Raketa and Russian 24 Hour Watch Review
Summary: Cheap and fun way to learn about 24-hour timekeeping with a variety of wristwatches and 24-hour pocket watches..
Pocket watches are as rare as spats these days, but a 24-hour pocket watch? Is there such a thing?
There sure is; welcome to the world of 24-hour timekeeping. 24-hour watches, clocks and, apparently, pocket watches are more popular in Europe than in North America, and Russia has a long history of 24-hour timekeeping due to their 10 different time zones. Think about that one for a minute...
A sub-culture of watch collecting is devoted to the 24-hour watch; actually, there are quite a few more 24-hour watches than most people probably realize. Some are "ToT", or "Twelve on Top" watches, with noon (or 1200 hours in 24-hour parlance) indicated by the standard "12" at the top of the dial.
This puts 0600 in the 9 o'clock position and 1800 hours, or 6 p.m., in the 3 o'clock position and the sweep of the hour hand across the top of the dial, with noon at the top, symbolizes the sweep of the sun from dawn to dusk.
Confused? You shouldn't be. 24-hour timekeeping is pretty easy once you get used to it. Actually, it's very easy until noon, but after that, the hours count up from 13 to 23:59:59. The best part about wearing a 24-hour watch is when someone asks you the time and you quickly read it off while they scratch their head, wondering what's wrong with your watch.
Raketa 24-Hour Watches
Raketa ("Rocket" [Pакета] in Russian) traces their history all the way back to 1721. Like any business, they've had ups and they've had downs over the years, but the bottom line is that watches with the Raketa name have been around for quite a while and they're very popular with collectors.
The watches seen in the photos in this review are of late 20th Century vintage, made either by Raketa or with other Russian heritage. Raketa is undergoing a reorganization and they claim that this style case and technology will be superseded in the very near future by an entirely new collection of watches. That remains to be seen, but the important point is that anyone who wants a watch of this design should act fast, as apparently once they're gone, they're gone for good.
Most of the "modern" Raketa watches of this vintage use the familiar semi-cushion style case. The watches are of modest width; 38 to 39 mm across, not counting the crown. The construction is...well, let's just say that it's a good thing they're updating the manufacturing techniques and technology. And styling.
Like most of the inexpensive Russian watches, these Raketa and Russian-themed 24-hour watches and pocket watches are basic, no-frills timepieces with simple, rugged build quality. They're nowhere near the quality of the Vostok Amphibia, for example -- which, in a way, isn't saying much. But for watch collectors who are curious about 24-hour timekeeping and who don't want to spend a lot of money (and who desire a mechanical watch), the Raketa is the only game in town.
Raketa 24-Hour Watch Variations
There has been some controversy surrounding this style of Raketa watch, with the company now claiming that many of them are fakes. Why anyone would make the effort to fake a $35.00 watch that probably sells at a rate of a couple hundred per year world-wide is the first question that comes to mind. The next question would be "Then where do all those Raketa parts and watch cases come from?"
My theory is that with the entire Russian watch industry struggling, the factories are probably scrounging every spare part they can find in the old dustbins and putting together whatever they can to make some money. And how about all those employees -- nothing against them, of course -- but perhaps a few parts here and there came home, and some watches were put together on the kitchen table?
"You pays your money and you takes your chances", as the old saying goes. There are literally dozens of different Raketa or Russian 24-hour watches for sale all over the internet, and who knows what's real and what isn't. If they're sold by an otherwise reputable dealer and they look like a Raketa and they have a Raketa movement, then from the customer's point of view, it's a genuine Raketa. Raketa needs to control their own output and not put the blame on a customer.
Remember the old saying? "If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck". Raketa has been on a campaign to disclaim ownership of these style watches now that the company is trying to reorganize. Sorry, I don't believe it. They have the same movements, style, manufacturing techniques and movements of "genuine" Raketa watches. They were sold by reputable dealers, some with paperwork, boxes and original packaging that is clearly Raketa. So as far as I'm concerned, they are genuine.
Not that it matters -- I can understand why Raketa might want to turn its back on these watches also. Let's face it -- the quality is the lowest you will probably find in a mechanical watch, putting these in the novelty category. But the surprising thing is that the watches seem to be well built, reliable and they are very accurate. But again, Raketa needs to forget the past, admit that the parts and cases probably leaked out of their own factory and move on.
The wristwatches in the photos are of two types: the Raketa "Pilot" in yellow (shown in the video) and black and the "Polar" version, which has a design that is common to the majority of the Raketa 24-hour watches that are for sale.
The yellow Pilot is very rare; it was purchased in Germany and came with a much higher quality strap than the very cheap watch straps that usually come on the lower-end Russian watches. The basic Raketa straps are especially bad, in my opinion.
The black Pilot is (or was) more common. It has lume on the hands and face, but Raketa has sometimes claimed that any watch with lumed hands isn't correct. Who knows? Hard to believe it didn't come straight from the factory.
