It’s been a few years since I did a review of a new Vostok Komandirskie. I was curious to see if much had changed since the last time I picked up one of these. When this one became available, I took the plunge so to speak. (For what it’s worth, buying a Vostok is never much of a plunge, financially that is. This model appears on Zenitar’s ebay store from time to time for less than $50). The example above has the insignia of the Russian Space Forces launch crew as I understand it. There are pictures of it aboard the International Space Station which was enough to get me interested. I’m pleased to see that the Komandirskie is still a solidly made mechanical watch that sells for a bargain price.

The Komandirskie these days is still powered by Vostok’s 2414A 17 jewel stemwinder movement with a date display and a screw-down crown. The 2414A has an excellent track record for durability and acceptable accuracy. The case is still made from chrome plated brass and the caseback is still the Vostok 2 piece stainless steel water resistant design. (Note-Water resistant means washing your hands, rain and maybe immersion to a depth of one or two meters. For diving, go with a Vostok Amphibia. It is rated at 200 meters water resistance and is more robustly made. For a good article describing the differences between the Komandirskie and the Amphibia see this post at Another terrific Vostok article can be found here). In common Vostok fashion, the caseback is intricately decorated, this model sports the Imperial Russian 2 headed Eagle (Symbolizing the Tzar’s role as head of church and state I believe).

The Komandirskie still uses a domed acrylic crystal. The choice of acrylic has the disadvantage in that it can scratch fairly easily. However, unlike glass, it is very shatter resistant and scratches can be polished out with a cotton ball and a little toothpaste from time to time as needed. (There are proper watch crystal polishes available that do a better job if you are interested. Crystal Clear and Polywatch work very well).

In typical Vostok fashion, the stock watch band is of so-so quality. I replaced it with one from Nilsen’s ebay store (I recall that Randy Nilsen sadly passed away a few years ago. I believe his wife now runs the place). In the past, Vostoks were usually sold without bands in a plain plastic box. The buyer was expected to pick a band that suited them. I personally believe that Vostok hasn’t quite gotten the stock watch band idea yet. They really should ship a better quality band. It would do a lot for their overall image.

Vostok’s Komandirskie line is something of a design classic these days. It has been around since the 1960’s, I believe, and is still largely made the same way. While the Komandirskie was originally marketed to the Soviet military, Vostoks are now popular in civilian markets as well. It is true that one could certainly quibble that chrome plated brass and acrylic crystals are not the latest or the greatest choices. That being said though, they are both quite durable and should last for years. Realistically, at the Komandirskie’s price point, plastic cases and simple digital displays are more the norm. That Vostok can still produce a well made 17 jewel wristwatch for an affordable price is really quite remarkable. And that this example has a space program connection of sorts is just icing on the cake for me. Recommended.

Note-links in article can be accessed at the main blog-


Ode to the Seiko Diver

November 10, 2010

I’ve owned quite a few watches through the years. I’ve had dress watches, mechanical chronographs, Swiss automatics, quartz watches with amazing features, solar charged watches, digital watches, military watches and divers. In almost every case, I found something to like. A few days ago though, I realized that of all the watches I own, there were a few “go to” pieces that seemed to get the most wrist time. Those would be the Seiko divers.

I thought about why these particular models were so often the choice of the day and a few observations came to me. First and foremost, they are very tough watches. You don’t really have to think about what you are doing when wearing a Seiko diver. Between their water resistance and the overall ruggedness of their build, it isn’t easy to hurt one of these. When a day out with the kids turns into a day at the pool or beach, a Seiko diver is always game. The reality that you don’t have to baby these watches makes the choice to put one on a no-brainer.

Beyond their ruggedness though, a Seiko diver has a particular look and feel to it. The models I have owned have all exuded a quality that belies their relatively low price. Throughout several of the Seiko reviews that I have written, the comment that they seem more expensive than they are keeps popping up. There are many cheap things in this world that regularly scream at you how cheap they are. Especially as time with them passes. Seiko divers say exactly the opposite. They are an amazing value for the money and they age gracefully even when worn hard.

I can honestly say that if I could own only one watch, either the Monster, 007 or Tuna Can would be it. They are simply that well done.

Reactor Gamma Review

November 9, 2010

Well, as much as I liked the Reactor Fallout (reviewed below), my son liked it even more. It’s a pretty fancy watch for a teenager, I think, but he’s a good kid so why not. That decision, however, left me with a conveniently empty slot to fill in the watch box. And, since I was quite impressed with the Fallout, I figured I’d give another Reactor a try.

