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Sturmanskie "Ocean Navy Pilot's Watch" Review

by The TimeSurfer for webWatchWorld.com

Summary: This Volmax Sturmanskie chronograph (3133-1615654) is a massive watch powered by the famous 3133 Maktime movement. It has some plastic external parts that detract from the overall look and feel. This one had a few quality issues and a curious run of bad luck, but otherwise it's an interesting and modern take on the standard 3133 chronograph movement for those with wrists big enough to handle it.

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Background

Volmax owns the Sturmanskie brand name, and the company makes a series of Sturmanskie wristwatches and chronographs in both traditional and modern styles.

This one has been called the "Ocean Navy Pilot's Watch", and it carries the Volmax part number of 3133-1615654.

I call it the "Sturmanskie TV" watch, because the shape of the face reminds me of an old 1950's vintage television screen. We had a DuMont black-and-white TV when I was a kid with a plastic surround that looked just like the face of this Sturmanskie chrono.

This watch is available with the black face seen here or in a white or black face with partially opened seconds and minute counter sub-dials. An all-lume face version was once available, but I haven't seen it for sale in some time.

It's rather an expensive watch for a Russian 3133 chronograph, with list prices now around the $1,000.00 USD mark, nearly twice what I paid for this one a couple of years ago.

Sturmanskie Quality Issues

Volmax has a good reputation for construction quality, but this watch had a couple of quality flaws right out of the box, which meant that it had to be sent back to Germany at significant expense for repair. The repairs were handled quickly and, on the positive side, the watch was warrantied for two years (thank goodness!).

At first, it had the common 3133 problem: press the upper button to start the chronograph and the minute counter jumped by one or two minutes. It was inconsistent; sometimes it would jump and sometimes not.

I figured I'd live with it, but it became progressively worse, sometimes jumping as much as 7 minutes. So it went back to the retailer, who had it fixed within a few days.

All seemed well and good, but then another curious problem occurred. The watch would sometimes stop, even after running for several hours. I'd look at the time and realize the watch had stopped. A tap would usually get it going again. It was still under warranty, so back to Germany it went.

This time, it took a couple of weeks for the watchmaker to figure out that apparently the minute hand would sometimes hit the seconds counter, causing both to stop dead in their tracks. Obviously a Volmax factory quality issue, the problem was fixed and the watch sent back.

I adjusted it after it went out of warranty, using a Mumford electronic timing device (someday I'll report back on that also). After a bit of fussing, I got the Sturmanskie running very accurately indeed -- within a second or two per day with average wear routines.

But, just as I was preparing to take the video for this review, my luck changed again. My wife thinks this watch is haunted! This time, as I was preparing for the video shoot, I inadvertently knocked the watch off the table and it fell on to the concrete floor. Not only is the thin metal crystal surround damaged, the seconds hand has come off its post, so it will require a repair. Who knows what damage might have been done to the guts...

So, no video in this review unfortunately. I know a Russian watchmaker nearby and I think I'll bring it to him for a look-see. Hopefully, it will be an easy fix to replace the seconds hand, which is now floating around inside the case.

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The Sturmanskie Chronograph 3133-1615654 Difference

The watch has the standard -- and decidedly un-modern -- 3133 chronograph, with a seconds hand sub-dial on the left and a minute counter sub-dial only on the right. The sweep seconds hand is, in standard chronograph fashion for almost all chronographs -- activated only when the upper button at 2 o'clock is pushed.

The minute counter tallies up to 30 minutes only. Normally, on a 3133, you'd have to remember where the minute and hour hand were when you started the timing -- or hope your timing doesn't need to run past 30 minutes. But on the Sturmanskie 1615654, a secondary hour wheel runs around the outside of the face. It is controlled by the crown at 9 o'clock, which does not lock down and has very, very light detents that can (sometime) be felt as the hours click by.

So the idea is to turn the 9 o'clock crown until the zero mark lines up with the hour hand when you start your timing, and then you can time for up to 12 hours instead of 30 minutes. Several other Volmax Sturmanskie 3133 chronographs have this feature.

I wish the hour marker had stronger detents or could be locked down via a screw-in crown, because it's too easy to move the crown inadvertently. It also moves sometimes when my hand bends and the crown digs into my skin. So it can't be trusted, unfortunately.

Sturmanskie 3133-1615654 Details

I have always been a bit disappointed in a few of the details on this watch. First, the black glossy surround around the mineral crystal feels like plastic. I'm not 100% sure it's made from plastic, but it feels like it -- or it's some other material coated with a plastic coating. It just looks and feels cheap.

Also, looking at the original (and usually terrible) photos of this watch on the retailer websites, I thought the black chronograph buttons were black or anodized metal, but they aren't. They also feel and look like plastic, even though in this case, I think they actually may have some type of anodized coating. But why make metal look and feel like plastic?

Finally, the crowns appeared to have a hard rubber insert -- the black band you can see in the photos on the crowns at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. Instead, it's a cheap-looking black paint.

I think the black plastic surround is the worst offender here; it just gives the watch a cheap quartz look and feel, in my opinion.

The movement appears to be standard 3133. Volmax usually "massages" the movements to get pretty good accuracy, but this one wasn't exceptional out of the box. As I stated though, I was able to get it running very nicely after some minor tweaking.

Otherwise, the case, crystal and face are of good quality, as is the case back. The original leather strap, shown in most of the photos, is of decent and serviceable quality, and better than most of the junk straps that come with Russian watches.

It's easy enough to replace though and although the lug width is 23 mm, a 24 mm strap easily fits, especially one made from rubber or silicone. The tolerances on most straps are ± 1.0 mm anyway, so it would be very rare indeed (and nearly impossible) for a 24 mm wide strap to not fit a 23 mm lug width.

By the way, Volmax claims that only 300 copies of this watch were manufactured, which I find difficult to believe, since it's been on sale at the various retailers for quite some time. Could fewer than 300 copies have been sold after all these years?

Lume and Hands

The face of the Sturmanskie Ocean Navy Pilot's chronograph has a nice look and it's fairly easy to read the time. The large hands are lumed, as are the hour indices, and the lume is better quality than is found on most Russian watches, but nothing spectacular.

The sub-dials don't "eat" the 9 or 3 or any other numbers, because this one has numbers only at 12 and 6, and that's just fine with me. Any more numbers would make an already busy dial even busier.

Watch Case, Dimensions and Weight

The stainless steel watch case is brushed on top and the sides and the watch back is polished. The back attaches with four screws, making it easy to see what's inside but this type of system is not waterproof, despite the claims of 3 ATM water resistance. I would avoid taking this watch near any water of any type.

The watch weighs in at 136 grams with its rubber "rallye" strap. The Sturmanskie is 44 mm wide (52 mm counting the crowns) and only 12 mm thick, although it seems thicker. It's 51 mm lug-tip-to-lug-tip, making it almost square. The short lugs, combined with a flexible strap, make it easy to wear.

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Movement and Operation

The 3133 movement in the Sturmanskie is pretty much standard for that type. It does not hack but it will do the "poor man's hack" even when fully wound. This allows quick and easy time setting and the tiny indices between the hours and minutes make it easy to set the minute hand accurately so that everything passes the hour mark in cadence.

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Conclusion

The Sturmanskie "Ocean Navy Pilot's Watch" is definitely a different Russian, with modern looks and a lot of style. If you're tired of the military replica Russian watches, or the vintage/retro look, then the Sturmanskie 3133-1615654 may be for you.

Published: June 2012


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