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Not only for Cosmonauts. UPDATE

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27.06.2001 (23.01.2002)

Advantages:
Excellent quality, performance and value for money .  Highly individual .  Cult status among watch enthusiasts .

Disadvantages:
Minor problems with lumninescence and water resistance .  Only available from online stores .  Older and unlimited editions are lower quality .

Recommendable Yes:

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UPDATE 23.01.2002: This opinion was long overdue for an update. In its original version it was over 3,500 words long, thus I have taken out the waffling parts and brought the opinion to an acceptable 2,400 words. I hope it makes for a better read now.

Why would anyone buy a Russian watch? Depending on where you live, Russian watches are cult. On mainland Europe and in the US, mechanical Russian watches have caused some hype among watch collectors.

This is an introduction to the Poljot Mechanical Chronographs series and a review of its calibre and most popular models.


An Introduction to Mechanical Russian Watches
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 Mechanical Watches

Mechanical watches come without batteries or quartz drives. That means they are either designed for manual wind-up, or equipped with an automatic drive that powers itself from the movements of your arm. These mechanical watches don't come anywhere near the precision of a quartz watch, with variations of up to one minute per day, but their great advantage is that they can't run out of battery power in critical situations. For that reason mechanical calibres (movements) are the standard drives for pilot and diver watches, and are used even in some of the top models of Breitling and Omega, just to name a few.

 Chronographs

Chronographs are the standard watches for pilots, sailors, and divers. In addition to the standard dial, they have two or three sub-dials for 60 seconds and 30 minutes stop-watch-functionality. Thus they come with two chrono-pushers next to the wind-up crown, one for stop and go, and one for back to zero. Typically, but not always, chronographs come with a rotating bezel around the dial which shows a 60 minutes scale. This allows divers to measure their remaining time underwater, or pilots to measure flight segments. However, pilot watches sometimes feature a tachymeter scale for speed calculation instead.

 The POLJOT brand

Poljot was founded in the 1930s as the "First Moscow Watch Factory" (FMWF) and has since been the official supplier to the Soviet, then Russian, armed forces and aerospace programmes. FMWF's name was changed to "Poljot" (Flight) in 1961, when the first man in space, Juri Gagarin, was to wear the famous Poljot "Sturmanskije" (Navigator) watch.

In the early 1980s, Poljot purchased the production machines from the renown, high-quality Swiss watch movements maker ETA Valjoux for the equally famous, but discontinued Valjoux calibre 7734 drive. Poljot refined the movement and renamed it calibre 3133.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, Poljot had to look elsewhere for revenue and discovered the niche market of western watch enthusiasts who worshipped mechanical watches but weren't prepared to pay 1,500 £ or more for a Breitling or Omega, let alone to create a large collection of watches at these prices.

Since then Poljot has grown a remarkable customer base, mostly fed by internet sales, and keeps coming up with new models at lightning speed. Yet they're not throwing these watches on the market in masses. Most editions are limited to production numbers of 500, 1000, 1500 or 2000. Many of these editions will remind you of the models by famous Swiss watch makers, and are intended to do so, as Poljot has specialised in replicas.


 Replicas and Russian military designs

Note the difference here between replica and fake. A fake Rolex, for example, will show the Rolex name and logo, and some of the other features of the original watch, to make you think it's a real Rolex. It comes with the cheapest of movements and trades at ten dollars on a street stand in Palermo. Unless, of course, you are made believe that it is an original and pay something close to the full price of a Rolex.

Poljot has never engaged in that kind of business. Nonetheless, the Poljot designs are almost identical to those of famous German and Swiss watch makers, but bear the Poljot name and logo. Poljot was clever to strike design licensing deals with many watch makers, equips its watches with its own quality movements, and sells them under its own name. You buy a Poljot for a Poljot, not for a fake Omega. Hence Poljot's design practice is perfectly legal.

Communism is to be thanked for many of Poljot's historic replicas. Short of a Russian watch making tradition, the Soviet regime defined guidelines for official military watches which followed exactly the standards set by Swiss and German watchmakers, including design standards. These watches were then decorated with the logos of Soviet aerospace programmes to be worn by Russian pilots and cosmonauts. Few original Russian creations.


Poljot Chronograph 3133 series
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The Poljot calibre 3133 is one of the finest affordable mechanical movements for chronographs currently on the market. This is a refined version of the legendary ETA Valjoux calibre 7734 (not the 7736, as falsely reported in some articles), and is produced on the original machines which once assembled the 7734. Many parts are exchangeable between the Valjoux and the Poljot movement.

