Today I’d like to take a look at one of my all time favourite watches that’s not very well known in all honesty, but I believe to be one of the greatest diving watches ever created and that’s the Vostok Amphibia. The story begins in 1967 when Vostok was tasked with developing a watch for the Russian navy that was not inferior to their foreign counterparts which were mainly Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Rolex Submariner and Omega Seamaster. So they would need to produce a watch that was able to operate at that set up to two hundred metres and a significant pressure and temperature. One of the most significant challenges they faced was not been able to use a design that already been tested and proven such is the design of the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or Omega Seamaster. The Russian government didn’t want to actually buy the rights to the patents that have been put in place by the Swiss companies, so they’d have to come up with a completely new and original design to overcome their problems. So this task of creating this completely new diving watch fell upon Vostoks newly appointed chief of design bureau. A gentleman named Mikhail Novikoff and another designer, a lady by the name of the Vera Belova. These two designers examined the existing dive watches on the market and they noticed some pretty fundamental design flaws.
Basically, the watch made by the Swiss companies uses brute strength to counteract against water pressure. Novikoff and Belova came to the conclusion that this was certainly not the most effective way of combating this problem and came up with a design where they would actually utilise water pressure to strengthen the seal of the watch. Now before we continue I must point out that there are three key areas of a diving watch that are most acceptable to water ingress and that is the crystal, the case back and the crown. Vostok looked at these three areas and came up with their own ways of addressing these problems. They noticed that the majority of diving watches on the market required extra rubber seals and crystal retaining rings to hold the crystal in place. This is quite an expensive way of doing it, as it requires more parts to be manufactured and also fitted to the watch. Solution to this problem was to use a material called Lucite (which is a smart way to say acrylic) for the crystal. So what they discovered through careful calculation was that if they increased the thickness of this material to what say the Rolex Submariner or Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was using and by also being very careful with the way that it was curved and shaped, so they could actually put this crystal inside of the case. And the greater the pressure on it, the more it spread out. They discovered that at two hundred meters this material would actually spread out by about half a millimetre. So this eliminated any need for any additional rubber seals or Crystal retaining rings as the crystal perfectly sealed the watch.
The next part of the watch that Novikoff and Belova needed to look out was the case back. Conventional dive watches of the time used the one piece case back. Today most of them do as well, with a relatively slim rubber o-ring which is normally fitted to the case back which stops water getting in. When the case back is screwed into the case the o-ring gets compressed and that’s what makes the seal. However, they discovered that this method has problems. When the case back is screwed in, the compression of the o-ring causes a shearing action along the perimeter of the o-ring. The use of grease does help to the decrease the shear distortion as it’s called, but it also means that the oval surface area of the seal is very small. Another drawback to using the o-ring as well, is that once the case back has been removed, you have to replace the seal before you can put the case back on. That’s because of the distortion when you tighten up the case back because the o-ring actually stretches and get’s bigger, so it becomes too big to put back when you screw off the case back. Novikoff and Belova came up with a design that eliminates these issues in one stroke.
The case back of the Amphibia drops into the back of the watch case and it actually has two keys which make the keyways in the case this prevents the case back from rotating. all together. Then you have a threaded locking ring which is screwed in place. This then presses down onto the case back, onto a larger flat rubber gasket. This gasket only bares compression load. This way the gasket can be large, given a total seal service which is much, much greater than by the o-ring in a conventional design case back. Needless to say, the gasket has no wear whatsoever and it has no need to ever replace it. The another advantage of this design is its use of water pressure to provide a better seal. Under water pressure, the case back is pushed in a small amount. At two hundred meters the case back is actually compressed about twenty to thirty percent more than in no pressure. So the deeper you go, the more pressure that’s on the case back, the more the watches water resistance. The performance of such technique of sealing watches is better than any diving watch has in the market at that time. There are going rumours that they Russian military played a game by attaching their Vostoks to the outside of Submarine and then go under the water. When they came up, they would see who’s watch could hold the most water pressure.
The final thing the Novikoff and Belova needed to look at, was the function of the crown. Now as it’s a diving watch it obviously had a screw down crown. But the Amphibia crown and stem assembly co-operates a clutch between the two pieces, this is actually hidden inside the crown. They are only coupled together when the crown is pulled slightly away from the stem. Otherwise, they decouple and you will find that the crown actually wobbles. To people that are new to the Amphibia, they sometimes think that the watch is broken. But it’s actually there for a reason. It is this clutch and it prevents the stem from getting bent if there is an impact on the watch. So basically it means that the movement and the stem is completely separate from the case, so if there is any shock put on the case, and if there is any slight movement of the movement inside the case, you don’t have to worry about the stem becoming bent, and possibly damaging the movement.
When the Amphibia was released there were no other conventional diver watches that incorporated this design. So that pretty much sums up the origins of the Vostok Amphibia. And the design that Novikoff and Belova came up with. The prototype watches that were built by them were tested to the extreme. As you can imagine the Russian military was and they often exceeded what was originally asked of them. The watches were finally accepted for military use after a final test which was a simulated rescue of a submarine crew that took place somewhere in the North Sea.
