Vostok Classica Review (690B24):
An Homage to The Vostok Precision

By: Kaz Mirza

When I say “Vostok”  most of you will say “Amphibia” – that’s some boilerplate horological word association for you. In the late 1960s the first Amphibia watches started rolling out of the Chistopol watch factory. They were Soviet Union’s unique solution for Russian divers who wanted a Soviet conceived and created timepiece so they could stop relying on exports from outside the country. The Amphibia is a piece of dive watch history and it helped make the Vostok brand name synonymous with dive watches. But among the fame and popularity of the Amphibia a critical part of Vostok’s history was lost.

Before the Amphibia and the Komandirskie became popular (and before “Vostok” was even the brand’s official name) there were a series of more dressy and less sporty pieces that would lay the foundation for what this manufacturer would become. In 2018 Vostok (and Meranom, the brand’s official retailer) decided to pay homage to this forgotten past by creating the new Vostok Classica. The Classica is a three-hand dress watch inspired by the early “Vostok Precision.”

But is the Vostok Classica a bit too outside the modern norm for the brand? How does the watch actually measure up in relation to the reverence and “quirk factor” of the Amphibia? Is this a faithful homage to the forgotten Vostok Precision?

The Vostok Precision 2809

Quick Soviet watch history lesson – by the 1950s the Soviet Union had a relatively solid foundation in the mass production of mechanical timepieces. Soviet movements being created by the various different factories around the country were noted for their reliability, robustness, and ease of servicing. However there was one facet of horology that eluded them from the beginning: accuracy.

Their European neighbors had achieved remarkable feats of horological accuracy and precision in the form of chronometer-grade movements. One of the more noteworthy achievements was the Zenith Calibre 135 created in the late 1940s. Now there were two ways in which the Soviet Watch Industry generally grew itself during this time period: (1) buying the patents and designs of other brands or (2) …”acquiring” the patents and designs of other brands. The Zenith Calibre 135 most likely falls into the latter category.

In the late 1950s The Soviet Union began manufacturing their own version of the Zenith 135 called the 2809. Main differences between the 135 and the 2809 include:

    • The removal of the 135’s subdial second hand and creation of the 2809’s center position seconds sweep
    • An increased jewel count (most likely to accommodate the center seconds gears)
    • A lack of movement decoration (movement decoration was falling out of fashion within Russian horology at this time as the Cold War escalated)

The 2809 was Russia’s only ever Chronometer-grade movement. There were 3 main dial variations of the Vostok Precision and this 2018 Vostok Classica is paying homage to the most popular dial version, which was produced during the 1960s. Production of the Vostok 2809 continued into the early 70s until manufacturing ceased and the movement faded into obscurity.

If anyone else is curious about the 2809 please let me know – there’s a lot more to say but for the purposes of this Vostok review I wanted to keep things short.


 
 

The Case:

This modern Vostok Classica features a 3-part case construction. A very high polish beveled bezel is sunk into a metal brushed center housing piece. The interplay of polished and brushed is what really makes the case attractive and helps bring it a more modern sensibility since the original Vostok Precision case would have been entirely polished.

However, the Vostok Classica tempers the drive to be too modern by keeping the case dimensions incredibly classic and very on-par with the design sensibilities of the past Precision.

Vostok Classica Case Size

    • 39mm in diameter
    • 46.2mm lug to lug
    • 10.6mm in thickness


Now while the original Precision was approx. 34mm in diameter, I say the modern Classica’s measurements are still damn wearable and tasteful by today’s standards. The long protrusion of the lugs allows the Classica to not feel too small. However, if you have a larger wrist (mine in the photos is approx. 6.5 inches) and you’re accustomed to larger watches, then this piece may not be for you. But if you’re looking for an affordable dress watch with some unique design-provenance this Vostok is a great fit.

The case back is a traditional screw down type, which is a departure from the iconic screw-down ring case back that was on the original Precision (which also went on to Vostok Amphibia so iconic). However the quality of the case back on the Vostok Classica is top notch for a piece like this. The case back is a similar brushed finish to the center housing piece and the Cyrillic text around the exhibition window is done very well. If I could read Russian I would be able to read the text without impediment (for those curious the case back reportedly reads: “Stainless steel | Water resistance 5ATM | Shock-proof escapement”).

Being a multi piece construction case in this price range you may run into some slight fit and finish hangups. For instance on this model here if I run my finger around the junction where the bezel and center piece housing meet, I may slightly graze and catch the protrusion highlighted in the photo above. It doesn’t impact the function of the watch but if you’re a nervous watch groper like me than it’s something that may briefly catch your attention (note to self: make “Nervous Watch Groper” business cards).

However for a piece in this price range it’s certainly not a deal breaker since the rest of the Vostok Classica’s case is really quite well constructed and aesthetically pleasing.

The Dial:

The model I’m reviewing (Vostok Classica 690B24) has a grey sunburst dial with a mixture of pigmented dial elements and applied markers. The most striking feature is the texture of the sunburst and how attractively it rolls the light. The painted elements are the minute/second ticks as well as the iconic Vostok Precision Arabic numerals.

The pigmented numerals are elongated and bring a sense of “off-beat” vibe to the watch, which is very welcomed because if they weren’t there it would have been way too easy for the Vostok Classica to become forgettable. The applied polished markers also carry a bit of the numeral’s character because the doubled domed mineral crystal distorts them, which creates a tapered effect similar to the pigmented numerals.