Reactor, as I mentioned in the Fallout review, has stated that their mission is to build the best sports watches available anywhere period. The model you see above is the new titanium version of the company’s Gamma model. This is my first titanium watch and, I’ve got to admit, I like this metal. Titanium is pretty nifty stuff. It is very strong and yet both light weight and corrosion resistant. From what I’ve read, it’s strength is about equal to that of steel but at half the weight. As such, a big watch like the Gamma feels very light and comfortable on the wrist. The metal also has a unique color to it that immediately differentiates it from steel. I now understand why titanium watches are considered desirable.

Aside from Reactor’s choice of materials, this version of the Gamma has a lot of other good stuff going for it. For starters, it is water resistant to a depth of 300 meters. That is a serious depth rating. Clearly, water is not going to be a problem here. (Like the Fallout, the Gamma also features Reactor’s unusual crown seal. Even if left unscrewed for some odd reason, it is still water resistant to 100 meters. Good insurance I guess.) The watch also employs Reactor’s solid screwbar system to attach the bracelet to the watchcase. This system is reportedly at least five times stronger than springbars. The screwbars are set in neoprene bushings, I believe, to keep them from unscrewing accidentally. The bracelet (also titanium btw) is an all solid link design with a locking clasp. Aside from looking good, it’s quite light and comfortable too, not a “hair puller” thankfully. Additionally, the watch features a Miyota 2S65 movement which has a 10 year battery life. That goes a long way towards addressing one of my complaints with the battery life of many quartz watches. Other features include a rotating uni-directional bezel (with a very bright embedded lume marker), an anti-reflective coated crystal and a screw-down crown. The exterior dimensions of the Gamma are 45.5mm in width, about 14mm in thickness, and 53mm lug to lug.

The real standout feature of the Gamma is the lume system that Reactor uses. As readers of this site probably know, I’m a big fan of quality lume on a watch. Whether I’m traveling or just putting a watch on my nightstand, I find it very helpful to be able to read the time in the dark. Quality lume these days usually means either superlumimova or tritium tubes. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Superluminova is a light activated paint that, once charged, glows very brightly at first and dims over several hours. Tritium tubes are a self powered lume system that consist of small glass vials filled with radioactive tritium gas. (Radiation is not a danger from this system by the way . Tritium is not a strong radiation source to begin with and the vials that hold it are more than capable of blocking any emissions). Tritium tubes are very clearly visible in darkness but don’t really glow all that brightly. With the titanium Gamma, the folks at Reactor took a best of both worlds approach and used superluminova and tritium tubes. They call this combo their NeverDark system (thus the letters “ND” on the watch face). The result is a remarkable lume method that really performs as advertised. The tritium tubes are set at the 3,6,9 and 12 positions on the watch face and on the hour and minute hands. (It you’re interested, Reactor uses MB Microtec tubes). The superluminova is applied to the hour markers on the face and to the triangular ends of the three hands. It is my understanding that reactor applies an unusually thick eight layer coat of superluminova to their watches. It shows nicely. The net effect of this combination system is a watch that can be read clearly in any light conditions. That is an impressive achievement and Reactor is to be commended for coming up with this system.

In my opinion, the Gamma Titanium is a really terrific piece. Between the solid build quality and the use of titanium coupled with the amazing lume, you can’t go wrong with this one. Add in the ten year battery life and this model should give trouble free service for a very long time. At $550 (retail) the Gamma titanium isn’t cheap but, considering it’s feature set, I think it’s well worth it. There are plenty of fancy named watches out there that cost significantly more than the Gamma that don’t have half of it’s features.

I usually don’t put much stock in the boxes that watches ship in. As long as they protect the watch long enough for it to arrive, that’s usually good enough for me. The Reactor box is cool though. In addition to looking like a nuclear reactor (like the Fallout’s box) and having a magnetically sealed compartment in the base for spare links, the top part is meant to be used as a beer/soda can insulated sleeve (there is actually a diagram on the outside of the box about this feature). Gotta like that 🙂

Vostok Combos

November 8, 2010

One of the more entertaining (and at times, irritating) parts of collecting Russian watches is finding replacement bands for them. As those of us who collect Vostoks know, the factory bands and bracelets are, generally, pretty bad. The old bracelets were terrible hair pullers and the leather bands were of awful quality (if they were even made of leather at all). Lately, the stock bracelets have improved somewhat in quality but they are still nothing to write home about. The trick when looking for replacements though is to find an acceptable solution that doesn’t cost more than the watch itself. Given that most Vostoks can be had for less that $70, this can be a bit of a challenge at times.