First time when I got introduced to Vostok, was when I had my first watch at 8, and I got interested in what my grandfather was wearing. He was wearing Vostok Amphibia and Komandirskie. At that time I didn’t know anything about watches, I wasn’t even interested in them, as I was more interested in playing with my friends. When my watch obsession started I completely forgot about Vostok, but then I stumbled across some reviews and remembered how great is this brand. So I wanted to dive into these watches, but I wanted to start with the vintage one from the 70s, so I bought the 090 case. Was very pleased with that. But Then I saw that many of people mod their new Vostok’s and wanted to get in that too, but kind of had different watches in what I wanted to invest. But now I got my hands on a new Vostok Amphibia 150 which is kindly provided by Soviet.market! By the way, they have a great selection of Vostok Amphibia watches, biggest I’ve seen.
So the watch arrived from Russia within 10 days. It arrived in this classic Vostok plastic box. The box only functions as something to transport the watch in, it has no other function. And here is the watch. This is my first new Vostok. I was really surprised about the deal, it really has this vintage, race, omega kind of vibe. It just screams: Put a rally strap on me 😀 And the nato it came on actually looked decent too. Overall first impression was really good.
So the case of the watch is made from stainless steel. The case size is 41mm, the length of the case is 46mm and the thickness is 12mm. A pretty good size for a dive watch. It’s not too big and not too small. Definitely will go on any average hand pretty well. The finishing for the case. Well, it is a pretty shiny watch. I even could say blingy. It reflects the sun really good, so it was a nightmare to take photos of it 😀 The lug width is 22mm. But I think it would better look with 20mm lug width. The bezel I think is made from brass. The bezel looks pretty decent to me, although it is freely rotating both ways and has no clicks. It just turns by the slightest knock on it. It is just another quirk of these watches. The case back as you know now has two parts. The middle part that closes the back of the case and the ring that makes the pressure on the gasket and middle par. The case back is also stainless steel. Crown is on 3 o’clock and has that classic wobbly action. The crown action is actually better than on my old vintage Vostok. It is quite easy to wind the watch with it. On the top of the case sits lucite crystal which expands under water pressure giving the watch more water resistance. The water resistance is 200m, but as many tests have shown, it can go much deeper.
The dial. I was searching this dial for some time. I couldn’t even find it as a part so I could fit it in other Vostok. But an opportunity came up and I finally got it. The dial is in this 70s racing style, but with diving accents to it. The colour of the dial is this champagne, creamy colour. The checkered flag pattern and hour numbers are in this brownish, almost tropical colour. The hour markers are in white colour with lume dots applied on them. On 6 o’clock you will find the date window. On the dial, you also can find the Vostok Amphibia logo. Overall the dial is pretty busy. The hour hand is polished in shape of an arrow, the minute hand is in stick shape and the second’s hand is lollypop style. Each hand has lume on it. The lume isn’t the strongest, but better than most of the watches that I tested. Even my Vostok from the 70s still has some lume in it and it holds it for some time.
The movement is probably one of most interesting I’ve encountered with. It is the Amphibian 2416B. It is automatic/hand winding 31 jewel movement. But the most interesting part is that you need to service it once in ten years. Usually, Seiko or any other brand says you need to service it each 3-4years. But usually, it is cheaper to replace the whole movement, than service it, as you can find new movement for as cheap as 15-30$. But many people haven’t serviced their Vostok movements and they are still going even after 20 years of use. So the movement is made in true rough Russian style. The whole watch actually has this brute approach. The movement isn’t maybe the most precise, it looses runs +8 to +10 seconds a day, which is quite normal. The strap it came was actually a pretty good nato with this zulu type hardware. But I took it off and put it on cheapestnatostrap.com vintage dark brown leather strap. I think it suits it better as it gives it a vintage look and also goes with the brown colour on the dial.
Overall I think this is the best true dive watch that you can get. It has a great history and some great engineering that went into it. It has In house movement, great design and the price is under 80$ for a new one. This is also the watch you can easily bang on the doorknob or drop it on the ground because it is very tough. There is one Youtuber who put it in the washing machine, dropped it off a bridge, ran over it with a car and even frozen it in a block of ice. And it was still working fine and had only scratches and dings. So this is true working man watch! Many say that each watch geek needs a Seiko SKX, but I think everyone needs to own a Vostok Amphibia!
- Manufacturer: Vostok Watch Factory (Chistopol, Russia)
- Warranty: 1 Year Warranty
- Energy source: spring mechanism
- Type: mechanical, automatic
- Mechanism: Amphibian 2416B
- Case material: stainless steel
- Strap / Bracelet: Nylon
- Strap / Bracelet length: 22 mm
- Backside material: stainless steel
- Water resistance: 200M
- Power reserve:31 hours
- Calendar: date
- Shockproof: yes
- Bezel: rotating bezel
- Jewels: 31 ruby jewels
- Weight (g): approx. 120 gr.
- Size (mm): 41 mm X 46 mm X 12 mm