The calibre is 31 mm, allowing for dial diameters from 35 mm to well over 40 mm. (1 ½ inch and more). It is 7.35 mm high, which means that watches using this movement are usually between 11 and 15 mm high, (around half an inch). The movement is designed for a 60 seconds sub-dial on the left, a 30 minutes sub-dial on the right, and a date-of-the-month calendar at 6 o'clock position.

More interesting are its performance figures, in particular a claimed mean daily rate (variance) of -10 to +20 seconds per day. The stated wind-up reserve is 43 hours with stopwatch turned off, and 37 hours with stopwatch turned on. Watch enthusiasts may be interested to learn that the 3133 has 23 ruby jewels, a balance period of 0.333 seconds, and 21,600 BPH (Valjoux 7734: 18,000 BPH).

Let's take a look at some of Poljot's most popular models which employ this movement. All of the following models trade at between £ 80 and £ 180 on the internet.


 "Luftwaffe" Junghans-style

This is an exact replica of the 1955 German Air Force Chronograph built by Junghans. It is the first Poljot watch I ever bought, and my favourite until today. This watch is black with white numbers, the body made of shiny polished stainless steel, with a bezel that is not completely round, but has 12 rounded corners. At 38 mm diameter and 14 mm height, it stands up high from your arm and is a real eye-catcher, but not as bold as a massive Breitling, Omega or Rolex. The bezel has a 60 minutes scale and is 1mm higher than the glass, protecting it from scratches. Not that there is much protection needed, for the glass is mineral crystal, which is very scratch resistant. The watch comes with a screw-in stainless steel back, a massive wind-up crown and two solid chrono pushers.

 "Buran" Tutima-/Hanhart-style

"Buran" was the official watch of cosmonauts flying on the Buran shuttle, the Soviet equivalent to the American Space Shuttle. The Buran space-flight programme was discontinued after just one launch, but the watch has remained.

The Buran is a replica of the classic pilot watch of German watchmakers Tutima and Hanhart from the 1940s and 50s. Like these it comes with white numbers on a black dial, a round bezel (without scale) and the typical red marker. The Tutima logo has been replaced with the name Buran in Cyrillic letters and a red star with wings logo. Tutima watches are famous for their onion-shaped minute-hand, which makes a reappearance in the Buran. At 37 mm diameter and 13mm height, it is slightly slimmer than other 3133 models.

The "Buran" is the only Poljot watch that is available with all four Poljot movements (i.e. the 3133 chronograph, 2614 plain mechanical, 2612 mechanical alarm, and 2616 automatic). But the chronograph is by far the most typical.


 "Ruslan" Breitling-style

"Ruslan" is the name of the Antonov AN-124 cargo aircraft which was built to carry the Buran shuttle (like the Boeing Jumbo-Jet did with the Space Shuttle "Enterprise"). The "Ruslan" watch is a replica of the very first Breitling "Navitimer" models. Unlike the newer "Navitimer" and "Montbrilliant" versions, the first designs only had two sub-dials, and so does the "Ruslan".
The "Ruslan" has the front view of the AN-124 as its logo, and looks rather massive. Although at 38 mm diameter and 13 mm height it isn't bigger than the other 3133 models, it looks so big because the bezel is very thin and the glass spans over the whole diameter. Not everybody's taste, but a real classic.


 Other Designs

The models mentioned above represent only a fraction of the designs available with the Calibre 3133 chronograph. Besides the replicas, there are Poljot's own designs. Here are some examples:

- "Sturmanskije" in 1960s retro-look, a reminder of Russia's first cosmonauts.
- "SS-18" titanium watch from the metal of recycled nuclear missiles.
- "Blancmange" with engraved gold-plated movement and glass back.

Then there are the new "Aviator" and "Aerowave" series in Fortis and Laco styles respectively, a whole new era of Poljot watches. But I will leave these two for another review on one of Poljot's other calibres.


The Market for Poljot Watches
_____________________________________________________

In Western Europe and North America, Poljot watches are almost exclusively sold on the internet. Here are the three best websites that I have found for Poljot watches:

www.poljot.com or www.poljot.ch (same site)
www.poljot.de/shop.eng/index.html
www.russia2all.com

None of these are official Poljot sites, but those of Poljot merchants. Thus warranty periods, shipping formalities and prices vary significantly.

The biggest marketplace for Russian watches is www.ebay.de, the German Ebay site. There are usually several hundred Poljots on auction, however without warranty. Yet they usually come with bracelet, case and certificate. This is where I have bought all my Poljot watches.


