Only twenty-four years have gone by. Almost a quarter of a century. Not a long time, if we consider that each chronometer is still functional and shiny.
Yet the world back then was very different. Many things have happened and everything has changed during the last twenty-four years. The incidence of wars has increased - they occur more frequently and closer to each other. What about the job market? There are fewer jobs available and they are becoming more and more precarious. And the economy? China, India, Indochina, Korea and the Pacific are in. We're out.
Back then, you could still afford to buy a house. And today? How many twenty-four year-olds can actually afford to buy a car? Let alone pay the insurance on it?
Gorbachev, the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, 1988-1989. Everything seemed to be changing and going in the direction we had hoped. Yet something deep inside made you feel unsure. It was all too easy, too sudden. How long could it go on like this? Better not stop to think. Just enjoy the moment.
Best not look ahead or worry about the future. What is was happening in Yugoslavia, China or India?
Was the Soviet Union going through a crisis? Was it going to embrace the market economy? It would be a great opportunity.
The opportunity was seized by a group of Italian companies that exported footwear machinery to the Soviet Union. Countertrade. In some instances goods or services were exchanged with other goods or services instead of hard cash.
What did the Soviets have that could be sold in Italy? Not much. Other than caviar and vodka what else? Technology? No, they were far behind. Clothing? Too démodé!
What did they have in surplus that could be given away at low cost? Watches!
For at least two decades the Soviet watch making industry had produced a surplus of watches, many more than the domestic and foreign market could possibly absorb.
A steady and gradual distribution of Poljot, Sekonda and Slava had begun with some success in 1960 in countries like Great Britain (non only,....Italy, France,.....) but nevertheless it was a niche market. Third world countries, always great importers, were more of a burden than a source of hard currency.
Various five-year plans succeeded one another increasing production quotas continuously. The Japanese quartz offensive, that had knocked off its feet the Swiss industry also created problems in the Soviet countries.
People wanted these watches to be modern, small and light with a melody and an alarm that woke you up saying "Good morning! It’s ......."
Japanese quartz watches succeeded in bringing watches to the masses.
How did the Swiss industry react? It invented the Swatch!
What did the Swatch represent? Everything that a traditional watch was not.
Japanese quartz watches succeeded in bringing watches to the masses.
The Swatch watch succeeded in bringing the watch market back to the Western hemisphere and taught us a simple fact: people wanted something new, different and ephemeral; something that evoked mystery and distant worlds.
A visionary, hallucinated, blind vortex took hold of the Western world. Once the anguish of the seventies with the economic and social crisis was overcome, it was time to enjoy life again.
Those who understood this were in the position of ‘finding’ the right product, those who didn’t, could have had it right under their noses, but wouldn’t have seen it.
Among those who seized the opportunity were a number of young entrepreneurs tied to the above-mentioned business group whose objective was to find something convenient to import from the Soviet Union to Italy.
The choice fell on Russian watches. Most likely because they were one of the few quality objects; they did not cost much and ....... they were very different! At least some of them.
It was not an easy choice, and success was not guaranteed. The initial investment was notable - five hundred million Italian Lira – a small fortune back then.
These young entrepreneurs understood that things had to be done differently than in the past.
The important thing was not just to import watches, but to adapt them to the needs of the Italian market (or other markets such as Japan and the U.S.) by creating, for example, attractive and exclusive packaging. These watches had to become an "object of desire." But above all, they had to be different from the watches that the Soviets had exported to the West until then.
And so it was beginning of the summer of 1988 when the first “new” Russian watch appeared on the market: the Raketa 0
It had all the required characteristics: it had a modern feel, and yet it was very different from the Swatch watches that had begun to saturate the market. It wasn’t a quartz, so it was “out”, but since ‘normal’ wasn’t cool, the Raketa had all the right numbers to be a great success. The most important thing at the time for a new product was to stand out. The Swatch watch was the first and now...
The first forty thousand imported watches went like hot cakes. A smashing hit that took everyone by surprise and for this reason it soon became fashionable. It was the "in" object of the moment.
Great success also had other Raketa:
At the end of 1988 came the first chronograph Poljot.
Then at the beginning of 1989 came the " 5 Komandirskie ".
Boom! An unstoppable success.
The progression of imported watches was deadly: the Raketa 0, the Komandirskies, the Slava, and then the Boctoks which were commemorative of 1945 and two others (the one with the astronaut, black and blue, and the rocket or spaceship). But I’ll spare you this part of the story: lol
And i'll spare you the stories of the russian-like had sprung up like mushrooms (mechanical, quartz, and Poljot-like chronographs)
Ok, I had to talk about the 3133 Boctok Chronograph.
