The Vostok Amphibia – Reinventing the Dive Watch
Watch & Bullion1 June 2016 | 2 min read
My history teacher used to say, ”Necessity breeds invention,” and no watch stands truer to that than the Vostok amphibia.
Faced with the need for a dive watch for their military and the patents for the designs of Rolex being too expensive, the Russian designers were faced with a serious challenge; how to make a dive watch without relying on any of the pre-existing knowledge?
Their approach was to analyse the main weaknesses of a dive watch, the crown, the caseback, and the crystal, and to engineer their own solutions on how to solve them. Here is how they did it:
Crowns have the issue that they are usually directly connected to the movement and have relatively fragile stems, which can break or, worse, damage the movement upon impact. The solution for the Russians was to detach the crown from the movement using a clutch. That way, the crown and movement are only coupled when you pull it out. While this may feel a bit weird on the first operation, it provides a much safer alternative in case of impacts or shocks.
To this day, casebacks are usually made out of one piece together with an o-ring, creating a seal. This, however, requires lubrication and careful placement of the ring to ensure a proper seal. Vostok decided on a completely different approach, and something I struggle to believe is not more common. The caseback is not screwed in but dropped to fit into two nugs and secured with a different screw ring. This is a safer option and a much cheaper and easier solution.
The crystal is made out of Lucite, which expands with pressure. This has the effect that at 200 meters, it expands by half a millimetre. Therefore you no longer need rubber seals or crystal retainment rings which makes for an inexpensive yet highly effective model.
It sounds like something that shouldn’t work, a Russian dive watch which does just about everything different from how you know it whenever you wear it though all those little oddities add up to an unavoidable truth that it does work, but just different from how you expected it to.