Vostok Komandirskie Review
Summary: The Vostok Komandirskie is one of the best wristwatch values on the planet. It's a solid, highly regarded and very collectible watch that's nearing its 50-year anniversary. Available in more than 70 versions, with manual or automatic winding, the Komandirskie is an inexpensive treat that's a pleasure to own but it's also a serious workhorse and an excellent timekeeper.
The Vostok Komandirskie (Командирские = "Commander") is perhaps the shy sibling of its Vostok Amphibian (review) football star brother in the eyes of newer Russian watch collectors.
But while the Komandirskie may not be quite as glamorous as the Amphibian, it has its own interesting history and a strong following among Russian wristwatch fans.
Indeed, it could be argued that the Komandirskie is indeed the more famous Vostok wristwatch.
It graced its first wrist back in 1965, which means that the Komandirskie is nearing its 50th anniversary.
There have been many changes over those 50 years and early versions of the watch are highly collectible.
Those original Komandirskie wristwatches have a heavier and more rugged-looking case and they were apparently used by the Soviet military back in pre-détente days.
I own a pair of the originals, which were apparently standard issue in the Red Army back in the 1960's. The "3AKA3 MO CCCP" versions are the most collectible, especially those with the crown at the 2 o'clock or 4 o'clock position.
The 3AKA3 inscription is a designation that the watch was ordered by the Ministry of Defense of the USSR. Of course, like any vintage collectible, one has to hope that the example you are considering truly is an original and not a reproduction.
The original 3AKA3 versions of the Komandirskie are prized by collectors, although many of them are starting to show their age, with lume that last glowed bright many decades ago and paint that is also slowly disappearing into oblivion.
This review is focused on the modern versions of the Komandirskie, which are readily available and also highly collectible, but perhaps in a different way than the original. The recent versions are collected mostly because of their colorful and whimsical face designs and graphics, some more serious-looking than others and some commemorating proud Russian or Soviet events.
The Vostok Komandirskie
The cases of the modern Komandirskie appear to be either chrome-plated brass or steel and the case back is surprisingly nice, with an engraved (stamped actually) version of the Russian double-headed eagle.
My feeling is that the case back on the Komandirskie is nicer-looking than many watches costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars more -- at least some that I'm familiar with, that have that forever cheap-looking laser etched printing on the back. I truly despise laser etching on any wristwatch; it just screams "Cheap!" to me.
Of course, one of the things that makes Russian watch collecting an interesting pastime is that one never knows what the next Russian watch will bring. Differences in case designs, hands, layouts, styling and even substituted parts in the movement are the norm and to be expected.
So anything I say about the Komandirskie may or may not hold true for the same watch purchased by you...although this "quirk" is probably becoming less true as Vostok slowly but surely climbs into the 21st Century.
In any event, there's no doubt that a vast array of Vostok Komandirskie watches are currently available. One could specialize in the Komandirskie only and have an admirable collection along with a lot of fun and years of enjoyment (but don't forget that Amphibian big brother!).
Even the versions with the 2 o'clock crown are still available; perhaps with not quite the same rugged build as the originals of course, but the modern Vostok 2414A movement is at least an update. By the way, some Komandirskies, such as the white/gold version shown in the first photo on the left at the top of the page, are supposed to have the 2434 movement. The difference is that the Vostok 2434 movement is supposed to hack.
I purchased that watch specifically to see how it worked, but this one does not hack. So either the 2434 doesn't work they way they're supposed to, or this one has the 2414A movement (likely). Yet another Russian watch collecting mystery...
You may notice some minor case variations on the three different Komandirskie examples shown in the extended photo set in this review; most noticeable around the lugs, the metal protectors on each side of the crown and the bezels. And, of course, the face designs, which are dramatically different.