The Boctok came on the market at the end of the summer of 1989. By then it had become clear to everyone that you could sell anything that smelled or even remotely looked Russian, even if produced in Italy and designed by Italians.
Besides, joint ventures were one of the big novelties introduced by the Gorbachev reforms.
Alexsandr Samsonov , the Director of Poljot, flatly said, while attending a conference on joint ventures in Italy (1989), that the Russians knew how to make watches but they didn’t know how to commercialize them; they lacked in presentation and aesthetics. For this very reason, he considered collaboration with Western companies a great opportunity.
Samsonov: "In 1986, our Group started self-financing itself and, in 1987, it was among the first eighty companies to receive the authorization to operate independently on the world market. That very same year, we formed a company specialized in foreign trade, the Poliot , which was authorized to carry out all import and export activities as a legal entity. Previously, we exported 40-45% of our products. As of 1987, when commercialization became interesting to the whole Group, we succeeded just one year to increase exports to 80%.
Working independently on the foreign market we encountered several difficulties. First and foremost our total lack of knowledge of how do work abroad. There was no one waiting for us with open arms to intensify our business, despite the many years of exporting our product! To be able to trade successfully in the foreign market, it is essential that your merchandise must be competitive in quality and price, and you must have a massive advertising system that will attract the buyer.
After many opportunities to compare products, as a result of frequent and long trips to various parts of the world, we realized that our watches were competitive with regards to technical design, reliability and technological characteristics but not with regards decorative elements. There was a whole set of problems (precision machining, availability of special metals, paints, dyes) that could have easily been solved within our industry but it would not have been convenient because production costs incurred during the first stage, would not allow prices to be competitive. So why undergo production at home, when in other countries materials and components were widely available? For us it was more cost-effective to set up a joint-venture to produce decorative elements for our watches with a company willing to sell these watches distributing the costs and revenues on the basis of this trade.
After achieving financial independence abroad Poliot took part in more exhibitions and trade fairs than it had done so in the previous fifteen years. This helped to increase contacts with other countries, and start a number of negotiations of mutual interest.....
Take, for example, Italy. We are currently negotiating the sale in Italy of marine chronometers that we install on nuclear-powered icebreaker ships. We are the only ones who produce them; we have been producing them for over 25 years without ever thinking that the international demand was ten times higher... For the UK, this product was a discovery. "
These words help to understand and summarize the Soviet watch making phenomenon of those years.
If we do not take into account these considerations, which are not only Samsonov’s, it would be almost impossible to understand the what, where, how.
The "Komandirskie Boctok" Chronograph is simply the result of a commercial partnership between two business partners: the Russians and the Italians.
As often is the case the best products and most original ideas come out at the beginning. Afterwards, there is only room for imitations.
The instruction booklet was printed in Italy. The movement was Poljot.
I don’t know where the case was printed. It could have been produced in Chistopol or in any other part of the world, including Italy. Standard commercial relations.
The same thing can be said of the box.
It is almost certain that they were assembled here, but "almost" is the key word.
There is much to say with regards to how the Chronograph was presented by the media but everything can be summarized by the imaginative introduction found in the booklet that was part of the package (see below).
1989 was a decisive year for the birth of the equation Russian watch = army watch.
Even today, many people still think that.
Ok! I’ll stop here.
Now try to imagine the window of a jeweler’s shop that displays our Chronographs among the various Rolex, and Vacheron-Constantine watches. Well, the photo you see below is as far removed as there is. I’m not attracted by jeweler’s shops. The only windows that attract my attention are those of book shops.
But back then, this stuff was displayed in shop windows
Time Trend created two chronograph watch models.
One for the “navy”
And one for the aviation
They both had the same back case and screw ring
The movement is Poljot 3133 marked Boctok on the bridge
In this photo of one of the dials (a model of which I have only one example) you can see the fine details.
The above dia lwas given to me by a Time Trend watch technician along with these cases (please don’t ask, it’s not for sale)
Each one has the following back case
By now it should be obvious how these watches are made: case, back case, bidirectional bezel, spheres, indices, colors and inscriptions.
Ceyp speaks about the two chronographs mentioned above in his second book published in 1995.
He only publishes the photo of the aviation model and says that this special model was sold in Italy with a warranty certificate. Ceyp describes the essential elements of the watch, and goes on to say that “navy” model is rarer and finally adds that in 1995 a re-edition was made that was very similar but the design was of a lower quality (e.g. the bezel and the dial).
Ceyp also writes, "This new variant was sold with an attractive wooden box"
Two things must be clarified about Ceyp’s remarks:
The first concerns the rareness of the “navy” model. He doesn’t specify why it is considered to be rare (in 1995) and I don’t have any info one way or the other. Nowadays the aviation model is in fact more readily available.
