Like the junkies that we are, many watch hobbyists require larger and larger doses the longer that we are held in the grips of addiction. Purchase prices continue to escalate in order for us to be able to “feel something” from a watch purchase. When you took your first hit of SKX, you probably never imagined that you’d describe a four figure price tag as “great value for money.”
I think that I feel this way because I wear even my nicest watches regularly. Why drink ginger ale when I have something stronger waiting for me at home?
Unfortunately, I don’t have an unlimited budget (I’m guessing you can relate), so I have to find creative ways to get my kicks. I’ve started to look for watches that have unique attributes that I have never experienced before. It's a good way to filter watch purchases, and keep my collection interesting.
Russian watches can be a great way to get that cheap high. Because the country’s mostly government-controlled watch industry developed in a bubble after WW2, Russian brands found unique ways to solve problems in ways that were quite different than the rest of the world. The result is that they are full of (to steal a phrase from car YouTuber Doug DeMuro) “quirks and features,”
This is why I purchased the Poljot Aviator alarm watch that I reviewed last year, and why (finally getting to the point of this article), I recently acquired a brand new Vostok Komandirskie diver for just under $100 on eBay.
Receiving the Komandirskie
I knew that the watch would have some quirks, but I didn’t expect its delivery to be one of them. For background, eBay buyers are typically provided a window of delivery dates. It is an estimate not based on any actual tracking information, and is usually a range of a few days. The Vostok’s estimated window spanned a full month, with the last date being about 6 weeks from purchase. I hoped that it would come more quickly, and declined the faster shipping option as it would have added about 20% to the purchase price of the watch.
After a few days, the tracking number was assigned, but it was almost two weeks before the watch started moving across Russia. It then seemed to get stuck again for a few more weeks. It finally showed up in New Jersey, and then quickly made its way to StrapHabit HQ in Ohio one day before the last day in eBay’s range.
I have no idea how the package was tracked at all, as the postage was paid by covering one entire side of the outer cardboard box in Russian postage stamps. Inside, the watch box itself is made from comically cheap molded red plastic. Padding was only provided by some bubble wrap around the watch itself.
Reading the Time
The first unique feature that you’ll spot on this version of the Komandirskie is its 24 hour dial. This was one of the reasons why I selected this specific reference. I had never owned a watch with a 24 hour dial and wanted to obtain the skill of reading one quickly.
The 24 hour dial provides a quick visual indication of how you’ve progressed through a full day, but it requires a bit more concentration to read than a 12 hour dial. The hour markers are much closer together, so it’s easy to be off by one.
The markings that Vostok chose for the dial don’t do any favors either. Small round lume plots mark only the even hours (mimicking a traditional dial), and are the same color as the white dial, causing them to visually disappear. More confusingly, markings for the odd hours fall at the 2.5 minute intervals with hash marks that longer, but the same color as the minute markers. This makes them appear as 5 minute markers rather than the lume plots. Once you've worn it for a while, it becomes easy to tell roughly what time it is at a quick glance, but focus is required to determine the exact minute.
Luckily, black hands are easy to spot against the white dial, and the arrow hour hand is easily differentiated from the minute hand. Overall an attractive mix of colors is used, with hints of red in the seconds hand and logo on the dial, as well as dark blue numerals and markings. This also makes for a lot of attractive strap color possibilities.
The lume is also fairly bright, especially for a watch this inexpensive. Unfortunately there just isn’t a lot of it, so it isn’t as easy to read in the dark as a typical Seiko diver.
Achieving its Water Resistance
When constructed using typical methods, tight tolerances must be kept to achieve significant water resistance. But machining to tight tolerances is expensive, and requires expensive machinery to perform on large scales. Despite this, Vostok was able to rate the Komandirskie at 200m of water resistance in a watch that was under $100 including shipping from Russia (and I’ve read stories of them withstanding pressures much higher).
The way that this is achieved is through unique construction of the three places where water could enter a watch case: the caseback, crystal, and crown.
Most Swiss and Japanese dive watches use a caseback that screws into the case. This means that the caseback itself spins, rubbing against its gasket. The shearing force created by this is why grease is recommended, and typically the gasket should be changed after a caseback removal to guarantee the maximum water resistance.
