Isn’t capitalism great? I am fully aware that most of what we have in the world now is what one should call crapatalism. An unwieldy mess of subsidies, taxes, tariffs, threats and other acts of violence. But when humans are allowed a little breathing room they will achieve some remarkable things.
A book I have previously mentioned, the wealth and poverty of nations talked about how the development of clocks and later watches is one of the things that lays the groundwork for an industrial revolution. Starting with crude devices made of wood and whatnot the quest for precision leads to better timepieces, which leads to better tools and manufacturing techniques. Which when fueled by consumer demand will drive a virtuous cycle of increasing innovation that will, in time; pull people into a world of continuous innovation.
Under communism and most flavors of socialism attempted various short cuts around this cycle. Not unlike the cargo cults of certain pacific islands, it was believed that by simply building or buying big factories dedicated to the mass production of goods or the production of steel and going through the motions of an industrialized economy. This would in time lead to the workers paradise promised by communism. Or the world without poverty promised by socialism.
Of course this didn’t happen, the goods produced were often not available, of shoddy quality. Or something that people could do without. North Korea has domestically produced one car to my knowledge. It’s a crappy knockoff of a 1980s vintage Mercedes Benz C190. I can’t imagine the average Nork having any use for such a thing. Given that they are not even allowed to own bicycles. But if dear leader wants to show off his industrial might by exporting cars then these things will materialize out of thin air if need be.
When the El Supremo of wherever who put this madness into motion dies and people decide to go in another direction. Usually all that is left of the previous economy is a huge pile of weapons and a variety of half baked government owned enterprises cranking out crap. These businesses will usually be liquidated and it’s assets duly privatized for a fraction of their value and either scrapped or turned over to a productive purpose. Though usually after an orgy of corruption, mayhem and sometimes murder.
The legacy of state controlled economies in Russia, China and a variety of other places is usually seen in the form of weapons. Perhaps some raw material exports, but usually weapons sold off all over the globe at knockdown prices. Simply because little else was considered to be of value by those countries previous governments. The essentials of life in modern civilization were derisively labeled as mere consumer goods. All resources which could be spared were shoveled into the military or other branches of government with the common person forced to subsist on whatever junk remained.
But not every “consumer good” produced by the former Soviet Union is a miserable piece of garbage suited only to those who don’t know any better. Long long ago, think when Lenin was still alive. Soviet agents traveled all over the western world buying all sorts of things to modernize their agrarian economy. They simply had to industrialize. Farming wasn’t going to fulfill Marx’s deranged prophecies. Especially when most of the farmers were about to be slaughtered. So the Soviets grabbed great big handfuls of the Czars treasure and set about buying the most sophisticated tech that they could.
Among these purchases were two American watch companies. All their equipment was shipped back to Russia and production began on military grade timepieces for the Red Army. Then some years later a rather unpleasant chap with a tiny mustache decided that he would singlehandedly destroy all communists and the Russian horological infrastructure had to be moved. Along with all other heavy industry, out of range of this jerks weapons.
After the move to a faraway city called Christopol one of the factories was rebuilt as the Vostok company. Vostok translates simply as east. The factory went on producing timepieces until communism finally collapsed like an angry game of Jenga. So this company, along with the rest of the former Soviet Union had to find other things to do with their time and resources.
I first heard of Vostok watches as the brand, Vostok Europe. They were nice looking watches and at the time I was in the market for a new watch to replace an old Armitron watch which had the annoying habit of turning my wrist funny colors. I wanted something mechanical and the Vostok looked like exactly what I was looking for. Then I found out the price, $280, for the cheapest model. I was advised that spending 300 bucks on a Russian timepiece was probably a bad idea so I dropped the whole matter and it took seven frikking years for me to finally buy a new watch! I should add that I only bought that watch because it was a ridiculously good deal. That watch, a Sottomarino Ceramico has served me very well. But I am not sure you can get them at the moment, so writing a review of that seems to be a moot point.
What I didn’t know was that Vostok Europe watches are a bit weird. A strange hybrid product of the fall of communism. They are Soviet military spec mechanisms thrown into a fancy case. One of countless attempts by former eastern bloc companies to sell bargain priced “luxury goods” to the western world in exchange for hard currency. What I should have done was look a little further and found that the original military watches. Which I would have preferred over the fancy Vostok Europe watches were available on the open market. Just not from the same companies that sold the Vostok Europe brand.
For a mechanical watch they are absurdly cheap, a little funky and mildly famous. I found this out in a thread on ar15.com which contained pictures, technical specs, a little history, warnings and where to buy.
Further research reveals that the Vostok company has filed for bankruptcy. This is a fairly regular occurrence for Russian companies nowadays. Also in spite of the bankruptcy filing it appears that work continues at the factory. There is no apparent shortage of these watches.
I was told that the best options to acquire a Vostok was to go to eBay or to an outfit called meranom.com which appears to be a factory direct store. There are all manner of nifty looking Russian watches for sale there. I settled on a limited edition type which was a bit more expensive than the baseline models. But I just couldn’t resist the colors and the backstory of this timepiece, the Amphibia SE model 710444.
The reason for the coloring on the dial is because this is a so called radio room watch. A communist piece of radio related equipment! Mr Dean I trust I have your full attention now. I have been told that the red sections indicate a three second period of radio silence to be used during distress calls. Per the arfcom thread I was informed that of the two Vostok models I would be better served by the Amphibia due to its automatic movement, improved water resistance and better quality over the cheaper Komandirskie. I was also told that I would be in for a month long wait as it was shipped from half a world away.
I tracked the package all the way from Christopol. It got stuck in New York for a couple days for some reason, and it would have been in my hands at least a day sooner if not for Martin Luther King day holiday. Considering it had to cross an entire planet I find it incredible that this item made it that far in that short amount of time. I don’t know how long it would take for me to book passage, pack, prepare and travel all the way to the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia on a whim. But I would imagine it would take more than 17 days.
So, once I unwrapped several layers of packaging I carefully set the watch. I have been told that you don’t want to set this watch then wind it at the same time. Quality of the mechanism is good, excellent when price is factored in. The case feels as solid as a bank vault. Some years ago I heard a comedian talking about a friend who had spent over $20,000 on a Rolex watch. Justifying the purchase by saying that the second hand glided instead of ticked.”For $20,000 that second hand batter give you a high five!” The second hand of this Amphibia looks like it glides just fine.
Criticisms, the crown feels like it is made of really thin metal. The band leaves something to be desired, being entirely too stiff and a bit short. But I wanted to put a nylon band on this anyway. It ran really fast the first hour I had it, it is now running a skosh fast now but I was told to expect that as they are set a little fast from the factory to allow the mechanism to wear in. When setting the time that action feels a bit sloppy, the second hand might suddenly decide to jump around on you.
I like how it looks, I have been told that the styling of these Amphibia’s is very 1970s retro. I will have to take their word for it as I wasn’t around back then.
So, I want to come back to the statement I started this article with, isn’t capitalism awesome? Where communism was heralded to be it’s undoing. The supposedly invincible force of Marxism/Leninism will fall before it when given one scintilla of a chance. Today a guy living in the western United States can buy a military spec watch, from a country that was our Cold War mortal enemy. Possibly made on equipment that the western democracies sold them, for less than 60 bucks. Think for a second about how many absurdities are contained in that sentence. But one should also consider how statists all wind up acting like king Cnut commanding that the tide not rise.
Barring some unforeseen event I will probably be getting at least one Komandirskie for myself and possibly a couple others as gifts. I might even get that fancy Vostok Europe Arktika that caught my fancy all those years ago.