The examples shown above illustrate a few of the solutions I have found. In the foreground, the blue Amphibia is shown on a tan nato. This is one of the most popular and affordable replacement solutions for a Vostok. Nato bands will fit virtually any size wrist, are inexpensive, and are pretty durable. The Ministry Amphibia and the Radio Room commemorative edition both sport inexpensive replacement bracelets from ebay. Each cost in the $10-$20 range if I recall correctly. Neither is a solid link design but their overall quality is considerably better than the factory models. I would rate them about equal to the folded link bracelets that Seiko uses on low end “5” models.

There are many possible ways to refit a Vostok with a decent band. Quality solid link designs are available on both ebay and from other sellers albeit at prices that generally exceed the price of the watch itself. That may be an acceptable compromise for some but, so far, I’ve avoided going that way. I recommend that Vostok collectors keep an open mind when searching for new band solutions. I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than once.

Welcome to the latest episode of the Recession Watch. While we all hoped this would be titled the Recovery Watch, lets face it, we’re not there yet. So, the real Marinemaster will have to wait a while longer. That being said though, I really love the look and feel of a high end Seiko diver. Fortunately for us wallet challenged folks, there is a solution these days. The short answer is to get a Seiko SKX007 (or 009 if the Pepsi bezel is more your thing) and do a bracelet transplant. Now before I continue, Seiko does sell these models on stainless steel bracelets. I even reviewed one about five years ago . I wound up gifting that 009 to my brother-in-law because I just didn’t like the bracelet. Don’t get me wrong, the stock bracelet is ok. It is a solid link design with hollow end links. It worked just fine but it felt too light to balance the heavy 009 on my wrist comfortably. Thanks to developments in aftermarket bracelets, this issue has been addressed to my liking.

If you sniff around at the Seiko Citizen Watch Forum or on the Watchuseek Seiko Citizen forum, you will find many mentions of a “Super Oyster” bracelet for Seiko diver watches. The bracelet you see pictured above is one of them. WJean btw is short for ebay seller wjean28, from whom I got this one. As to what makes the super oyster bracelet such an improvement, here’s the deal. The whole thing is much more heavily built than the stock model and the end links are thankfully solid. The bracelet employs thick screw pins (instead of split pins) and a flip lock clasp. The net result is a much beefier and less tinny package. Additionally, those solid end links will not warp over time as the hollow models I had on my 009 eventually did. WJean even included a set of extra thick spring bars (If you have seen the Seiko spring bars that the Monster or the Tuna come with, the replacements are like them). It should be noted that there are super oyster bracelets with hollow end links out there too. I believe that WJean sells them as well. I think that the links are still better than the stock bracelet but the end links are substantially the same. They cost less than the solid end link models though so that is something to consider too.

For what seems like a small cosmetic change, the super oyster bracelet really changes the character of the SKX007. What started out looking and feeling like a mid-range diver now feels like a much more expensive piece altogether. The new bracelet even includes a Seiko signed clasp although there is no diver’s extension (not that I ever used the ones I have on other models).

The SKX007 itself is a terrific watch incidentally, super oyster or no. It’s stainless steel case meassures 42mm in width (not including the 4 o’clock crown), 13mm in height, 47mm lug to lug and has a 22mm band lug width. Internally it is powered by Seiko’s durable 7s26 automatic movement. The watch does not hack or hand wind if that matters to you (hey it has to be different from a Marinemaster somewhere, right). That being said, a quick shake will power the watch up immediately and the power reserve after a day’s wear seems to be at least 35-40 hours. The crown screws down and the water resistance is rated at 200 meters. Seiko’s lume is generally very good and the 007 is no exception. It isn’t quite in a Monster’s league but it’s no slouch either. The bezel is counter-rotating with a firm action and it includes an embedded luminous marker of it’s own. The crystal is made of Seiko’s proprietary Hardlex, a hardened glass that sort off splits the difference in scratch resistance between sapphire (great) and conventional glass (eh). As sports watches go, the 007 is well designed to handle the abuse that diving/water sports dish out and looks terrific to my eye as well.

The bottom line (and that is the whole point of this review) is that for about $230, I now have a Seiko automatic diver that looks and feels like a watch that costs at least double that price. It’s so good in fact that I personally think that Seiko should really consider doing its customers a favor and either contract with folks like WJean to offer this option or just release it themselves. Until that happens though, head over to the global tag sale and ring up a super oyster of your own for a 007/009. Frankly, even if you are flush with cash, it’s still worth doing. P.S. I picked up this 007 here on a rubber strap in contemplation of getting this bracelet for it. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

I became interested in Reactor watches after encountering an article about them in Watchtime a while back. The company is run by Jimmy Olmes, formerly of Freestyle watches. Reactor’s website states that their goal is to build the best performance sports watch, a lofty goal indeed.

