The Russian Panerai: Vostok AMPHIBIA Classic 170548

Vostok Amphibia Classic 170548

This is a year of exceptions, not just in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic that is raging throughout the globe, but also the almost immediate stoppage to global travel and undeniably the spotlight on the impact when necessities and essentials are outsourced to cheaper countries, but get immeasurably more costly at a time when it was most needed.

Personally, this was a year of firsts for me as well in terms of the watch collecting hobby as my rate of watch purchases has slowed down drastically over time. This is partially driven by the lack of resources and also the lack of an avenue for displaying newly acquired timepieces since I’ve been working from home for almost the entire year. I’ve however taken the opportunity to wind up my trusty Kinetic Landmaster to its full potential by wearing it almost daily, given its lack of wrist time before COVID struck.

Another first which I’m proud to announce is my first Russian timepiece and the subject of today’s short post! A cheap, but utterly interesting Vostok Amphibia! I got it for less than USD 150 and the quality is incredible for its price, much like the impression that my Seiko Orange Monster (SKX781) first gave me when I bought it in 2007. A very well-built beater watch that punches way above its price point, with cons that one can easily live with. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Seiko watches today, which is honestly getting too close to the lower tier Swatch group brands in terms of value offered for the money.

First up, I’m no expert on Russian watches beyond the fact that they have their own fans, especially in the watch modding community and I got my first dose of good old Russian watches from this excellent blog focused on Russian watches.

Secondly, it’s pretty obvious that this was no historical re-issue, but rather a copy of a rather famous Italian watch brand with the sandwich dial, cut-out 12,3,6,9 index markers and lack of a minute track/markers.

Thirdly, Vostok are authentic dive watches and they achieve their water resistance in a vastly different manner from the Swiss and Japanese watches. Rather than having a static water resistance setup, Vostok watches gets more and more water resistant as the water pressure builds up! There’s an excellent decade old article on WUS that explains this in detail over here complete with pictures and diagrams!

I will like to copy sections of the 3 main points of Amphibia’s design here for future reference:

  1. Crystal

The Amphibia crystal profile – thickness, and both internal and external curves – was carefully calculated with respect to the mechanical characteristics of PMMA. In actual production each crystal needs to be individually machined to a high level of precision, so that it can fit into the watch case tightly, to effect the first phase of water resistance. When submerged, the increasing water pressure will flatten the crystal, making its circumference minutely greater along the way, which increases the effectiveness of the seal between the crystal and the watch case.

An added consideration is that, at a depth of 200m, water pressure reaches 20kg per square centimetre, this makes the crystal pushed in by about 0.5mm. During the design phase of the crystal profile, special care was given to allow for sufficient clearance, so that the inside surface of the crystal would not hit the hands mechanism.

2. Case Back

The Amphibia caseback also takes advantage of water pressure to effect and enhance water resistance. In a nutshell, to make the caseback water resistant, it is all in two words: squashing rubber. But how much rubber is squashed, and how it is squashed, are also important.

The Amphibia design eliminates these issues in one stroke. The caseback drops into the back of the watch case, and has two keys which mate with keyways in the case, preventing the caseback from rotating altogether. Then a threaded locking ring is screwed in, this presses down the caseback on the comparatively huge flat rubber gasket, which bears only compression load. This way, the gasket can be very big, giving a total seal surface many times greater than what can be offered by the O-ring in conventional designs. Needless to say, the gasket has no wear whatsoever, and there is absolutely no need to replace it.

Under high water pressure, the caseback is still pushed in by a small amount. At 200m depth, the gasket is further compressed by about 20-30%. But this causes no problems at all: in fact it enhances water resistance. Novikov and Belova, however, found that regular rubber gaskets such as those used in Komandirskies, have an inherent problem. During surfacing, the decrease in pressure should allow the gasket to bounce back to its original thickness in real time, but the rubber material could not do so in time. New rubber processing methods were developed and a sintering system was settled on: the rubber material is first ground into a fine dust, then put under heat and high pressure. This makes the individual particles to fuse together, resulting in a uniform and smooth rubber sheet, from which gaskets are made by the process of die-cutting. This sintered rubber has the correct rebound performance, ensuring total water resistance during surfacing.

3. Crown

Many novices are alarmed by the characteristic “wobbly crown”, but this is part of the design feature, with extra benefits.