The second point concerns the wooden box. It is certain that the Time Trend models were sold with this box because we have various articles published in Italian magazines in 1989.
Did the new edition of 1995 come with this box?
The last question is who produced the 1995 edition? I don’t think it was Time Trend although, I have no evidence of this; however the company’s interest by this time was turned to something else. It probably was a Russian-German joint venture (Poljot-and-some-other-company)
Now, let’s go back to our two Boctok Komandirskie.
A page of advertisement.
Reading instructions: the ad makes references to the Red Army, 1952, etc.., so open your eyes wide, let your eyeballs pop out of their sockets and then make them go back in, assume the tone of a man of the world and all together sigh "market economy!"
Comments on the ad. The article expresses some concern regarding the bidirectional ring, because, we are told, that while under water the slightest collision could move the bezel.
Ah! Oh! I bet if you try soaking the Chronograph in the bathtub, you won’t be happy with the results! lol:
They are not scuba watches; they were made for max 5 atm.
Just for the record. Below you can see some pictures of the Chronographs with a smooth back case, while in one of the photos above, you can see the movement that does not have a bridge marked Boctok.
The photos were taken from two articles in two different magazines of the era, which simultaneously reviewed the Chronograph. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that the watches sent to the magazines were mere prototypes, thus not yet complete with everything.
Or maybe, at first, they produced them with a smooth back case.
I have confirmation from speaking to different people that the back case has always been inlaid. My sources range from the technician mentioned earlier on to the CFO of Time Trend. But oral information must always be verified. So only time will tell.
In addition to the beautiful wooden box, the kit also included an instruction booklet in various languages (Italian, English, French and German).
Just like the wooden box, the instruction booklet was also entirely "made in Italy".
The kit also included a leaflet.
Let us now turn to other editions and reissues, which differ significantly in terms of colors and themes of the dial, spheres, nuts, screw case back, but without a ring, etc...
These other "Komandirskie" Chronographs can be divided into two series:
- The new edition of 1995, two of which are similar to the Time Trend models
- Others made in 1996, which are completely different
The one below is part of the new 1995 edition.
Case back without screw ring, bidirectional bezel.
Let’s have a look at some pages from Levenberg’s catalog no. 7 (1996).
On pages 22 and 23 there is a photo with a description.
The photo is of 1995 chronograph. The description says that in the late ‘80s initially two versions (navy and aviation) were made specifically for the Italian market and then a second edition was made in 1995 which included the panzer, parà and u-boot dials.
On pages 118 to 119 there is a commentary on the history of the Wostok Chronograph and a photo of the five watches. The commentary doesn’t say anything new, but the picture includes the now famous wooden boxes. They are identical, right from the inscription "Chistopol", down to Time Trend logo that can be seen in the instruction booklet.
I don’t find this strange. They either reused the original idea or. ...... It could be an ad hoc box used for the photo?
In any case there seems to be no way to distinguish the boxes of the two editions.
Who made them? Who designed them? I don’t know.
What is certain is that we are in 1995, the collaboration between the Russians and Germans was very, very, close (Poljot-V, then Poljot International. Anotehr piece of the story).
Note how the dial of the navy and aviation models is a reproduction of the 1989 model. The writing rubies and sdelano b cccp under the partial counters, while the other three models, panzer, para and u-boot, have a different dial, which is much more similar to the others that we will examine shortly.
aviation 1995 edition ( here may be the ponters are not ok)
u-boot and aviation 1995 edition
Finally let’s have a look at the other versions of the Komandirskie Chronograph. These are more easily identified since they are very different with regards to case, spheres, dial and unidirectional bezel.
Two more pages of Levenberg’s catalogue no. 8 pp. 46-47 (1997). They are dated back to 1996.
We have Poljot and Poljot International catalogs covering 1992-2000. They tells us one thing: our two chronographs, first or second edition, aren't there.
Ok, may be missing the some catalogs, but in Poljot International brochure (2000) we find the three (para-tank-u-boot) also listed in the Levenberg's catalog nr. 7 (1996). Only those three and not the other two series.
And that's not all! Here I should open another long speech about the absence, completely absent, oif our two chronographs in the German press in the same years (1989-2000), but it's too late, is very likely that you you tired of reading
One last photo, more than anything else, to show what I have found, here in Rome, when I first published this article on an Italian forum, September 10.
Ok, it was seventeen days ago, in the meantime other tours, other watches
She doesn’t talk about our beloved Chronographs, but I always suggest keeping in mind what Irina Maier says