Molnija Pocket Watch Review

May 7, 2005


Fine old things

On an old fashioned watch fob đŸ™‚

Yet another Molnija. This one is new old stock from the late eighties. Below you can see the movement which appears more nicely made than the current version.

The Braille model on its belt chain
Braille Model




I wasn’t planning to write this review. It isn’t that I don’t like the Molnija pocket watch, quite the contrary actually, I like it a lot. It is simply that I appreciate that pocket watches are just not that popular these days.

There was a time, not all that long ago really, when a pocket watch was considered an essential accessory for any gentleman. Wristwatches, by contrast, were considered somewhat dainty or effeminate when they were introduced and did not gain much market acceptance early on (for more on the emergence of wristwatches, see this article). This would, of course, change as we all know but there still remains a small market for pocket watches. What really prompted me to review the Molnija, however, was sort of a sense of historical irony that developed when I began to do some research into the history of Molnija and, in particular, its movement.

A little background first. The Molnija Clock and Watch Factory was founded in 1947 in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. The name Molnija, I have read, means lightning. While the factory initially produced a combination of wristwatches, pocket watches, desk clocks and clocks for tanks and other military equipment, from the late 1950’s to the present day their main products have been pocket watches. It is said that eighty percent of the manufacturing of these watches is done by hand and that the factory produces all of the parts involved entirely by itself, except for the jewels used in the mechanism. (It is not uncommon for watch manufacturers to subcontract to third parties a large portion of the parts that go into a watch these days) Molnija produces such an amazing variety of case styles and faces that I would find it hard to accept that someone could not find one they liked. The model being reviewed here is from their Religions collection.

Update-The top shots are new. The white faced model is a Braille Molnija. Notice the lack of the subdial and crystal to allow for a person to touch the hands of the watch. The watch hands, by the way, are reinforced to keep them from being deformed in normal use. Otherwise, it is very much like the other Molnija models. The other one with the red face is a new old stock (NOS) model from the late eighties that I found at the back of the counter at a local jewelery store. Odd thing is that I have been walking past this store for years and only just wandered in a few days ago. The owner had a nice assortment of mechanical watches including some Russian ones. Turns out the he was from Uzbekistan and brought the watches with him when he came to the U.S. One other thing. A good chain or fob is essential if you plan to carry a pocket watch. It will keep you from droping the watch when using it. After looking around for a while, I found an ebay seller, Paternosterny, who makes his own chains and fobs. His prices are very reasonable and the quality of his work appears exceptional. The top shot shows one of his whistle watch fobs.

Externally, the Molnija case measures forty-eight millimeters in diameter, not including the crown, and fourteen millimeters in thickness. The case appears to be built from chrome plated steel (I have encountered some claims that it is German silver. It could be true but I have no way of verifying it.) and has a spring-loaded cover over the crystal that is opened by pressing in the crown. The face of the watch has a subdial that measures seconds and both the back of the watch and the crystal are easilly removable. (The crystal is mounted in a chrome plated metal bezel that can be removed as a unit with a watch knife or similar tool. This is a useful feature to remove any dust that may have gotten on to the watch face.) The watch has no lume and is clearly not water resistant.

The Molnija is powered by a model 3602 movement, an 18 jewel hand-wound mechanical mechanism. Rated accuracy is nothing to write home about at -20 to +50 seconds a day although my example does considerably better coming in at approximately +20 seconds daily with good consistency. The movement does not hack for those of you who value that feature. What I personally found very interesting is that the 3602 movement is actually a copy of a Swiss Cortebert pocket watch movement that was originally made at least sixty years ago. While I am not sure exactly which of the old Cortebert movements the 3602 is based on, it bears strong visual resemblance to the model 592 and 620 Cortebert movements. Maybe its just me but find it interesting to consider that a twenty-first century Russian factory is still producing new mechanical pocket watches whose movement dates from the first half of the last century. While I appreciate that there are many currently produced wristwatch movements that have a long history as well (I occasionally wonder who is still producing the oldest designed movement out there-maybe the huge Zlatoust Diver watch that this one is in a pocket watch makes it even more of a curiosity in my mind. Every time I wind it up, set it, and clip its chain to my belt, it occurs to me that prior to World War I, everyone who had a watch did the same ritual every day. (Yeah I know, I’m a little odd) As an aside, a slightly modified version of this movement, the 3603, with better shock protection is used in a number of Poljot and Junkers (German) wristwatches.

