So You Want to Buy A Raketa Big Zero…
By: Kaz Mirza
Getting the small details on the Big Zero can be tough since it uses the Raketa 2609 caliber, one of the most widely used Raketa movements during the Soviet Union. The fact that many different watches used the 2609 means (more often than not) the case the case, hands, dials, crystal, and crowns were interchangeable, which is great for mass industrial production, but bad for watch collectors. Basically, you can have a Raketa Big Zero with the right dial, but the wrong hands; or it’s possible to have the right hands, but the wrong case. So when you make the choice to hunt down a Big Zero of your own, you gotta be informed. That’s where this write-up will be able to help you. I’ll be breaking down what to look for in the (1) Dial, (2) Hands, (3) Case, and (4) Crystal of an authentic Raketa Big Zero.
Obviously this is the most iconic feature of the piece. Believe it or not though, there are fakes out there, so it’s important to know the nuances of the real thing. First, note the shape of the wedge indices at 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11. The tip of each wedge is slightly rounded offering a soft presentation. A lot of fake dials tend to get the rounding of the edge of this wedge wrong – so keep an eye out for that. Also, it should be noted that some have suggested that the sharper tipped wedges on certain dials are in fact authentic since they’ve been spotted in catalogs from the 80s. However, I will put forth that even if those dials are real, seeing them in the classic cushion type case of the Raketa Big Zero that we’re talking about here is inauthentic and frankened (the act of cobbling together parts from different watches in order to create a new watch). The catalogs in reference show a complete different type of case shape, which can then kindle the argument that it’s not even really a Big Zero. So the headline is, if you’re looking for the iconic, authentic Big Zero, you want to see rounded-tipped wedges (in conjunction with the other items we’ll discuss below).
Now the logo and country designation trip people up. First, it’s normal to see the logo in two different ways: “Paketa” and “Raketa.” In Russian Cyrillic, “P” is “R” – so if you see a Big Zero with “Raketa” it’s more modern since the USSR started adopting English on their dials closer to their collapse (1992). This switch from Russian to English is also seen in the country designation where older pieces will have “CCCP” and newer pieces will simply say “Made in Russia.”
Now that being said, having an understanding of the switch from Russian to English can be crucial, because if you see a Big Zero with “Paketa” as the logo but “Made in Russia” as the country designation, that’s a red flag as the dial should never contain both English and Russian. Another red flag that I’ve seen often is the dial have no country designation at all – if you don’t see that, don’t buy it.
One of the most important thing to also know is that the Big Zero has applied markers – they aren’t printed on the dial or anything like that. It’s very subtle, but the wedges and the numbers appear to be a type of glossy resin or thing metal that are applied to the dial. So if you’re looking at a listing and you see that the markers appear to be flat – it’s a red flag. Although, to be fair, it’s hard to tell sometimes in those pictures (come on, everyone selling Russian watches on eBay and Etsy – take better pictures), but I have seen some shots with great detail and you can catch the applied markers pretty clearly.
Like a mole on a nose, the wrong hands on a Big Zero cannot be unseen once spotted. The hands of the Big Zero are simple but quite unique; they’re bold rectangles mitigated by their almost too-shortedness. You’ll also note that the front ends have a slight tip to them, so they aren’t perfect rounded. The second hand is where you’ll want to pay attention since people often change these out. Note that although the point is normal and straughtforward, the back of the hand slightly flares out like a partially open folding fan. This is a crucial detail and one you want to keep an eye out for when hunting authentic Raketa Big Zeros.
Strangely enough, what I see a lot are Big Zeros with hands from the Raketa Perpetual Calendar. You can spot this franken-disaster by noting that the perpetual calendar hands are quite thin and long, as opposed to slightly too short and bold, which is authentic to the Big Zero – keep an eye out for that.
The case of the Raketa Big Zero is just goddam lovely if you ask me, which is why it’s so infuriating when I see franken pieces with the wrong case. An authentic Big Zero is shaped kinda like a shield with a smooth, press on bezel that has its edge beveled slightly towards the acrylic crystal. From an angle, you see the case has a dome like curvature in its greater structure. The presence of the lugs is actually quite small (which can make pairing the Big Zero with a strap kinda hard since there is hardly any room there).
What you’ll see a lot are franken Big Zeros that have the wrong lugs. This particular curvature is lost and you’ll see pieces with sharper angles – keep an eye out for that. On an authentic Big Zero, you’re eye should be able to follow a single curve from the midpoint of the case diameter all the way to the tip of the lug without impediment or direction change – think of it as a veer in the road versus a sharp turn. The diameter of the case should veer towards the tips of the lugs.
I will say now that finding any vintage Rusian watch with an authentic crystal is hard. This is because the majority of them were acrylic and after many, many years and exposure to the elements, that exposure damaged and/or discolored the acrylic. So when people sell the watches today, they usually replace the crystal immediately since in their minds they think people will pay more for a watch that has a cleaner crystal (it’s like taking acetone to all those Rembrandts you have in your attic…). That being said, the crystal on the Big Zero you see here (MY Big Zero) is a replacement. I’ve only seen a handful of them with the original. So I wouldn’t beat yourself up if you can’t find one with the right acrylic, it’s pretty tough.
However, an authentic Raketa Big Zero crystal isn’t a dome. It’s shaped more like a hockey puck. It has sharp edges that angle up 90 degrees towards a flat surface. It looks like a round table top. If anyone out there has a good quality shot of their Raketa Big Zero with the authentic crystal that I can use here I’d really appreciate it.
Listen, this thing is by no means complete, and you’re going to have questions about things I may not have covered in here. But what I’ve put together above is an amazing place to start. That being said, please leave comments below or reach out to us directly on IG or at [email protected] for any specific questions you may have. I’m also more than happy to look at any specific listings you find to offer a second pair of eyes; it’s something I’ve already done for a lot of people and I’d rather have you guys reach out and ask me any questions about the Big Zero you have than to have you buy something that may not be what you expect – that would suck and I’d love to do whatever I can to prevent that.
Kaz has been collecting watches since 2015, but he’s been fascinated by product design, the Collector’s psychology, and brand marketing his whole life. While sharing the same strong fondness for all things horologically-affordable as Mike (his TBWS partner in crime), Kaz’s collection niche is also focused on vintage Soviet watches as well as watches that feature a unique, but well-designed quirk or visual hook.