The smaller yellow Raketa may be a parts-bin special. It measures only 33 mm across and although it (supposedly) has the same 2623h movement as the others (the only one I can confirm is the yellow Pilot shown in the video; it has a 2609h movement), it doesn't seem to be a standard Raketa type, although it's just as accurate as the others.
Raketa 24-Hour Pocket Watches
As if a 24-hour wristwatch wasn't enough fun, how about a 24-hour pocket watch? When is the last time you saw someone pull out a pocket watch? How about a 24-hour pocket watch?
I never even knew there was such a thing. So if you really want to generate some excitement, get yourself a Raketa 24-hour pocket watch. Raketa also has conflicting information on these; they're on record in some watch collector forums as saying that they never made a 24-hour pocket watch. Again, I have a hard time believing this.
In any case, if you can find one, they're loads of fun. The case and face are much bigger than the relatively petite (by today's standards) Raketa watches, so that's a plus immediately in their favor. The hands are also very cool-looking I think, with the "Ace of Spades" hour hand and the long, pointed minute hand, combined with the larger surface area, making these among the easiest-to-read 24-hour watches to be found.
I have one in white and yellow; my original plan was to buy pairs of Raketa 24-hour wristwatches and pocket watches and match them up, wearing both at the same time (pun!), as a sort of 24-hour geek. The pocket watches can sometimes be found in red, black or even green, along with the yellow and white.
These are both very accurate; among the most accurate watches I own. I sometimes wear the pocket watch around my neck on one of those sporty ID badge holders for that extra-special geeky look! Pop one of these on the conference table at your next meeting and watch the crowd oooh and ahhh.
Raketa says only the watches with the thin hands are correct. Unfortunately, those thin hands are difficult to read, espcially on the crowded face of a 24-hour timepiece. But for some reason, the paper-thin hands are a Raketa trademark.
The black Pilot watch is the only Raketa I own with lume, and it's actually not bad, as you can see in the photo below. But most of the lume on Russian watches leaves a lot to be desired, and fades quickly, so the non-lume versions may be a better investment, as they have one less thing to worry about.
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Movement, Setting and Accuracy
All of these Raketa watches are very accurate, with more than one running within 5 seconds per day. I reset my watches every day when I wear them anyway because I'm a stickler for accuracy. It's easy to do with the 2623h movement by using the "Poor Man's Hack". The yellow Pilot watch shown in the photos is said to have a Raketa 2609 movement and I'm not sure what difference there is.
That is, hold a little back pressure on the stem to stop the seconds hand, then wait for the "atomic" time to catch up, then let it go. Works every time on these watches for me.
Readability and Face
It does take some time (there's that pun again) to become accustomed to reading, thinking and talking in 24 hour time; unless, of course, you were in the armed forces. Avid internet users and webmasters are generally thinking in 24-hour time anyway -- at least I am. My Navy Reserve background helps also.
The Raketa pocket watches are much easier to read because of their larger and clearer numbers that are spread out over a wider surface area. Readability is of primary concern with a 24-hour watch and to be honest, I haven't found one yet of any brand that is as clear as it should be. Fashion has no place on a 24-hour watch -- pure function is what counts.
The Raketa pocket watch design comes pretty close though. The hour hand should point to the hour on a separate ring of numbers, which it does, while the minute hand should point to the minutes on their own printed ring. The Raketa has the minutes printed at intervals of 5, which helps.
The Pilot versions of the wristwatch come second and the Polar version with its thin hands that are camouflaged by the black printed numbers comes last. You can see in the last photo below comparing the white Polar wristwatch with the pocket watch, both set at nearly the same time, that the pocket watch is clearly (pun again?) easier to read.
These Raketas and many more (and Raketa makes a few 12 hour watches also with nearly the same case) are sometimes available on the internet or in forums, sold by owners who apparently tire of them after the novelty is worn off.
It may be best to buy one used; even though I paid only $25.00 for some of the wristwatches shown here, the shipping was nearly half that. The yellow Pilot came with papers, such as they are, and cost more, while the pocket watches were around $40.00 each, plus the $15.00 or so shipping from the Motherland.
In any case, at these prices, you can't go wrong!
Dimensions and Weight
The "standard" Raketa semi-cushion case, using the black Pilot as an example, measures 39.2 mm across, not counting the crown. It is 11.6 mm thick and it weighs a petite 53 grams with the standard leather strap.
A Raketa 24-hour pocket watch weighs 41 grams. It is 11.4 mm thick, although it seems thicker due to the rounded crystal. It measures exactly 40 mm across, but seems larger because it's "all dial".
The small Raketa shown in the photos measures 33 mm across and 12 mm thick.
A 24-hour watch is a lot of fun and, for some people, a necessity. The Raketa 24-hour timepieces are an easy way to try your hand at 24-hour timekeeping to decide which camp you're in.
Published: September 2010