Reactor takes an interesting approach to marketing their watches. As is obvious from the company’s name, there is a strong nuclear theme to their products. All of their watches carry names related to atomic power and in some cases, like my Fallout model, atomic power gone wild. According to Watchtime, this was done to highlight the high quality lume that Reactor employs on its products (Including one model that I know of that mixes tritium tubes with a very strong coat of superluminova. That sounds particularly enticing to me as strong lume is something I’ve come to appreciate).

On to the watch itself. This thing is seriously built. It is the first watch I’ve encountered that matches (and in some areas exceeds) a Seiko Monster in the brawn category. Everywhere you look there is heavy, solid stainless steel. The bracelet is a particularly well done all solid link design with a heavily built clasp. The bezel, which includes a bright embedded luminous marker, is large and easy to grip and the screw-down crown is well protected. The crown is interesting by the way. It uses a triple seal and will remain water resistant to 100 meters even if left unscrewed. (Why anyone would forget to close the crown before getting it wet is beyond me but, hey, it doesn’t hurt to be idiot proof). Additionally, the watch is rated at 200 meters water resistance, the first chrono I’ve owned that can go that deep. A final detail about the bracelet by the way, it is held on to the watch by a thick threaded bar/screw that I have heard will support 200 lbs. The threads themselves are coated with urethane to keep them from accidentally unscrewing btw. No chance of breaking a spring bar on this one. The crystal is domed and is made of a thick, hardened mineral glass (not as scratch resistant as sapphire but more shatter resistant in keeping with it’s intended sports/roughing-it theme).

Internally, the Fallout is advertised as having a Japanese quartz chronograph movement (I’m almost certain it is a Miyota OS20, a very well regarded movement with a long history of reliability). Accuracy appears to be excellent as is to be expected from a quartz movement. The movement is reported to be mounted in a shock resistant housing for extra protection.

Reactor is proud of their lume application technique and it’s not hard to see why. Even a brief exposure to the fluorescent lights of my office produced a strong glow. In my personal time test, the lume remained visible on my nightstand after 8 hours. It may last significantly longer for all I know but that was as long as I could stay in bed. From what I understand, Reactor uses multiple layers of superluminova to ensure that low light visibility is excellent.

The Fallout measures 40mm in diameter (not including the crown or chrono pushers-43mm with them) a hair over 13mm in height and has a 22mm band lug width that appears much wider thanks to the reinforced screw bar attachment system. There are some folks who may feel that 40mm is not that big by today’s standards. I would take that with a grain of salt when it comes to the Fallout. There is nothing dainty about this watch at all. If anything, exactly the opposite is true. The overall look of the Fallout says precision tough to my eye. It looks like a serious piece of equipment, and I believe that it is just that. Mind you, Reactor does have some larger models in its arsenal if that appeals to you. I used to be a big watch fan too. After two years of serious exercise (and 40 lbs less of me to lug around) anything much bigger than 40mm looks clownish on me these days. By the way, if you are concerned that the Fallout will wear like a steel brick, don’t be. Reactor managed to make a solidly made sports watch that doesn’t feel like a handcuff on the wrist. The bracelet is attached in such a way as to distribute the overall mass of this model very comfortably. A lot of thought clearly went into this design.

As you can probably tell by now, I’m very impressed with the Fallout. I have little doubt that it can stand up to most anything I can throw at it. Incidentally, if I do find a way to really hurt the Fallout, Reactor offers an amazingly comprehensive 2 year guaranty on all of their watches. The retail price on the Fallout Chronograph is $300 but, as always, it never hurts to shop around.

As an aside, the box that this watch came in is really nicely done. I don’t usually get too excited about the boxes a watch ships in but this one, aside from looking like a nuclear reactor, has a hidden, magnetically sealed, compartment on the bottom for spare links. A very nice touch.

Fundamentally the same watch as the previously reviewed Vostok Neptune , the Cosmonaut pictured here arrived new old stock in the original box with paperwork indicating a 1991 manufacture date. This one uses the older 21 jewel version of the 2414b movement. The bracelet is slightly different from the more modern Neptune model and the dial graphic is quite rare but, otherwise, it is a Vostok Amphibia in all meaningful respects.

I paid a bit more than I would have liked for this one but they are becoming quite hard to find and this one makes a fine addition to the other two Cosmonaut models that I have.