The obvious question when it comes to a pocket watch these days is, of course, why bother? My answer is simply this…why not. It keeps time well enough, you won’t see everyone else out there with one and it looks nice. To that you can add that, like many Russian watches, the price of admission is not high at all (see this ebay store, or here , there are many others too). Would I necessarilly carry my Molnija every day, probably not (not that it wouldn’t work well in that role). But as for an occasional change of pace, and for those times when a wristwatch is a bad idea I think the Molnija is a terrific choice. (I play golf pretty regularly and, with the exception of Tag Heuer’s newly released Tiger Woods golf watch which would set me back a fair amount, wearing a wristwatch is not a good idea. The vibrations from the swing would damage the watch and the weight on the wrist is annoying. I haven’t thought about it much but there are probably other times when a wristwatch wouldn’t work too. Maybe when operating machine tools and the like?) In the final analysis though, if you want to own a small piece of history and you like watches, (you probably wouldn’t have read this far if you didn’t) give a Molnija a try. They are inexpensive, nicely made and a decidedly different and old world way to measure the passage of time.

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23 Responses to “Molnija Pocket Watch Review”

  1. Scott Follmer Says:

    I purchased a Molnija pocket watch on E-bay about a year ago. Think I paid around $40. It is extremely reliable and keeps better time than my $1,700 Omega Seamaster. It also makes a great conversation piece.

  2. Ed Says:

    They are pretty good watches, especially for such a low price. I still carry mine once a week or so.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Very interesting review. My current fad is collecting the open faced Molnija with embossed case back, I have eight so far. Last year it was a pretty cheap hobby but prices are rising steadily. I find them to be robust, reliable and a bit of a conversation piece – not bad for $25 or less.RegardsJulian L

  4. Ed Says:

    They are still a good buy but with the dollar’s weakness lately, rising prices are to be expected I guess. Lots of fun to collect though.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I’ve just picked up a Molnija for 20 bucks, near mint as you can expect. A so-called ‘railway’ model, that’s what the red winged-wheel means (it denotes they actually checked it!) If you find one with the entire insides and movement gold-plated – go for it! – the fighter-pilots used them, THEY match anything Switzerland can make. The case was matt from never being polished – and I suspect, not used at all for years – and looks very close to stainless steel, so I suspect it’s what is known as German Silver. It’s about 20 seconds a day slow but if not used for years must need a servicing/oiling. I’ve heard the military used whale oil to lube them with, as nothing else worked at minus 60 degees centigrade! It’s obvious the design is top-notch, the rim if the balance wheel is studded with the small weights you only see on very expensive designer watches we mere mortals can only drool over. Knowing Russians from my days in the shipyards I know they can match anything we do in the west when it’s called for (the polit bureau merely cut the bread rations for the workers, to compensate). I needed accurate timing in my last job, quartz was needed, but now I’ve retired my Molnija windup will do me fine. And they’re green’ too, no batteries. I can thoroughly recommend buying one if you find one. I slip mine into a goats-leather sheath and drop it in my pocket, the chain snapped to my belt.

  6. Ed Says:

    Nice catch! I have seen some very finely finished Molnija movements before. Considering the accuracy of the examples I have, I’m not surprised to hear that their military used them. My Molnijas now serve golf duty as I managed to break a wristwatch during one game. Sounds like you got a winner.Ed

  7. Anonymous Says:

    You have a very good blog here ed.. Those stuff are indeed worth collecting. You guys try to visit this directory about pocket watches.. There’s plenty of information and websites about exquisite watches.

