Nota: Esta es la entrada original. La versión en castellano la encontraréis en este vínculo.
Today in the “TheRussianWatchCorner” we plan to examine a watch that I would not quite classify as “unusual”, yet it definitely has certain characteristics that make it rather unique within the wide spectrum of Soviet watches.
Half-way through the 1950s, the Soviet watch industry was in a strong growth phase, both in terms of brands and the products offered. The Soviet purchase of the French Lip, and the modernisation of factories in its aftermath, was yielding results. Each of these plats built many models of watches, sold under different brand names, that relied on one or two calibers, modified as necessary. I believe this period represents the “golden age” of Soviet watchmaking. We already discussed some of this in prior posts devoted to the “Sportivnie” and the “Sturmanskie”.
In the mid-1960s, the industry and its factories were reorganised, and new umbrella brands were established, which would last until the fall of the Soviet regime in the late 1980s. Many of the brands seen prior to this restructuring disappeared and have long since been forgotten. One such brand is “Ural”, which is behind the watch that we are discussing today.
The Chelyabinsk factory (known as “Molnija” following the reorganisation) named the watch after the mountain range where the plant was located (“Ural” or “Урал” in Russian).
So, what specific qualities make this watch unusual, or at the very least “different”?
Let’s begin with the case, which is made fully out of aluminium. At the time, the material commonly used to make cases was chrome-plate brass. Aluminium was used, albeit on rare occasions. There are some examples of aluminium cases made by the Pobeda, Start and Chaika brands, however “Ural” is the first brand to produce its entire collection, at a given moment in time, in aluminium cases1. The cases were anodised in gold or with chemical salts in order to provide protection and different colourings. In the image below, which shows the spectacular private collection belonging to my dear friend Dashiel, we can see the various finishes for the cases.
Another peculiarity is the shape of the case, with its fancy teardrop lugs that are so reminiscent of the “Art Deco” aesthetics which so dominated American watchmaking in the 1940s and much of the 1950s. Furthermore, its size, at 40 mm in diameter, was greater than the other watches produced at the time. This owed to its caliber, which we shall discuss below. Overall, its size and special aesthetics make this an elegant and noteworthy piece.
In the catalogue shown below, from 1960, we encounter its reference number, which is YH-201K/6.
A further distinguishing aspect, which has generated some controversy, relates to its caliber. Although we do not have access to any catalogue images to demonstrate it, there were two versions of the “Ural” made. The first had a central seconds hand, and the second version had no seconds hand at all. In the images below we can see the version without a seconds hand, and its caliber.
For quite a long time it was widely thought that these examples without a seconds hand were modifications carried out by individuals, i.e. what is commonly known as a Frankenstein watch. However, there is source, just one mind you, that confirms the existence of this version. Although it is a mere paragraph, the text below from a repair manual confirms this version is genuine. Even so, when contemplating the purchase of a no seconds hand version, it is necessary to ensure that it is equipped with an original caliber, and not one manufactured later by Molnija (from 1964 onward) or beforehand by the Second Watch Factory.
The central seconds hand version carries a much more recognisable caliber, as we can see in the image below.
In the image below from the aforementioned 1960 catalogue, we can appreciate a full description of the caliber.
The calibers used in the manufacture of the “Ural” are merely two modifications (with no seconds hand, and with a central seconds hand) of the Chk-6, which were later named 3600 y 3608, respectively. This fact we can establish via this interesting article, or classification.
The base caliber was developed at Moscow’s Second Watch Factory and is known as the ChK-6. It was later renamed 3602 and we have discussed it previously as it was also the base for the cronograph cailber ChK-28.
This caliber was developed originally for pocket watches and led to a curious situation. From 1958, the standards and rules for the manufacture of men’s wristwatches (incoporated into GOST 6519-58) stated that the calibers had a maximum diameter of 34 mm. Given that the Chk-6 had 36 mm in diameter, the watch we are discussing was in quasi-legal limbo during the period when it was manufactured and sold.
In summary, I venture to state that the “Ural” is a relatively unknown watch, as well as an underappreciated one, among aficionados. However, it has unique features that make it special, in my view, and would be a worthy constituent of any serious Soviet watch collection.
As I always do in these cases, I need to advise readers that the luminescent models built before 1960 were painted with radium salts. Therefore, caution needs to be taken when manipulating and storing such pieces.
1 Whereas most of its production used aluminium cases, it is also possible to find examples in brass cases.