An iconic, Russian brand returns to prominence on the world stage
Anyone interested in owning a top quality watch that has both an amazing history and which is completely distinctive should look no further
Russia is often said to lack brands for its products. Russia does in fact have some highly successful brands.
People who have heard of Sukhoi, MiG, Kalashnikov etc. can be counted in the tens of millions. What Russia lacks are well known brands for high end consumer goods. Russia does in fact possess companies of heritage and quality comparable to the best of the West.
In this article, following my previous article about Russian watches I will focus on one such company: Russia’s premier watch maker the Petrodvorets Watch Factory “Raketa”. Raketa’s heritage is as illustrious as that of any Western company. It is Russia’s oldest factory. Its founder was none other than Peter the Great . The date of its foundation is 1721.
Aware of Russia’s unmatched wealth in precious and semi precious stones Peter’s intention was to set up a company achieving the highest standard of artistry in stone and jewel cutting. The company he set up in his suburban palace of Peterhof was the Imperial Lapidary Works. The Imperial Lapidary Works lived up to Petert’s hopes. Russian palaces became celebrated for their fabulous interiors made from precious and semi-precious stones - the work of the artists of the Imperial Lapidary Works.
Talberg watches made by the Imperial Lapidary Works were extremely high end luxury items. The number of buyers would have been very small - the wealthy and privileged sections of pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg society. Only a very small number of these watches survive today. Following the Revolution the Soviet government renamed the factory “The Factory of Precise Technological Stonework” (“TTK nr1”), which name it kept until 1949.
The factory continued to work from its old premises in Peterhof near St. Petersburg. Notwithstanding the total transformation in the country’s political and social life following the Revolution it maintained its standards. The old factory in Peterhof (now “Petrodvorets”) was destroyed. It was however rebuilt and reopened in 1944.
In 1949 the factory “the Petrodvorets Watch Factory” and began again making watches. Its first watch was called “Zvezda” (“Star”) - a suitable name for a watch made by the factory that had made the Kremlin’s ruby stars. Today the factory still makes a watch with that name.
By 1954 it was making 276,000 wristwatches a year, assembled entirely from components made by the factory. Many of these watches were Pobeda (“Victory”) watches - made on Stalin’s order of April 1945 in anticipation of victory over Germany.
The Petrodvorets Watch Factory started using the space-associated brand name name “Raketa” (“Rocket”). Its watches have been known by that name ever since. Following changes of ownership and a significant restructuring - which involved purchases of new equipment - it is now the only Russian watch maker that is making new movements. It is in fact one of only four watch makers that produces every part of its own watches (the three others are Rolex, Seiko and Swatch).
The factory also supplies parts to the Swiss watch industry and produces equipment for the Russian airforce’s Sukhoi aircraft and has its own school to train watchmakers. Raketa watches have used many different movements.
There are many stories that speak of its strength. One tells of a Soviet official who dropped his Raketa watch in his garden. He found the watch a year later. It had survived a Russian winter in perfect working order.
This is the Petrodvorets Classic
An excellent timekeeper as very strong and reliable. It uses a striking dial - a modification of a dial designed around 1980. A distinctive feature of this dial, now something of a signature for Raketa, is that the 12 at the top of the dial is replaced by a 0.
Mikhail Gorbachev when Soviet President wore this watch. On a visit to Italy he pointed to the 0 at the top of the dial to make his point that with perestroika Russia was starting from scratch. Individuals known to wear this watch include Putin, Medvedev, Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovitch and Defence Minister Shoigu.
This is the Polar model
This movement goes back to 1969. The Soviet government ordered Raketa to design a watch for use in the Arctic. In response a special team of Raketa engineers led by Kisilev and Starkov, in 1971 produced the first Polar watch. The watch had a 24 hour dial, a luminous face, was exceptionally resistant to low temperatures. Raketa had first introduced 24 hour dials in 1964.
The extraordinary success of this watch resulted in versions being developed for the air force, for cosmonauts and for submarine crews. Until Gorbachev’a perestroika of the 1980s it was reserved for special use and could not be bought by the general public. The original Polar watch with the 2623 mechanism and a 24 hour dial still obviously influenced by the 1971 original is still available today.
All of these extraordinary watches use 24 hour dials - a Raketa speciality and a flagship product of the company. Given their very practical applications these 24 hour dials are designed to be clear and easy to use. Following a brief acquaintance they present no problems to those who use them.
Anyone interested in owning a top quality mechanical watch that has both an amazing history and which is completely distinctive should look no further. They are the watches a Russian James Bond would have worn.
Raketa has recently developed an entirely new automatic movement, which is used for its top watches. Watches with this automatic movement are widely worn by Russia’s elite. The most common is a new version of the Petrodvorets Classic with an updated dial.
This is the Amphibia model
The movement is now also used for Raketa’s diver’s watch. This (like the diver’s watch produced by Vostok) is called “Amphibia”. Raketa started making “Amphibia” watches for the Soviet navy - including the fragment of Soviet navy Spetsnaz - in 1971. It is a much stronger watch than the Vostok Amphibia. Whilst the Vostok Amphibia can operate to depths of 200 metres, the Raketa Amphibia can manage depths of 400 metres.
This is the Oligarch model
Only one available! Buy one here to help support Russia Insider's crowdfunding campaign.
Raketa’s new automatic movement is also used for a high end watch with a gold case sold at prices comparable to those of high end Swiss watches. Raketa cheekily calls this watch “the Oligarch”. It is a strong and elegant watch with a distinctive Russian style.
This is the Zvezda model
Raketa also makes watches specifically for women. The dial of its flagship women’s watch, the “Zvezda” (“star”) - the same name as that used for the first watch made by the factory after the war - was specifically designed for Raketa by the famous Russian model Natalia Vodianova.
It is loosely based on a Raketa design from 1974. However Vodianova has redesigned it to suit the glamorous women of today’s Russia, with a shimmering mother of pearl dial encrusted with red jewels in the pattern of a red star. The watch is available with Raketa’s automatic movement or with a quartz movement.
Raketa as a company has big plans. It is considering relaunching its old pre-revolutionary Talberg brand as a super luxury brand. It has opened outlets in Russian luxury stores like GUM and TsUM.
Raketa has joined forces with Russia Insider to support our crowdfunding campaign. You can own one of their best watches - including the Zvezda, the Polar, the new Petrodvorets Classic with the automatic movement worn by the likes of Putin and Shoigu, the Amphibia and the Oligarch, by participating in our crowdfunding campaign that Raketa is generously supporting.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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