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 by 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 first operation, it provides for 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 which creates a seal. This however requires lubrication as well as careful placement of the ring to ensure a proper seal. Vostok decided for 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 not only is a safer option, but a much cheaper and easier solution.
The crystal is made out of a material called Lucite, which expands if pressure is applied. This has to an effect that at 200 meter it expands by half a millimetre. Therefore you no longer need rubber seals or crystal retainment rings, and 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.