Vostok Amphibia Review (420 Case): Owning Dive Watch History

By: Kaz Mirza

People may not realize it, but when they think of the Vostok Amphibia, they’re usually thinking of the 420 case. This is due in large part to the famous Ship’s wheel “Zissou Amphibia” worn by Bill Murray in the Wes Anderson flick “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” But the reality is that the Vostok Amphibia line is incredibly diverse. There are currently over 10 different Amphibia cases and even more dial variations which accounts for waaaay too many iterations to count – and they’re all incredibly affordable. The truth is that I had incredibly crippling decision paralysis when it came time to figure out which modern Vostok Amphibia I was going to get. Eventually I settled on the 420 case with the tealish/green paratrooper dial, which is the piece I’ve decided to review here.

It’s imperative that you understand why I’m choosing to specifically target this write-up as a Vostok Amphibia 420 Review. If you check out other Vostok Amphibia reviews they won’t usually specify which Amphibia they’re reviewing. I can tell you just from clicking around though that most of them seem to be for the 420 case. However, those assessments are typically based on the 420 case as if this Amphibia is representative of what you can expect from all Amphibia – which is bonkers. This Vostok Amphibia review will assess and critique the 420 case in relation to its inclusion among the whole suite of Amphibia offerings (i.e what makes this specific model special). This also means that Mike and I will end up doing reviews of all the case variations down the road. So stay tuned for that! But first, on to the Vostok Amphibia 420 review.

The 420 Case

The Amphibia 420 case (pictured above with a modded bezel) is particularly noteworthy simply because of its roundness and lack of robust angles. Other Amphibia models will have sharper angles either in the lugs or even in the bezel. But here the roundness is actually quite welcome for me because it puts the dial elements forward facing. With the Amphibia 420 case the first thing you’ll notice is the usually dial. Like many Vostok Amphibia (except the 120 case (review coming soon)) this model has no crown guard, which helps preserve the roundness of the case.

In terms of how the watch “feels,” it’s crafted from stainless steel and for the price it feels pretty solid. One could make the argument that for a 200m dive watch, it may feel a bit light. But that’s not something I personally subscribe to. If you heard our podcast on the history of the Vostok Amphibia then you’ll know that judging the Amphibia in general on the same standards as other divers just doesn’t compute. It’s apples to oranges as far as I’m concerned. The case however does render damage and scratches easily because its so highly polished. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a watch like the Vostok Amphibia (any Amphibia) that wears damage and age so well. In fact, as you can probably tell, there are already some dings and scratches on mine that I’ve come to see as a badge of honor. No Vostok Amphibia should be completely scratch-free.

 

What I love about this model is that it’s probably one of the more delicate case profiles in the whole Amphibia suite.

From the side the 420 case displays an interesting profile. The lugs have a downward slope, which accentuates the almost circular UFO shape of the case. What I love about this model is that it’s probably one of the more delicate case profiles in the whole Amphibia suite. It’s almost more reminiscent of 1950s and 60s dress watch cases. The overall wearing experience is comfortable since the case size is on the more wearable/smaller spectrum (39mmx46mmx15mm). So unlike other dive watches, you won’t necessarily have to be fighting with bulky lugs or watch width’s the extend beyond the width of your wrist.

Vostok Amphibia 420 Case Size

  • 39mm in diameter
  • 46mm lug to lug
  • 15mm thick (with the crown)

One of the more interesting and unique aspects of any Amphibia (not just the 420 case) is the wobbly crown. In brief, the crown will feel broken when you handle it. Folks reach out to me every week saying that their new (or vintage) Vostok Amphibia are broken because the crown is all wobbly. This is actually a genius design feature where the crown and stem system is spring loaded in two pieces. When the crown is screwed in, it’s two pieces. When unscrewed and slightly pulled out, it’s engaged into one piece. This was done so that when the watch is under extreme ocean pressure, the crown doesn’t stab into and damage the movement. So if you buy the Amphibia 420 and the crown is all wobbly, don’t worry. You just joined the beloved TBWS #wobblycrowncrew.

Quality wise though the crown on these modern Vostok Amphibia can be an issue. Although the function seems to be fine. The actual quality of the metal used and the threading seem to have gone downhill since the days of the USSR. When you’re using the crown it can feel a little tinny and thin. For me it’s not a deal breaker though because this watch still offers a lot for the price, but it’s worth being conscious of before you purchase.