Test & Verdict
_______________________________________________________

(+) Excellent Finishing & Performance

I like the solid feel of my Poljots. When you wind them up, you can feel a bit of resistance. This continues when you rotate the bezel, which is a bit difficult. Proof for solid construction with low tolerances. As for performance, the 3133 adheres to the tolerances claimed by Poljot. In their original state, both my 3133s were at the upper limit of 20 seconds per day variance. However, there is calibration screw inside which you can set to bring variance down to below 5 seconds per day. You will just have to repeat that several times a year, with changing climate and operating temperature. Apart from that, I have never experienced any failures of my Poljot 3133s. Indeed my Poljot watches exceed some of the manufacturer's performance specifications. The wind-up reserve with stop-watch turned on lasts over two days, much better than the claimed 37 hours.


(-) Bad Visibility at Night

The luminescent powder used on the numbers and hands of most Poljots, are not really made for night-time use, as their light fades after just one hour. Beware of the old (Soviet) Poljot models - these use radioactive phosphor. The luminescence problem has been solved with the new "Aviator" and "Aerowave" models. These come with "Super Luminova" tritium powder for prolonged night-time visibility, which lasts for around five hours.


(-) No Diving Capability

Most Poljot chronographs are water resistant just to 5 ATM. That's enough to wear them in the shower, but doesn't allow scuba diving, a discipline at which chronographs are typically applied. The cause is the wind-up crown which with most models is not made for screw-in. Relief comes with the new "Aviator" and "Aerowave". These models feature a screw-in crown which increases water resistance to 10 ATM, enough for amateur use.


(+) Good Serviceability

Because the Calibre 3133 employs many exchangeable parts which are also used in the Swiss ETA Valjoux movements, you don't have to send them to the Kremlin for repair, but can have them maintained at any local (quality) watch store.


(+) A Playground for Individual Refining

In a way, mechanical watches are made for mechanics, meaning you can always tune them to your own desires. The most typical tuning is a glass back, which allows you to see your watch in motion on the inside. A great sight with every mechanical movement, and in particular with such a beauty as the 3133. Ready-made glass backs are available for many models and can be purchased from the above mentioned online stores at around 20 £. Or they can be custom-made by your local jeweller. The high-end version would be a sapphire crystal glass back. Sapphire crystal is also the outmost tuning for the front glass, making it almost impossible to scratch. It's also a great form of understatement. A sapphire glass front and back together can easily double the price and value of your watch without it showing to the novice's eye.


(-) Non-Transparent Market

The trade in Poljot watches is performed on the internet by more or less authorised dealers. Thus you never know where your Poljot actually comes from, i.e. if it was exported legally, or smuggled, or has fallen from the back of a truck. Warranty periods, where offered, differ significantly from dealer to dealer. I have never had to send in a watch for repair, so don't know if it is performed properly. Much of the online trade in Poljot watches depends on mutual trust. And it's easy to ruin your good name on Ebay where most of this trade takes place. Thus the trusting way has worked fine for me so far.


(+) Long-term Value

A Poljot doesn't lose in value. Subject to perfect condition, a used limited edition Poljot will almost surely trade near the price of a new one. And if you keep it long enough, its value will eventually increase. A first edition "Sturmanskije" trades at several thousand pounds today.


(+/-) No Female Models

Poljot doesn't produce any female size watches, at least not in the newer series, and particularly not for the 3133 chronographs.


(+) Cult Status and Individualism

The greatest advantage to a limited edition Poljot is its individualism, cult status and eye-catching effect. These watches can really turn heads.

_____________________________________________________

© 2001-2002 Hansjörg Gebel


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Comments about this review »

pmsbony 14.10.2003 17:17

great op. Mrs pete has offered to buy me a decent watch for my Bday and poljot was one brand I was looking at. You get a lot of bang for your buck fromt what I have seen.

Dardalius 05.04.2003 17:54

A most excellent opinion. My watch cost £5 and does the job fine but to own a divers watch would be a childhood dream come true.. thanks

BNibbles 19.03.2003 09:34

I know I've already read this, but I'm getting interested in the "Junghans Flieger" replica so I thought I'd re-read. I know mechanical watches can't compete for accuracy. My cheapest watch, which is radio-controlled, bought for £20 from Tchibo is the most accurate normally possible, but it doesn't satisfy my need to own a precision machine. That's why I keep my Nikon F even though nearly all my photos are digital these days. p.s I've just looked at some fake (sorry, replica) Rolex sites, and even the fakes cost $1000! Chris

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Product Information »

Product details

Long Name Chronographs series 3133
Type Watch
Manufacturer Poljot

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This review of Poljot Chronographs series 3133 has been rated:

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