The Komandirskies shown here are the most basic of the modern type, each with the 2414A mechanical, manual-wind Vostok movement. Yes, that's right -- this is an "in-house" movement, with a screw-down crown by the way, and it can be found for less than $50.00. $45.00, to be exact -- and that includes free shipping from Russia to anywhere in the world! That, my friends, is a certified webWatchWorld bargain!
More Komandirskie Versions
Just for the record, the Komandirskie name is also now being used on wristwatches that are so far removed from the originals that it can only be said that someone is using the name for exploitative purposes.
I suppose that's not really meant as a criticism; just a reality of the modern marketplace, where Russian watches are known to only the cognoscenti and not really to the general public.
Ask the theoretical guy on the street what a Vostok Komandirskie is and you'll get a shrug of the shoulders at best and a dirty look at worst. But ask any watch collector, experienced or tyro, and you'll get a different answer and probably a big smile. Which brings up another point: the Komandirskie makes an excellent starting point for any collector who is either interested in Russian watches or who is interested in mechanical or manual-wind wristwatches.
For that $45.00, you simply can't go wrong, and the Komandirskie is a great introduction to this intriguing and exciting world. And don't forget -- the Komandirskie also makes an excellent watch for younger collectors too!
In addition to the basic manual-wind Komandirskies shown here, Vostok makes an automatic version that uses the same Vostok 2416B automatic movement found in the Amphibian. The manual and automatic Komandirskie is waterproof to 30 meters, compared to the 200 meters of the Amphibian.
Indeed, it's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the automatic Komandirskie and the round-case Amphibian at first glance. And there's even a Paratrooper version of the automatic Komandirskie that looks very similar (at least in the face design) to some of those original Komandirskies (I'm referring to the 921307 version). These sell for around $60.00.
Then there's the "New Komandirskie", which has a completely different 40 mm case design and uses the automatic Vostok 2432 movement with a claimed 32 jewels.
But wait -- there's more! The New Komandirskie with the 40 mm case is not to be confused with another New Komandirskie, the 42 mm version that is 100 meter water-resistant and has 31 jewels. That one costs around $157.00.
And how about the New Komandirskie with the additional 24-hour hand? It uses the Vostok 2426 movement and it has a titanium case and costs around $160.00. There are probably more Komandirskies that I don't know about, but again, this review is all about the basic sub-50-dollar, manual-wind version only.
Komandirskie Case Dimensions
The three Komandirskies shown here are the white-and-gold version, which is supposed to be the 2434 movement and carries the reference number 641753. The blue military-style version is the 2414, model number 811398. And the "retro" looking white faced Komandirskie with the cyan painted border is the 2414 model number 811718.
Each of these have a slightly different case design and the white/gold version has the compass-style bezel, while the other two have the 10-minute timer bezel.
The bezels on each of these are very difficult to turn, mostly because there's nothing that offers a good gripping surface. The action is very stiff and so difficult to turn that I never bother, and consider them as decoration only.
Although I'm not familiar with anyone replacing the bezel on a Komandirskie, which can be easily done for the Vostok Amphibian (detailed in my article on the bezel replacement for the Vostok Amphibian), I suppose it could be done by a clever owner.
The case sizes of the Komandirskie vary, with the white/cyan version in the photos having a full 40 mm wide case (not counting the crown) and the other two with a 39 mm case diameter. The white/gold Komandirskie measures 10.31 mm thick and the blue watch measures 12.12 mm thick.
The white/cyan Komandirskie wears bigger than the other two, even though the case is only a miniscule 1 mm wider. The case just seems flatter (although at 12.1 mm it isn't) and more wearable and the bezel is certainly not as overwhelming as it can be on some of the other Komandirskie designs.
The finish on this watch also seems to be of higher quality than the rest, with a deeper-looking chrome plating that seems thicker and is more highly polished.
Komandirskie Lug Width and Strap Choices
All of these basic manual-wind Komandirskies have an 18 mm lug width, and depending upon the version, they can look just OK to slightly out of proportion, depending on the strap choice.
