Vintage USSR watches

Apart from love for music, I inherited another fascination from my dad. A love for watches. I don’t remember when exactly he started collecting watches, or if he always has. But as a teenager he gave me my first “real watch”: sturdy, analogue, classic but not too much, leather wrist band, a chronometer.

My father has a lot of watches, different styles and colors, for different occasions. At one point he got a mechanical movement Seiko watch. Mechanical watches work, well, mechanical. There is no battery or other power source, just the mechanics of the watch. There are watches that you have to wind up daily and there are ‘automatic watches’. The concept is beautiful, and so is the technology. The gears and springs that create (perpetual) movement. Apart from that, it’s sustainable: no batteries to replace and if kept well, the watches should run for as long as you use and care for them.


After I got that watch from my dad, I started paying attention to watches other people wore. I bought my own watch, a little more to my liking. An analogue Diesel but with a battery. In my search for minimal watches, I found this stylish one that has a broad black wristband, a simple white face with simple black hands and one bright orange hand for the seconds. Over the years I gathered quite some things that are black, white and ‘a dash of color’.
A few years later I got an awesome digital watch from TokyoFlash Japan. Stark, all black with bright orange face. But it isn’t just a simple digital watch. It’s a binary watch where date and time are displayed in binary digits.

Binary wrist watch by Tokyo Flash Japan in black and orange.
Binary watch from TokyoFlash Japan

But if anybody on the street would ask me what time it was, it took me a whole minute to figure it out. And they’d be too late for their bus.

Then came along the cellular phones then smartphones, and I actually stopped wearing watches for a long time. Apart from always having another device to read the time, I suddenly decided that any watch on my wrists was too massive.
Until a few years ago when I ordered, yet another, watch for my father (because he doesn’t know how to order stuff online – thank god) and my eye fell on a tiny women’s watch. I don’t remember what brand, it was way to gold for my liking, but the size was great. Around the same time I got hooked on K-drama series on Netflix like Stranger, Black, Man to man, etc. And all the actrices wore tiny elegant wrist watches. I wanted one! So I dove in another rabbit hole looking for ‘small minimal wrist watches for women’.


I found a lot of beautiful minimal wrist watches (not specifically for women) which I will gather gathered in another post. But finding small ones was harder. By small I mean maximum 3 cm diameters with crown, preferably smaller.

The first watch I got was from a Belgian brand, which I like because it’s local. I got the Black and Cognac Moneypenny from Komono.

Komono Moneypenny Ladies watch
Komono’s Moneypenny

Apart fom being small (22x24mm), minimal and Belgian, it isn’t very expensive. I still have it, I still like it, but after a few years the casing has some scratches, the black plating wore off a little and the wristband broke quite fast. But again, it wasn’t expensive, bands can be replaced and a little wear isn’t a bad thing.

But my fascination with automatic watches remained. And as my Moneypenny’s wristband broke again, a new decent band would cost as much as the watch itself, so I dived into that rabbit hole of watches again.
This time I did find other brands holding small watches like Lip’s Henriette or Tissot’s beautiful ‘Lovely square‘, but way more expensive. Knowing that I wear the small watch every day, and it will get an occasional scratch, I am not prepared to pay a fortune for a watch that I’ll be afraid to wear and then keep in a box. So the search continued and led me to another epiphany: vintage USSR watches for women.

Tiny vintage USSR

I stumbled upon these by a classic web search for “tiny wristwatch women”. this led me to Etsy an several sellers holding beautiful tiny watches by brands like Chaika, Kometa, Luch, Sekonda, … . and I found the website by Dashiell Stanford that is your go-to source if you have any interest in the history of these watches.

The watchmaking industry in the USSR knew a real surge right before WWII. Founded in 1930 under orders from Joseph Stalin, the First State Watch Factory was the first large scale Soviet watch and mechanical movement manufacturer. In need of military and specialized watches, but short of expertise, the Soviet government bought two bankrupt watch making companies in the USA (Ansonia Clock Company and the Dueber-Hampden Watch Company) and shipped machinery, materials and even the expert watchmakers, engravers and technicians themselves over.
The First State Watch Factory manufactured new timepieces using the purchased equipment from Dueber-Hampten.
One month later the Second State Watch Factory started manufacturing time pieces using the purchased equipment from the Ansonia Clock Company.
During the war in 1941 the First State Watch Factory was evacuated to Zlatoust, a city 1600 kilometers from Moscow and operated as Factory 845. Two years later in 1943 the Moscow factory was reestablished and focussed on manufacturing wrist watches. In 1947 the factory was officially renamed to First Moscow Watch Factory. 
There were other large scale factories like the Penza Factory (or the Third State Watch Factory). They all produced several brands over the years to come and some brands like Luch, Slava, Vostok and Poljot still exist today.

Apart from military, specialized watches, another specialty was tiny watches for women. A face diameter of 2 cm was rather common and there was even a whole range of uniquely small watches. A collectible and well-known model is the Chaika 1200 with a size of 9 x 13mm!
It was the smallest caliber ever produced in the Soviet Union (and remains one of the smallest calibers ever made).

Cornavin ladies wrist watch

After digging in the history of several brands, their history and legacy, I found my lovely Cornavin ’70 watch, produced by the Second Moscow Watch Factory. It has is square shaped, 20mm x 20mm and with crown it’s 24mm wide. It’s gold with a black face, has the small Cornavin logo, and minimal black lines to point the hours.
I wear it daily and winding it up is the first thing I do in the morning. It has become my little daily ritual and I love it. To me, it’s like literally winding myself up for the day to come.
Make time ready to be lived. One day at a time.