The bidirectional bezel is another aspect for buyers to get used to. The bidirectional bezel was popular with vintage dive watches since the manufacturing process was easier. Obliviously many of the dive watches that the Amphibia was contemporary with back then upgraded for the more reliable unidirection click bezel. However the Amphibia still rocks the bidirectional option. This is the result of the fact that the Vostok Amphibia basically hasn’t stopped production since it started in the late 60s. As the USSR started collapsing many of its treasured watch factories simply started closing (since they were all government owned). During this time ownership of the factory essentially changed hands gradually to product distributors and local Chistopol city stakeholders because the government began handing out ownership shares in the company in order to pay its debts. This kept production alive because the people who were owed money simply just started selling Vostoks wherever they could around the world to recoup their payments.

Because of this the Vostok Amphibia has basically remained unchanged in production functionalities. I tell folks all the time it’s literally a vintage dive watch that’s still in production. This really adds a lot to the charm as far as I’m concerned. But in terms of the bidirectional bezel, it has it’s pros and cons. Pros are that obviously you can move in any direction you want to set the bezel. A big con is that sometimes the friction action (opening chapter name for my teenage years in my soon to be released Memoir) can be a bit loose, slightly adjusting on its own. But the great thing is that the modding community around Vostok Amphibia is HUGE, cheap, and really a lot of fun. Modding your Amphibia bezel is really easy and can yield some really interesting looks. Plus Vostok actually supports this by offering a whole suite of fun and different bezels for folks to buy and swap around. Both of the bezels mods pictured above were purchased from Meranom/Vostok.

 

Featured Insights
 

Vostok Amphibia 420 Case

$87 on Amazon

Case

• 39mm x 46mm x 15mm – beautifully vintage case dimensions with a pronounced acrylic crystal dome

Dial

• This model features the green/teal Red Star Paratrooper dial – slit sunburst effect and large white numbers (unlumed) offer great legibility (many dial and case options available)

Strap

• Bracelet isn’t the best – recommend being prepared to pair it with an aftermarket strap (most straps will look good here)

Movement

• Vostok 2416 Caliber – historic automatic movement still in modern production but running vintage specs – -20/+60 seconds a day with approximately 31 hours of power

The overall appeal of the Amphibia 420 case though is that quite simply it just looks nautical as hell. It looks almost like a porthole. The circular shape of the case is the porthole structure and the iconic Amphibia 420 bezel dots look like porthole bolts. This nautical theme is even more prevalent with the Ship’s Wheel dial and the iconic Scuba Dude.

The Dial

Vostok has really embraced the history of the Amphibia by having modern versions of almost every dial that the iconic dive watch has ever used. Simple and legible dials all the way to more graphically inclined ones (plus everything in between) – I can confidently state that there is a Vostok Amphibia Dial variation to satisfy every single watch collector’s taste. The dial I’ve chosen for my Amphibia 420 is the semi-iconic paratrooper dial.

The dial has a slight sheen to it, which can be fun to spot in the right serendipitous lighting. On my piece there is a super slight, almost invisible gradient where the bottom portion is a touch lighter. It may be hard to see in photos, but in person it brings a nice refreshing note so the color doesn’t feel too one-dimensional. The markers are painted on Arabic numerals with the iconic USSR Red Star at 12 o’clock. Unfortunately the Arabic numberals aren’t lumed. However, there are little dots above each marker, which are lumed. The lume itself really isn’t great, but for a watch in this price range I’ve totally seen way worse (but obviously don’t expect Seiko lume).


This lume is also on the Vostok Amphibia 420’s hands. The hands that Vostok has chosen to use today have been used in pieces are far back at the late 70s/early 80s. The hour hand is a very basic triangle on a rectangle while the minute hand is an elongated bar that tapers towards the ends. Overall these two work in tandem quite well to support legibility (especially in relation to the markers). The seconds hand can be a bit odd. On most of these new Vostok Amphibia pieces, it’s red where on much older pieces the seconds hand was the same color as the hour and the minute. The red can pop a bit more, however when put in front of green dials like my Amphibia 420, the colors tend to get a bit muddled, making it hard to spot (or maybe I’m red-green colorblind – you guys let me know). The second hand’s little pip does support legibility a bit though. However, the fact that the seconds hand is just a little too short to reach the ticks on the outside perimeter of the dial may annoy some folks. For me it’s not that big of an issue. Also, the Amphibia crystal is the iconic and functional acrylic dome (#datdome).

