Fans of Soviet watches always encounter descriptions such as ¨Soviet military watch¨ or ¨Russian army wristwatch¨ in sales ads, articles on the topic, etc. Unfortunately, I believe that in 99% of cases these statements are false, or at the very least misleading. When collecting such pieces, it is essential to recall that most Soviet watches were neither made for the military, nor were they standard military issue.
Today, I want to show you a true military watch, made for the army and which was military issue for officers before, and during, WWII.
But what is a military watch? And what about a military issue watch?
A military watch is one that has certain characteristics that make it appropriate for military use. These characteristics vary with time, depending, of course, on the period in which it was built. If you want to see good examples of these types of watches and their characteristics, I recommend the following reference.
A military issue watch requires something much more specific, i.e. that it is provided to the soldier as part of the equipment, just as would be the case with a firearm or clothing. These pieces, which belonged to the soldier in trust, had to be cared for, just like any other piece of military equipment.
One of the first wristwatches that was both a military watch, and military issue to the Soviet army, was the Kirovskie K-43.
There is some background to this piece that needs to be covered, however briefly. In the aftermath of the 1929 market crash, the American Dueber-Hampden Watch Co. was almost bankrupt. The Soviet Government, under pressure to industrialise and modernise the country after the Revolution, bought a large part of the company’s debt, in a terribly capitalist twist… In exchange, it demanded assistance with the construction of a pocket watch and wristwatch factory in Russia, to include shipping over qualified workers, machinery, and engineers.
Previously, the Soviets had tried to buy the Ansonia Watch Co., but the target company had demanded too much so the deal came to nothing. Dueber-Hampden, however, had little choice but to accept, and in 1930, construction of what would become Moscow’s First State Watch Factory began, later renamed ¨Kirov¨ in 1935.
In the book by my dear friend Alan F. Garratt, we find extensive and accurate information about this event.
By 1935, this factory produced various types of pocket watches and wristwatches based on different Hampden movements, and housed in a diversity of cases. Below you will find images of a piece from 1939 which is part of my personal collection.
It is not exactly known when, but it is generality thought that soon after 1935 the Soviet army required the services of the Kirov factory in order to build the Type-1, a watch with military characteristics that incorporated numerals and hands that were luminescent, i.e. painted with radium, easy legibility, and 24-hour numeral markers.
In the images below, we can see different officers of the Soviet military branches wearing their Type-1 watches.
In 1941, Germany invades the Soviet Union and our protagonist has a baptism of fire. The watch factories were evacuated to the Urals, as we examined in our publication about the evacuation to Chistopol. This did not stop productioon of the Type-1 Kirovskie. On the contrary, it is likely that more of them were made because this watch had become military issue.
Buy how do we know this was a military issue watch? If we examine the piece carefully, we can see an issue number on the dial, directly under the hands.
We also have photographic evidence of its use in the field, such as in the press cutting shown below.
In 1943, the evacuated factory began to built a Special Kirosvskie for the paratrooper force, with a dark dial. Currently, these pieces are incredibly hard to find.
Nowadays, it is quite difficult to find this type of watch in good, and original, condition. There are a lot of fakes out there, and Franken watches… This is why it is advisable to consult an expert to ensure originality before considering the purchase of such a watch. I have come across some really awful copies, that are easy to spot as fakes for an experience observer, but an over enthusiastic fan with limited experience could still fall prey to them.
The movements tend to give away whether they are real or not, but images of the calibers are not always immediately available. I would advise that you walk away if such images are not forthcoming from any vendour. Here, and also here, you can find some good advice about this matter.
If I compare the caliber of my model (on the left, below) with that of a model belonging to Dashiel Stanford (centre image) and further to another belonging our colleague @javierreloj (on the right), there is little doubt about their originality. Added comfort comes from the date stamps, which mean that they were all produced around the same time.
It is only fitting to end this post by remembering that these watches are museum pieces, shown on occasion of the Moscow Exhibition to commemorate 240 years of Russian watch making. It is a duty to look after them.