Ruhla NVA Kampfschwimmer 25th anniversary
A few weeks ago, I saw this watch posted in the daily wrist shots and i don't know if it's because of my love for Military/Pilot and divers watches, but it was an instant ''Coup de foudre'' as we say in french. For some reason that I cannot explain, I liked it instantaneously. After admiring this brute beauty for a few minutes, I felt the urge of knowing more about it and I immediately started my search for information and this, despite the fact that ''quartz'' was written on the dial. I say that because I usually have preferences for auto/mechanical watches, but at the same time, I do enjoy having a few quartz watches in my collection when they have something special for me. After finding very little information on this specific model, I found what I believe to be the only real review of the Ruhla NVA Kampfschwimmer, and I found it here on WUS. Even if very good in terms of history and comparison with the original edition, made in 1983, my appetite for details was left unsatisfied, therefore, I will try to add many that I was looking for, and that I couldn't find no where on the net in English or French. Actually, many of the information I found was not accurate, starting by the sellers info, but more on that later. Also, please, if some of my details are wrong, do not hesitate to let me know and I will do the corrections. I'm a watch enthusiast and writing this with my humble knowledge and I made extra steps to make this first impression review as accurate as possible, but I could have forgotten some points. Also, I know that this might be an old story for some, but since I received many PM's asking what that watch was and were to get one when I first posted a picture of the watch in the daily wrist parade, I thought it could help some folks and I hope everybody will enjoy the long (sorry) read.
Because a lot can be found on history of the original Kampfschwimmer in the other review and on the net, I will not spend to much time on that subject, but just for those like me that never heard of Ruhla watches before, now Gardé Uhren Ruhla, their interesting history can be found here: Garde Uhren Ruhla - history Gardé is also manufacturing Zeppelin and Junkers watches.
After some search, I finally sourced a watch from watch-shop.com from Germany. It was my first experience with them and I had a very good service from Gunther Beck, with which I exchanged many many emails. Living in a different time zones, he managed to promptly give me all the information I asked, and for the questions he couldn't answer, he contacted Ruhla manufacture directly (which is about 20 minutes ride from their store, he told me). I found it very kind from him to do the extra steps of getting details directly from the maker for a guy that is at the other end of the world asking all those questions on a $400USD quartz watch. Thanks again Gunther, your help has been greatly appreciated!
The NVA (Nationale Volks Armee) Kampfschwimmer (combat swimmer) watch is a limited edition of 999 pieces that first appeared on the market in 1999. According to the very limited documentation included with the watch and all written in German (thanks Google translate), the watch was re-produced using original drawings as well as the original in-house caliber 13. Some of the appeals of the watch for me, were that it's a 100% German made watch with an in-house movement, and the fact that they respected the original version in almost every details. That makes this 25th anniversary homage, one of the most accurate I've seen to date.
All the dimensions I found on the case, were at 47.5mm width (without crown) and 55mm lug end to lug end. This is almost 48mm in diameter, which is the size of some of my Pilots watches and even bigger than my J-SAR at 46.6mm! Because the J-SAR also has 55mm length, which i find comfortable on my average 7'' wrist, it had to be ok, but still, I was all excited and nervous at the same time, to see a diver even bigger that the Jumbo SAR. One thing I didn't know though, was that the crown guards are included in the measurements, which is a bit misleading to me. The case is actually 44mm from 9 to 3, and 45mm from 7 to 2. Not exactly the same! Still big, but not J-SAR big as you can see on the comparison pictures.
The seller was giving a height of 10mm, which seemed wrong to me looking at the pictures, it had to be taller than that! Well, the case without the case back and bezel, is 10mm high, but I found it strange to see a case measurement done that way. The whole assembly is 15mm tall, which makes more sense to me, and almost as thick as the J-SAR which is 17mm. One thing I really like about that watch, is the 24mm lug width, even if I think I will be keeping the original strap for long time, it gives a wide variety of strap options and give a more substantial look to this rather massive piece of steel.