The Bracelet

You guys know those Hersey Kisses tin foil wrappers? Yea – that’s what these modern Vostok Amphibia bracelets are made of – and this 420 case is no exception. The overall feel as soon as you handle it is that it’s very thin and tinny feeling (a bit like the crown I mentioned earlier). The endlinks are hollow and the clasp mechanism isn’t really the best. The coolest thing that the bracelet has going for it though is that aesthetically it really fits the look of the watch. The other interesting point to keep in mind is that since the Vostok Amphibia is basically still a vintage dive watch that’s still in production, the bracelet is right inline with that. Weirdly enough, it feels like a vintage dive watch bracelet.

Regardless, I would suggest to anyone that when they bought a Vostok Amphibia with a bracelet, that it would be prudent to also get some NATOs or other fun straps. My Amphibia 420 tends to be a strap monster in that it really look incredible on anything. The grey strap you’re seeing in this Vostok Amphibia Review is a custom suede piece from good friend of the TBWS podcast: @ealeathergoods – dude does killer work and is a lot of fun to communicate with during the course of a custom order. Oh, and the Amphibia 420’s lug width is 18mm.

The Vostok 2416 Movement

Like almost every aspect of the Vostok Amphibia, the 2416 caliber movement has history as well. Unlike many other Soviet Watch calibers, the Vostok 2416 movement seems to be entirely soviet designed as opposed to bought or …”borrowed” from other neighboring European or overseas manufacturers. The 24xx line of movements started as hand wind calibers (like the famous 2409/2414 (w/ date wheel), and it wasn’t until about the 1980s when an automatic rotor was added, resulting in the 2416 we know and love today. This movement has remained relatively unchanged since it’s creation almost 40 years ago, which is (again) totally inline with it being a vintage dive watch that’s still in production.

The Vostok 2416 movement accuracy is rated at -20/+60 Seconds a day with approximately 31 hours of power reserve. In addition to automatic winding, it can also be manually wound. Interestingly enough Vostok claims that the 2416 movement has an average service term of 10 years. I’m assuming that means they’re claiming the movement can go about 10 years without needing service. Considering how reliable and robust they made these movements to be back in the USSR, I believe it. However it should be noted that some people have had QC issues with modern Vostok pieces. Nothing too raise any alarms, these are normal things that can happen with any type of product distribution on a global scale like this. But hand settings and movement lubrication issues have been noted.

These are easily addressed and fixable (if they even come up at all) and they present a good opportunity for someone to get into Vostok modding, which is a blast. And please note, the 2416 has a date wheel (yeay!), but it doesn’t quick-set (boo!). That means if you need to reset the date because the watch sat in a drawer for too long, then you need to use the crown to rotate the hands around the dial the appropriate amount of times. Two rotations is one day – so if you need to set the date from the 1st to the 12th… you’ll be sitting there for a few minutes moving the hands around the dial until the date is right. But as long as you keep the Amphibia wound up within its 30 hour power reserve lifespan you should be fine. However, the date clicks in super fast just before the hour hand reaches the 12 o’clock marker, which is admittedly a lot of fun to play with.

Final Thoughts

I’ll leave you with this – the Vostok Amphbia 420 (and all of the cases, really) offer something that’s truly becoming less and less available in horology: fun. In my opinion the Vostok Amphibia makes watch collecting fun again! You can find yourself caught in a black hole of looking up Amazon or Meranom listings until eventually seeing something you love. Then you brace for impact before you go and look at the price – but to your gleeful surprise, it’s only around $80 or so 0_o. That’s a fun and positive shopping experience that doesn’t happen anymore. With almost any other brand that same experience would end with a price tag that I (broke as hell) would never be able to afford. But with the Vostok Amphibia that’s not the case.

 

When you’re wearing the Amphibia on your wrist you’re wearing a piece of ingenious USSR necessity-driven technical innovation…

But more than just the affordability of the piece, there’s so much history. When you’re wearing the Amphibia on your wrist you’re wearing a piece of ingenious USSR technical innovation that occurred in a necessity-driven vacuum. The soviets designed this thing to suit their needs and they didn’t take any cues from any other contemporary dive watches of the time (the Submariner or the 50 Fathoms). Instead the look of the Amphibia was driven by how they worked within their constricted manufacturing practices (be sure to check out Ep. 78 of the TBWS podcast for a full breakdown of the incredible history of the Vostok Amphibia – I’m also working on a proper write up, which I’ll link to from here). And it’s a testament to that original drive and design know-how that we’re still wearing and loving these things today.

On Amazon Vostok Amphibia Prices* usually hover around $80 or so. But on Meranom (the Official Retailer of the Vostok Factory in Chistopol) the prices tend to be a few bucks less and the selection is MUCH larger (however shipping can take several weeks if you’re in the US).

If you have any questions or comments about the Vostok Amphibia 420 or any Amphibia model, please let me know in the comments below!