of the equipment of the Second Watch Fctory to the production of consumer goods (pocket watches, alarm clocks and combat watches) to Moscow . ORDER:

1. To the Director of the Second Watch Factory, T. Lukyanov :

a) immediately implement the decision of the State Defence Committee to provide premises for the Second Watch Factory in Chistopol, two secondary schools, a teachers’ institute with a shelter, an agricultural technical school, and a library, with a total area of ​​15,400 square metres;

b) to elaborate within three days and personally approve the plan for the placement of the equipment and the individual production facilities of the plant;

c) organise the transfer of the remaining part of the team from Kazan to Chistopol within two weeks;

d) Upon arrival of the equipment at Chistopol, make the necessary repairs, install it and start operating within 15 days.

People’s Commissioner of Mortar Armament of the USSR [38].

The author designates the Chistopolsky plant as No. 835, and the displaced Second Watch Factory, also to Chistopol, as No. 853. This issue is important for collectors, as it serves to identify and catalogue the types of movements that were made in each factory. On this subject, you can find additional details here, as well as here.

On Vostok’s official website we can find a timeline for the creation of the company itself. The order of evacuation (#180 of October 1941) is found there, and it indicates 1 July, 1942 as the official start date of activity of the plant at full capacity. This is a date, incidentally, much later than that included in the order of 27 January, 1942, cited just above.

A date that also seems important is 29 May, 1947, which is when the plant was officially named Chistopol Watch Factory. Paying attention to the Vostok website, the resumption of manufacturing of the Type 1 did not occur until 1943, which contradicts the information inferred from the Slava Company History Book, more so when we take into account documentation showing that in 1942 both the Chistopol (No. 835) and Zlatoust (No. 845) plants were sending designs and equipment to Moscow’s First Watch Factory, which was at the time involved in the manufacture of time-keeping instruments for aircraft.

The review of these contradictory figures, dates, designations, orders, etc. is cumbersome, but necessary after all. Only after this review is it possible to get an idea of the harsh reality of the evacuation to Chistopol, thereby paying a small tribute to the anonymous people who suffered it in their own flesh.

The long way to Chistopol

As discussed above, in broad strokes, the evacuation was not exactly a pleasant experience for thousands of workers and their families, who had to leave their homes to migrate forcibly to places that many of them did not even know existed. To highlight this, I cite a literal paragraph from an interesting article. According to Lydia Ivanovna Surinova, people evacuated from Moscow spent more than two weeks on the road:

While we were on the road, everyone thought about where we were going to take all this? What kind of city is this Chistopol, because we had never heard of it before. Yet the Chistopolsy received us warmly. We arrived with light clothing, yet there were fierce frosts that winter. They gave us cotton pants, sweatshirts, and we started working.

From the memoirs of Sergeevich Lukyanov, director of Moscow’s Second Watch Factory, we can see the following:

There were severe frosts. The last stage of the move involved equipment. In Kazan, on 27 November, a lack of transport there meant there was no possibility of sending the machines to Chistopol. The workers evacuated from Moscow, after arriving in Kazan, lived in poorly heated barracks, which were barely adapted to live. But it seemed as if nobody noticed these difficulties.

Some additional interesting memories:

170 vehicles of equipment and goods were evacuated, and 488 people, of which 128 were engineers and technicians. The road route from Moscow was not easy. Although the first vehicles arrived in Kazan on 1 November (with chief engineer Parshinov KN), only 28 vehicles were sent on to Chistopol. Navigation on the Kama river was closed, and machines, materials and other equipment were left for winter on the dock in Kazan, outdoors. Subsequently, two laboratory farms were assigned where the equipment that remained in Kazan was transferred to. Soon, though, the Spring melt made it necessary to look for new storage space. It was especially difficult for the workers who were the first to arrive in Kazan. After the cold freight cars, in which they travelled with their families from Moscow for weeks, once in Kazan they were placed in school building near the pier, which also turned out to be unheated. The few workers who managed to reach Chistopol at their own risk had to seek work by themselves. Some were hired to harvest firewood, some to work on the collective farms. Some had no work at all…

There were no instructions given to the Town Hall of Chistopol about the establishment of the watch factory.

I quote a poem by Mikhail Isakosvki (suggesting that Chistopol was the place chosen to evacuate literary celebrities from Moscow) and that presents a vivid testimony of the calamities suffered, even if light compared with the burdens faced by the bulk of the civilian population.

How hard to drag on the sled?
Iron, heavy luggage, –
Dragged and fell themselves.
And stand up, dragging again.
And yet, at least it was difficult for us,
Saved, defended the plant.
And here he is, with all his strength.
Work, breathe, live.

Indeed, the evacuees found it difficult to rebuild their lives, forced to work 14-hour shifts during an extremely cold winter and poorly fed.

Patriotism must have driven them, or the war-time slogans, like Все для фронта все для победы, which translated into English stands for everything for the front, everything for the victory.

Don’t miss the wristwatch worn by the worker.