Another detail that was not accurate on the sellers site (might be due to translation), is the finish. The difference between the original and the re-edition case, are that the latest uses a solid 316L stainless steal case, milled from a SS block instead of a plated case, and the finish is beadblasted, not brushed, as indicated in many places. I love beadblasted finish, and even more on a tool or military watch.
I think it would be a shame not to mention the amazing attention to details put on this case. It's very angular but yet, one of the most refined case of my entire modest collection. Every single angle is cut or worked in a way that gives it very fluid lines and add to the character of the watch. Just look at the angled lugs. Even the tip of the lug have details that I'm not use to see on a Military or divers watches. I guess this is the distinctive mark of German craftsmanship. Square but refined , I find they are just the same with cars...Truly a beautiful and complex case IMO.
The Bezel and Crystal:
The bezel is a part of the watch that is unique to me and it's design reminds me those found on Vostok watches (like many other details by the way). It's unique in the sense that it's bidirectional (like the original was) and is friction type without the usual clicks. I first thought it would bother me, but it doesn't at all. First it's true to the original and since I'm a freak with misaligned bezels, this will never be an issue with this one. It moves with enough resistance without been to hard to turn and is 43mm in diameter by 3.5mm tall. On a technical point of view though, I would think that it's not as secure as a unidirectional bezel with click spring. As can be seen on the pictures, the bezel has a lot of grip and is very easy to manipulate and is precisely machined, just like the rest of the case. The insert seems to be aluminum and is a bit roughly made compared to the rest of the watch. On some macro shots, you can see the edges and the unfinished look, but it's not noticeable on the wrist.
One thing that i didn't noticed before handling the watch, and that makes it even more special to me, is that the bezel sits on top of the mineral crystal, making the crystal sitting 3mm deeper. I would guess this brings more protection to it and makes it harder to hit, not a bad thing, considering they used a 2mm thick crystal! Yes it is correct, 2mm, Gunther got that info from Ruhla and I just couldn't believe it. It made me believe that being relatively thin, it needed extra protection, therefore this bezel architecture maybe? I also wonder if the original had a thicker glass? Also, the re-edition has a lumed pip at 0 and every minutes are marked on the insert. This is something that bugs me on many divers watches, when they have to skip minute marks because the font used for the numbers are too big . Little detail, but still something I appreciate on this one.
The dial and hands:
The dial/hands combo, was also part of the appeal when I first saw the Kampfschwimmer. With It's mat black dial and nice white numerals at the classic 12-3-6-9 and white minute markers and green 5 minute markers, it makes it very easy to read at a glance and increase the military look IMO. I particularly like the fact that their is very few writings on it too, all you can see is ''Ruhla'' and ''quartz''.
Then the chromed surrounded hands brings a touch of refinement to the whole package. The mirror effect is not as nicely done as it is on my Seiko Sumo though, and depending on the angle, they are not very well defined. I really like the way they made the long minute hand with arrow head and the little spade shape on the counter balance of the second hand. Even though I'm used to see an arrow head on hour hands. In all, a distinctive combo for me that help increasing readability. One thing that really bugs me on quartz watch, is when the second steps are not aligned with the minutes/seconds marks on the dial. I did mention this to Gunther and asked him if he could check the watches he had in stock and select the one that was the best aligned, which he did and I was very happy to see that my number 000480 does hit perfectly 99% of the time. A misaligned second hand is enough annoyance for me to get rid of a watch.