Like the designs detailed before, the Amphibia crown and stem assembly incoporates a clutch between the two pieces, hidden inside the crown: they are coupled only when the crown is pulled slightly away from the stem, otherwise they are decoupled and the crown wobbles somewhat in relation to the stem. During winding – and time setting – the crown needs to be manually pulled away slightly as it does not incorporate an internal spring, eliminating the pressures imparted on the keyless works, and the inherent “wobble” prevents the stem from getting bent.

When the crown is screwed in, the clutch de-couples, which means the crown and case become one unit, and the movement and stem become another. In the unlikely event of serious shock, where the movement moves minutely within the case, this decoupling means that the stem would never bear any load, and the wide clearance between the stem and stem tube facilitates that. The conventional designs do not offer this built-in protection.

With those out of the way, let’s get down to my watch review.

This watch uses a sandwich dial, which is rarely seen in Amphibia watches and probably accounts for the price premium (Amphibias are usually less expensive). The dial is matt black with the green lumed disc peeking through the upper cut-out dial. The 9 and 6 hour indexes are literally mirrors of each other. The cut out is clean cut and looks neat on close examination.

The dial has quite a few lines of writing, and the Cyrillic script makes it really exotic for non Russian collectors myself. The logo at the twelve o’clock position is “Boctok”, which is the Russian name for Vostok. At the bottom 6 o’clock position, it’s proclaiming the “31 Jewel”, “Automatic” movement that beats inside it and its water resistance of “200m”. Right beside the 6 o’clock cut out, it says “Made in Russia”.

The hands comprises of 2 rectangles of varying lengths, while the seconds hand is a lollipop. The hour and minute hands are lumed with the hour hand having a divider inside it. The hour and minute hands are of the right length but I felt that the seconds hands could have extended further to the edge of the dial.

The diameter of the visible part of the dial is 30 mm, the overall size of the case with the crown is 46 mm by 41 mm, and the case thickness is 15 mm.  The stainless case is nicely brushed radially from the center. The bezel is oddly rotating and fully polished which adds a nice dressy factor to an otherwise beast of a watch.

As you can also see from the distortion in the picture above, the curved acrylic crystal sits high above the watch, which makes it susceptible to scratches and knocks which can be easily polished away.

The lugs form part of the case and are not a distinct part of the case nor soldered on separately. The lugs are fairly straight and only have the faintest slope downwards to help with wearability. Point to note, the lugs can be fairly sharp on the underside of the watch.

The massive crown is proportional to the case, but completely not required to help with manual winding as the movement is automatic. It’s also an incredibly nice touch to have a signed crown for a watch at this price point. The crown is grooved but the flat, engraved edge is completely polished, which adds an additional contrast against the brushed steel case.

Here I’ve shown what the crown stem looks like when it’s fully unscrewed, but not engaged to the winding mechanism. When I first unscrewed the crown, I thought that the wobbly stem was broken, but I realised later on that it’s part of its design! Very unique and yet very unnerving for newbies to Russian watches.

Here is the case back which is brushed vertically and also stamped with that I can only imagine is the technical specifications of this watch. This case back can be easily swapped out for a design that is more ornate or even a see through case back.

As mentioned earlier, the back of the lugs can be really sharp as shown here. The back of the case is also brushed radially outwards which mirrors the top side of the case.

All in all, the “fun factor” for this watch is extremely high for its price and reminds me fondly of the Seiko divers of the decades past when corporate profitability and marketing were of lower priority and many hidden gems can be found still. This Vostok Amphibia is a highly functional diver, yet somewhat dressy due to its lack of a diving bezel and comes with an amazing sandwich dial for would-be Paneristi who can’t bear to go with the Swiss original.

However, the Vostok is not without its shortcomings, including sharp edges, solid and imposing case design, a somewhat short power reserve (31 hours for this movement) and a non-functional rotating, polished bezel (?!?).

If these shortcomings are something that you can live with, this model is definitely a good entry point to the world of Russian watches.

4 thoughts on “The Russian Panerai: Vostok AMPHIBIA Classic 170548

  1. “The logo at the twelve o’clock position is “Boctok”, which is the Russian name for Voctok.”

    Actually, the transliteration is “Vostok”.

  2. I just discovered your blog and enjoyed reading your review of this exotic watch. Good pictures, informative and engaging text, love it!

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