The stick hands create a very clean and firm presentation, however they’re so high polished that sometimes it can be difficult to tell the time if the light isn’t just right indoors. I imagine this is an issue only on my darker dial – lighter dials would still have stark enough contrast for the hands to be legible.

The grey has this wonderful ability to show so many different hues and shades. I’m honestly surprised at how dynamic a grey dial can be and for anyone interested in the Vostok Classica the dial’s sunburst finish is easily one of the coolest selling points.

The Movement:

So just to quickly address this – the Vostok Classica movement isn’t chronometer certified, but it’s a little piece of Vostok history in its own right. The Vostok Classica is powered by the caliber 2409 – a manual wind 17 jewel movement with a 38 hour power reserve. Rated at approximately -20/+60 seconds a day from Vostok, the movement isn’t going to win any accuracy awards anytime soon.

However the 2409 represents a very clear ancestral line to the very first movements that Vostok ever created. In fact, the Vostok caliber 2209 featured in the very first Vostok Amphibia is the father of the 2409 as we know it. But what’s really fun is that the Vostok Classica’s 2409 movement has been in production since about the mid 70s to today.

It’s inclusion here in the Vostok Classica is noteworthy because it features some excellent decoration for a piece in this price range. The screws have been blued (chemical blue most likely and not thermal blue) and the outside bevel edges features a high polished diameter that frames the watch beautifully.

I also love manual wind watches with exhibition case backs because it’s much easier to see the actual workings of the watch. The pulsing mechanical heartbeat of the balance spring as it regulates and pumps life-force back into the gear train is pretty hypnotic. It’s also pretty cool to see “Russia 2409” on the 9 o’clock bridge-plate. For those who are curious, just how does the 2409 stack up against the Vostok Precision’s original 2809?

    • 2409 Accuracy: -20/+60 seconds a day
    • 2809 Accuracy: -3/+4 seconds a day

I mean, that type of astronomical difference is to be expected. The Zenith 135 that the 2809 was copied from (Sorry, sorry – “inspired” by) was a pretty huge feat of horological engineering back in the day. Of all the things that the Soviets changed on the Z. 135 to create the V. 2809 though, the balance wasn’t altered. This is the watches main source of accuracy.

The 135/2809 balance wheel was unusually large for watch movements at the time. Larger balance wheels allow for higher rotations which encourage a more consistent energy regulating function, so the beat rate of the movement doesn’t necessarily change (in fact, the 2409 technically has a higher VPH than the 2809 (19800 compared to 18000).

Even though the Vostok 2409 isn’t a chronometer-grade movement like the 2809 was, I think it’s a very welcomed inclusion here within the Vostok Classica. Some hang ups you may experience though are related to the fact that the 2409 is basically a vintage movement that’s still in production. So if you change the hour/minute hands in a certain position you may see the seconds hand jump a bit. Also sometimes it can be difficult to pull the crown out since the action isn’t as smooth as modern movements, but for me that’s part of the 2409’s blending of modern and vintage charm.

Please note that some people have been able to regulate their 2409 movements to be much better than factory specs, however these instances are by no means normal. You always rely on the 2409 to run – but not necessarily run “accurately.”

The Strap:

Strap’s bad. I mean, ok – it’s not the worst strap ever. But you can certainly tell that overtime it’ll start to chip and fray. It’s listed as “genuine leather” and features a crocodile pattern. The actual quality of the construction is surprisingly strong – it’s just the leather material and treatment that I don’t necessarily see having longevity (especially if you end up wearing this watch a lot).


The machine stitching is consistent and features black thread on top and tan thread on bottom to preserve the entire piece’s vintage vibe. The branding and Cyrillic on the underside of the strap is a nice touch and it’s fairly comfortable, however the Cyrillic text isn’t that readable at certain angles since it isn’t embedded very deep. The buckle is also quite well done. The hardware is angled and features the same brushing as the case’s center housing. Plus there’s a little Vostok logo on there too.

If all you have is the stock strap on the Vostok Classica that’s totally fine, but be prepared to have to potentially swap it out. What’s interesting is that the dial and case shape lend themselves well to some unexpected strap combos. And with 20mm lugs I’d encourage you to have fun pairing the Classica with whatever you have on hand. For example I threw it on this “carbon fiber” patterned leather strap and it’s actually a lot of fun.

Final Thoughts:

The Vostok Classica is true to form for what we’ve all come to love from Vostok: a modern watch that feels and looks like a vintage piece. However I should let you know that some individuals have experienced QC issues with these pieces. On more than one occasion I’ve heard of the center seconds hand falling off its pinion.

However please note that Meranom has fantastic customer service and in every instance I’ve heard of this occurring, the situation was fixed by the seller/manufacturer. Also, these QC issues seemed to have mainly taken place right after the watch was launched. I haven’t heard of anyone having any issues in a long time, but if you have purchased this watch recently and have had issues, please let me know and I can amend this write up.

There are several different styles available for the Vostok Classica and they all seem to hover between $150-$170 USD, which is an incredible price given what you’re getting here. The main competition for the Vostok Classica would be the Orient Bambino. Both are great mechanical dress watches under $200 and both in my opinion are great choices. However if you’re looking for something with a bit more talking points attached to it then the Vostok Classica may edge out the Bambino depending on your preferences.

For me the Classica is a welcomed addition to the modern Vostok line. I hope they continue to produce more and I also hope we’ll see Vostok reaching into its past more often to revisit forgotten designs.


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