18 mm wide straps can do that; it's not my favorite width, because a thick strap can somehow make the watch seem like a toy.
And since some of the Komandirskie face designs border on, well, clownish, a further excursion into the toy look is not what most owners aim for.
The straps that come with these basic Komandirskies are among the worst I've ever seen. Vostok should forget the strap, save on shipping costs and let the owner save some space in their local recycling center.
Either that, or partner with some well-known watch strap manufacturers to offer at least a few options. Or -- heresy I know -- raise the price enough to cover the cost of a decent strap for this watch.
The first thing just about any Russian watch owner does is trash the OE (Original Equipment) strap and replace it with something nicer and more comfortable (often costing more than the watch in the process!), and the routine is definitely the same for the Komandirskie.
I really like silicone watch straps and the red-stitched version on the white/gold Komandirskie shown in the photos is very comfortable. It can be cinched to one hole tighter than normal for me, but still remain comfortable, which helps the watch fit the wrist better and keep a lower profile with that thin 18 mm strap.
You may notice that the strap on this one started out as a 20 mm and I trimmed the edges slightly, so it is as wide as the outer part of the lugs. This is an old trick to give a bit more width to a watch and bring it up to modern strap width standards and it works particularly well on this Komandirskie.
In any case, there are many options for 18 mm straps, including the unique tropical NATO strap shown on the blue Komandirskie in the photos and video.
Komandirskie Movement and Accuracy
I have been very lucky with all of my Russian watches, because they are all very accurate right out of the box. The Komandirskies shown here are no exception, with the blue military version and the white/gold version running within a few seconds of "atomic" time every 24 hours.
The white/cyan version is currently running slightly fast, about 15 seconds per day, but another nice feature of the Komandirskie (and the Amphibian) is that they are easy to regulate. The case back on both the Komandirskie and Amphibian has a unique screw-on ring that can be easily removed with a dive watch case back tool like the Paylak Watch Case Opener Wrench available for less than $10.00 in the webWatchWorld Amazon.com Store, along with many other watch repair tools, book and other goodies.
Any serious collector of Russian or other watches needs a tool like this, and one of these days, I'll have to get around to creating a video and article on how to regulate a watch. The "Poor Man's" method works pretty well and I hope to buy a computerized timing tool also so I can really get some fine-tuned accuracy at different watch positions.
The Vostok 2414A movement has a height of 4.14 mm and it has 17 jewels. It is said to have shock protection, a beat frequency of 19,800 beats per hour and an accuracy rating of -20 to +60 seconds within 24 hours. The power reserve minimum is said to be 38 hours and I haven't timed mine; I wind them up fully when I put one on and then every morning around the same time. A full wind usually runs between 23 and 25 full turns on a Komandirskie.
The screw-down crown operates the same as the crown used on the Amphibian; unscrew it and put just a slight tension to wind the watch, or pull it out all the way to set the hands. The "Poor Man's Hack" can also be used when the mainspring isn't fully wound. Putting some backward pressure on the crown will stop the seconds hand for accurate setting to "atomic" time.
Like most Russian watches (generalizing here, of course), the Komandirskie has just enough lume to show some glow, but it quickly fades.
The photos above were taken at a 1 second shutter speed at f6.0 and the shadows were removed slightly in Photoshop, the same for each photo. I think it's a pretty accurate representation of Komandirskie lume after a very powerful LED flashlight (see the Clearwater "Andie" LED flashlight review) was used for a few seconds.
There's enough lume to see, but don't count on it to last through the night by any means. But, you're not getting shortchanged here, because you can spend 4-5 times more on a Russian watch and still get about the same results!
The Vostok Komandirskie can be just as much fun to collect and wear as its big brother, the Vostok Amphibian (review). Buying one is as easy as visiting Zenitar on eBay or Smirs.com. The hard part is choosing your favorite case style and design! And I can pretty much guarantee that just like the Amphibian or a potato chip, you won't be able to stop at just one!
Published: March 2011