Before the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), watches made in Russia were assembled locally from parts produced in other watchmaking centers like Switzerland. Though the USSR was formally established at the end of 1922, the Soviets didn’t launch their own watchmaking industry until 1930.
That year, the Soviet government purchased two bankrupted American companies, the Dueber-Hampden Watch Company and the Ansonia Clock Company, and transported all of their assets to Moscow. Several former employees were temporarily hired to train Soviet citizens in watch manufacturing at the newly established First State Watch Factory, which was later renamed the First Moscow Watch Factory. The Dueber-Hampden pocket-watch designs they used became known as Type-1.
Military operations during World War II made accurate timekeeping even more essential, and the USSR soon opened new factories to help meet demand. The defeat of the Axis powers also gave the Soviets an opportunity to acquire some of Germany’s surviving machinery. In the late 1940s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin launched the production of a watch brand known as Pobeda (“Victory”), which quickly became the country’s most popular style.
Throughout the 1950s, the Soviet Union continued to increase production of mechanical watches, adding styles explicitly aimed at exporting, including the popular Sekonda brand watches sold in the United Kingdom. Soviet watchmakers excelled at adapting cutting-edge designs to a more affordable price point, while also improving the accuracy or durability of styles that originated in places like Switzerland and the United States.
By the mid-1950s, the USSR’s watchmaking industry was second only to the Swiss. Soviet manufacturers introduced several innovative watches for special purposes, like the Braille wristwatches whose dial could be read by the blind or the Amphibia diver watches that could withstand the high pressures experienced underwater.
The space race also inspired several designs, like those with imagery of Sputnik or rockets circling the globe on their dials. Other styles were popularized by astronauts like Yuri Gagarin, who wore a Sturmanskie (“Navigator’s”), which was only available to flight-academy graduates.
Major brands produced in the Soviet Union also include Elektronika, Kirovskie, Komandirskie (“Commander’s”), Luch (“Ray” or “Beam”), Mir (“Peace”), Molnija (“Lightning”), Moskva ...
Along with the stagnating Soviet economy, watch production decreased in the 1970s and ‘80s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the region’s watchmaking industry took its final blow, never regaining the status it held during the Cold War era.