  8. Ed Says:

    Thanks for the heads up. Looks interesting.Ed

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I have one of these and like it a lot but now have a problem in that the second hand has come off and stops it working! I’ve go the back off and just wonder how to get the movement out of the case. I do not want to undo the wrong screws! Can anybody help please, thanks. Andy G

  10. Ed Says:

    I’m pretty sure that if you carefully poke the hole nearest the crown you will be able to remove the crown and then be able to extract the movement. However, if your Molnija looks like the ones above, the crystal is set into a removable ring on the front of the case. This assembly (crystal and metal ring together) can be removed with a very thin knife blade. You could then remount the hand and very carefully snap the crystal/ring back into plave.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks I got the crystal off ok and have removed the second hand. I do not need it on this watch but will keep it for completeness. Hope it keeps running now or I’ll have to find out how to read Russian to read the book! We could do with a translation.Mine is the Gagarin watch. I’m 57, live in Scotland and so like many other kids of my time he was a childhood hero, even if he did come from a crap system.

  12. Ed Says:

    Good to hear. And I agree about Gagarin as well.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    hello. im zoran from bosnia. i have a OLD molnia 3602 18 jwl pocket watch,open face but i dont know how OLD is it. is there some methode to find how old my watch is?thank You 4 your time.happy hollydays đŸ™‚

  14. Ed Says:

    Its hard to say because the Molnija movement has not changed very much through the years. If the movement is silver in color, it is probably at least pre-1980. From what I have seen, later built movements are brass in color.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    i have the red pocket watch on the top can someone tell me what model it is and the price

  16. Ed Says:

    The red one is a 3602 manufactured at some point before 1980. As for value, Molnijas aren't that pricey under any circumstances. Certainly not more than$70 at the upper limit.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Hi,Thanks for really interesting comments. I have a Molnija pocket watch with Stalin picture. It is manufactured 1951. Do you have any idea, how I could get more information about this, how many of these watches (with Stalin picture)were manufactured, price etc.There was a serial number inside the watch. Is there any database for Russian watches where I can try to find more informationAll comment are more than welcomeHave a nice weekend for all

  18. Ed Says:

    I am not aware of a movement database along the lines of the Swiss ones for Russian movements. That being said though, a 1951 Molnija would be a pretty early model as the Russians only got the design and tooling for that movement from the French firm LIP a little earlier. Additionally, that it was made when "Uncle Joe" was still around suggests that it is an original dial and not one of the many more modern such pieces. Sounds like a keeper.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    I have just purchased a "Molnija" from the market and have been looking for days over the Internet to find the one that I have. I have come close, but have not found it. Their is no one in my aria who knows anything about Russian made watches. How can I authenticate this? If you can help email me at fey_struck@yahoo.com

  20. Anonymous Says:

    I too have a few Molnija or Molnia or Marathon (as marketed in the US and Canada) they are easy to aquire, but the one drawback is the winding stems seem cheap and can break easily. I have one Molnija from 1968 that is an openface pendent set model 3602 that has a high grade regulator that is way different than all those pictured here. I buy mine from europe and not from North American sellers as over in Europe they go for 10 bucks and have CCCP and not USSR stamped on them. The USSR ones are for export to N/A.If anyone is in need of a 3602 movement, I have one listed on eBay right now under my ID of littletoyboy98. Take it easy.

  21. hamartolos Says:

    I purchased a Molnija pocket watch more than a dozen years ago. The Molnija is in the shop because the minute and second hands fell out though the mechanism is still working and the hour hand keeps time. Strange that this occurred because I am certain the watch was not dropped or otherwise traumatized.Good to see so many of you out there who value pocket watches. As I sit here in my office I am wearing my grandfather's old Waltham ca. 1918. I wear a pocket watch when wearing a vest. In my prior life I was a prosecutor and when I knew the defense attorney was long winded I would try to wear a pocket watch that I could drag out of the best pocket and wind up. Invariably, at least one or two jurors would nod their heads and that told me at least I wasn't going to get an acquittal. A pocket watch is occasionally impractical in my present calling, Lutheran pastor. Can't access it when wearing liturgical vestments.

  22. Ed Says:

    Those old Walthamns were very well done indeed. Here's hoping that Molnija of yours comes back ok.

  23. hsu Says:

    Hi, I’ve got what’s obviously a Molnija pocket watch, 18 rubis, made in the USSR, but without any brand name. Does anyone know anything about these unbranded Molnija? Thanks in advance.


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