Movement and Crown:
Well, not much I can say about the movement besides it's a in-house quartz, caliber 13-32 that was also used in the original Kampfschwimmer, like said before, and it does hack for time synchronizing. I read it was a cheap quartz that had tendencies to run slow, but it's still too early for me to say anything on it except that within one week, it still right on. Anyway, I doubt it could be worst than the also cheap ISA movement used by Marathon in the J-SAR. I also didn't popped the case back yet to see inside, but I will for sure do that in a few weeks just to see the guts of the beast. I know that the original version was using a metal spacer to hold the movement in place, which I highly prefer to plastic, but the picture of the new edition I saw, had a plastic spacer, a little deception to me, but not a big deal, really. One thing I forgot to point out, is that the movement lack of a date complication, which is something I usually want on a watch. That absence of date though, makes it even more functional with one less thing to go wrong in the movement and no date to adjust every now and then. Something that totally makes sense on a military issued watch. It also help keeping the dial well balanced IMO. This is another thing i wasn't sure I would like but I do, it became my best grab & go watch!
Now the crown, it was one more surprise for me. The huge 8mm crown we see, is actually a canteen crown that hides the smallest setting crown I never handled in my life. To me, this adds to the cool factor of the watch and makes it even more unique. I was really not expecting that from the first pictures I saw until I read more and found out about that characteristic. The gasket is in the canteen itself and screws down a good 4 complete turns to give the watch it's certified 200m water resistance (DIN 8310). It felt weird at first to set the time, but i got use to it quickly and it's not to hard to use despite it's tinny 4mm size. I Just have to make sure not to loose the cap since it's not attached to the watch with a chain or something else, like seen on some divers, and also an other resemblance I find with Russian designs.
Not much to see here, it's a plain case back with the inscription ''EIGENTUM DER NVA'' which means ''PROPERTY OF NATIONAL PEOPLE'S ARMY OF EST GERMANY'' and the serial number, mine being 000480. The only thing I found interesting, is the screw down system used on it. Again, something I'm use to see on Russian watches like Vostok and Komandirskie (the Ruhla being my first German watch, I don't know if that system is used on other German made watches). It's a solid SS case back with a key in it that fits in the case to put it in position and that sits on the gasket, then a screwed down lock ring is used to apply force on the cover to make it WR. Another interesting design that makes this watch different from what I'm use to see, and again I wish I new a bit more to find out why this watch seems to share so much with what I'm use to see from some Russian divers watches.
You can see in the first picture (red arrow), where the case key is at 12 O'clock to position the case back properly.
The watch came on a very comfortable natural rubber strap and thank god, it doesn't have the vanilla smell all my other natural rubber straps have. It's very substantial and is what seems to be a weird 23.5mm wide that tappers to 22mm at the buckle. The thickness goes from 6mm where it's attached to the lugs then slims down to 3mm to go back at 6mm at the buckle, which is held in place by a screw and two hexagonal bolts, very industrial looking and heavy duty indeed and I love it! The band is attached to the case by screwed lug bars, which screws in one side of the lug. This is not my favorite architecture since a stripped thread could be a problem but should be fine if handled with care. One more reason for me not to play with the strap too often.
The lume used on dial and hands is Superluminova but the technique used for the application on the dial and hands is not very efficient. I do love the green color contrast the 5 minute markers make on the dial with the paler green hands (hands have blueish glow), but after being charged, they do fade very quickly, even if the time remains readable for a good 4-5 hours, it's definitely not my brightest watch. I would say it's ok, but not more.
So, one could think that this watch has a lot not to like (thin mineral crystal, quartz movement, no date, plastic movement spacer, weak lume...), but at the end I got attracted by the aesthetics and the Military pedigree of this timepiece and have absolutely no regrets I spent $400 on a quartz watch (still a lot cheaper than the $1000 CAD my J-SAR cost me with bracelet, custom fees and dollar exchange rate in 2008). The beauty of it's massive case with the clean dial and chromed hands, the canteen crown with the recessed bezel, the 24mm lug width and the limited edition of 999 pieces, gives this watch a special place in my collection. In other words, it's a keeper and yes I can say that after just a week of ownership, cause I like it that much
I'm sorry for the dust in some pictures and my approximative English and for being so long, but I really enjoyed giving my first impressions on this new to me, Ruhla NVA Kampfschwimmer and I hope you enjoyed it too and I will end this review with some comparison pix of other watches.
Thanks for reading!