The Vostok’s caseback is keyed to the case, and does not rotate or engage with threads. The benefits are that the gasket does not have the caseback rotating around it, and can be much larger. Additionally, as water pressure increases the caseback actually presses harder on the gasket, creating a tighter seal.
So how does the caseback stay attached? After it is in place, an external ring screws around its perimeter to secure it.
The crystal is also set up differently than on other dive watches. Being plexiglass, it is able to flex ever so slightly without cracking. Its dome shape is designed to deflect outward when placed under pressure. As with the caseback, this creates a tighter seal with its gasket when diving.
Finally, the large crown acts as more of a cap over the very large threads. This allow for larger seals. The crown also de-couples from the stem when it's pushed in, reducing the chance of damaging the movement in an impact. The result is a wobbly crown that I would have thought was broken if I hadn’t heard about it in advance. A light outward pull on the crown is required to set the time, otherwise a clutch de-couples, and the crown just spins.
Thus far, all of the cost-cutting measures of the Komandirskie actually have some functional benefit. I don’t think that is the case for the bezel though. It looks attractive, with a clear plastic inlay over the very legible black on white markings (and cool tapered black bars across its 15 minute zone).
Unfortunately, I was quickly let down when I started turning it. The bezel has no clicks, and is bi-directional. While fairly smooth, it does not require much effort to rotate it, and does not have a particularly high quality feel. I can’t imagine that it would be ideal for diving.
Beyond that, the case finishing is fairly basic brushing all around, the bezel having the only polished surfaces. No sharp finishing is to be found anywhere. This just adds to the "cheap and cheerful" charm of the Vostok in my opinion. The case also has a unique shape with large, flat sides on its flanks.
The bracelet also looks very cheap, and doesn’t even have fitted end links. I quickly removed it, as I had read that they can be very difficult to size. It should come as no surprise that I’ve been wearing it on a number of different StrapHabit straps.
When on those aforementioned straps, the watch wears fairly well at 42mm. The plastic crystal (and likely other parts of its construction) make it fairly light and comfortable. Although it is fairly thick at 15mm, the crystal and caseback make up a lot of that, so it is visually thinner. It sits a bit on top of the wrist because o the bubble-like caseback, but nothing that makes it feel clumsy to wear.
Vostok caliber 2431.01 powers this variant of the Komandirskie. Besides the obvious 24 hour display, we again find a number of unconventional specifications. 2831.01 operates at 19.800 vph (5.5 beats per second). It features a rather high jewel count of 32. Unfortunately it has more jewels than hours of power reserve, as 31 is what Vostok guarantees (although I’ve seen other sources report it as 43 hours). It features hand-winding, but not hacking. Surprisingly, Vostok recommends a rather lengthy 10 years between services.
The date instantly snaps a few minutes before midnight like an ETA movement, yet the date mechanism does not have a quickset function. Also, you might have noticed in the photos that sometimes (but not always) the date display is not centered within its window.
I've found that my enjoyment of a purchase often correlates not to the overall quality of a product, but rather how it compares to my expectations. The Vostok, for example, has a number of low quality attributes, such as the flimsy bracelet, lack of quickset date, and wobbly crown that would drive me nuts if it had the name of a large Japanese or Swiss brand on the dial. That being said, people often spend thousands of dollars (or more) to buy vintage dive watches that have similar quirks, and similar build quality as the Vostok.
Because I made the purchase expecting a few rough edges, I'm really enjoying wearing the Komandirskie. I can't think of another watch that offers the character of this watch for under $100, especially if we're talking about something that you can buy brand new for that price. Best of all, they sell countless variations and colors of dials, bezels as well as different movement configurations for around the same price.
I've you're looking for a cheap thrill, I recommend going Russian. To learn about the Vostok Komandirskie K-65, and the brand's other offerings, visit (what I think is) the brand's official website here.
Do you have any Russian watches in your collection? What is your favorite cheap thrill watch? We'd love to hear about it in the comments.
Name: Vostok Komandirskie K-65
Reference Number: 650546
Price: Approx. $100
Dimensions: 42mm diameter, 49mm lug-to-lug, 15mm thick, 20mm lug width
Movement: Vostok 2431.01
Water Resistance: 200m
Crystal: Double domed plexiglass
Bezel: Bidirectional, friction
Strap/Bracelet: Stainless steel bracelet