It is possible to identify the pressures the workforce were under from surviving documents. Below is a work file for a female worker, an agricultural engineer, who joined the watch factory at Chistopol in 1942. The entry reports a failure to comply with a work notification, thereby committing the crime of offence to the state, which I imagine must have been tantamount to treason, as it adds that her trial would be by court martial


Under the circumstances, the thousands of workers, mostly women and children in relocated factories, such as Chistopol, put a lot of effort into their work. By way of examples, the experience of Rosa Rahmatullina, who started working at age 16 in the Chistopol factory, or that of Anastasia Mikhailovna, who was granted an award for courageous work in the great patriotic war 1941-1945.

On the website of the Virtual Museum of the Great Patriotic War of the Republic of Tatarstan, it is possible to find hundreds of examples of courageous, anonymous, people who, thanks to titanic efforts, made it possible for this particular watch to ever exist, and thereby feature in this post. My most heartfelt tribute, and thank you, to all of them.

Once The Factory Is Established

During the war and the early consolidation for the factory, Chistopol produced, apart from mechanical pump detonators, the Type 1 wristwatch (without a logo on the dial), pocket watches, and watches for military use. As we have seen previously, it was not named the Chistopol State Watch Factory until May 1947, when the war was over, when it returned exclusively to the manufacture of watches.

Before incorporating the production of the Salut and Molnija watch lines, and later Pobeda, the watches that were mainly produced in Chistopol, with the factory name printed on the dial, were the two shown below:

In the image above, taken from an exhibition held in Moscow, we can already see the Type 1 with fixed lugs. This kind of case was only made in Chistopol. In the catalogue of the exhibition, the watch is dated to 1948.

And this is where my particular piece comes into play. After more than a month searching in all the right places that I know of (Russian watch forums, watchuseek (WUS), private collections, etc.), I have not been able to find a piece like this that is any older than the one that I own. The (part) exception to this is a pocket watch that already included the dial logo markings, and with its movement dated to 3-47, from a fellow collector at WUS, who was kind enough to show me photos of the watch.

This is the dial side of the watch.

La imagen tiene un atributo ALT vacío; su nombre de archivo es s-l1600-2-1.jpg

This is the movement of the watch, dated 1-48.

The movement is well known by Soviet watch enthusiasts, the k-43. It is important to note, however, there were subtle differences in their construction and in the design of various parts (such as the ratchet wheel, the rocker bridge support, the regulator…) among the different factories that produced these calibers. None of this detail will be covered in this particular post, as it would be quite extensive. Yet it is essential to know these subtle differences when considering the purchase of a Type 1, as they are all closely linked to the process of evacuation and re-establishment of the various factories.

The case is large, measuring 43 mm without the crown, exactly like the new Vostok Retro version, and its case back is notched to snap in for a perfect fit. On the other hand, the lug width is a relatively narrow 16 mm, compared top 20 mm for the re-issued timepiece.

On the dial side, there are three important features to note.

First, the logo. If you wish to acquire a Chistopol-made watch, it is important not to confuse it with one manufactured at the Zlatoust factory, since the spelling of Chistopolsky is exactly the same on both types.

Second, the hands should be black and long. They widen outwards, and end in very sharp tips. This type of hands was only made at the factory in Chistopol, so it is a definite distinguishing factor to look out for.

Third, if we look closely at the train of the seconds hand, the tens are highlighted by a small black triangles.

It is a large watch with a lot of presence on the wrist, albeit more discrete than the Type 1 variant with articulated lugs.

I believe this is a very special watch due to its dating, as it is the oldest one that I know to be in existence, at least until an earlier one appears. I also believe it is rather special due to all the people who went through the impossible to make the watch possible. As I said at the very start of the post, I would love if your attention was somehow drawn to them, rather than the watch itself.

I would like to finish this post thanking Mr. Alan F. Garratt, for having quoted this content in his fantastic book The Birth of Soviet Watchmaking.

I hope you liked it, comrades. 🙂

11 comentario en “The First Chistopol Wristwatch. The Seed Of The Vostok Factory.

  1. This is one of the reason why I got sooooo attracted to the russian watches. The human history behind, the “intraHistoria” we are talking about a country who created a watch industry out of nothing! Well may be some bankrupted american watch companies…

    I would like to comment the fantastic research job done by Miquel, specially about the setting and establishment of the factory in Chistopol before the evacuation it self. I point out this as some sources mentioned to me that the original plan was to evcuate the plant further river up, till Perm. But due to the freeze of the river the ships could not advance further than Chistopol… Its funny how even local people assume that the establishment of the factory there had to be accident!

  2. Very good information about those seminal watches and factory. It explains why we have a Vostok factory in Tartaristan, «near» Kazan and Samara. Reminding USSR was a union of several peoples, cultures and lands. I always remember the camels who came with red army from the east to Berlin… And the old generals of red army with their chinese looking face. In final, i never Forget that for the peoples of USSR, even in our days, there was no II World War, there was the great patriotic war against the fascist beast.

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