You may know of Vostok because of their unique take on the dive watch or seeing it catch some buzz after Bill Murray wore a Vostok Amphibia in the film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Or it might’ve just been the endless amounts of praise from their near cult-like following.
Regardless, Vostok is one of the most well-regarded Russian brands when it comes to mechanical watches. They’ve been around since the end of WWII and all of their watches’ movements are in-house.
After learning about their fruitful history and horological significance, you may be wondering, why are Vostok watches so cheap? How are they able to manufacture such awesome dive and field watches for less than $100? Let’s dive right in and find out (that was bad – sorry).
Vostok Doesn’t Need to Spend Lots on Marketing
Thanks to its fruitful history combined with the high quality, affordable mechanical watches they produce, they’ve developed somewhat of a cult-like following on the internet. I absolutely adore my Vostok Amphibia and have great respect for the Komandirskie. But there are some crazed enthusiasts on watch forums and the like, that will shame you for not owning a Vostok in your collection.
Seriously. The Vostok fanbase is like a cult.
Because of this, Vostok doesn’t have to spend lots on Marketing. Whether or not they should be spending more on marketing is a whole different discussion. In fact, in the past decade, they’ve been making a bit of a push to market themselves further in the west, although never very forcefully.
But, considering they’ve been manufacturing their watches since the end of WWII, I think it’s safe to say they’ve been doing just fine through organic sales.
The lack of a need for traditional or digital marketing really helps down on their costs, and in turn, helps keep the price low.
Research and Development
Some watch brands make boatloads of money by constantly pumping out new, creative designs and pushing their limits. You’ll never find a Baselworld where a new Rolex model doesn’t get announced. Not to say that Rolex can’t stand on their own two feet without pumping out new models, but you get the point.
The Soviet Union had paid for the research and development of Vostok watches many decades ago. Now all Vostok has to do is use the legacy handed to them.
Vostok watches are tried and true. While they have a decent variety to choose from in terms of cases, dials, and hands, they’ve been selling roughly the same models for years. The Vostok Amphibia and Vostok Komandirskie have been sold since the ’60s. They’ve updated and tweaked the designs in 2006 and have innovated slightly to make them more palatable to the western audience, but they’ve never actually stopped producing the same classic models that were designed in the ’60s and ’70s.
As you can see, they’re not trying too hard to “break the mold”. Vostok watches are exactly what they are and have always been. Unpretentious, highly functional and awesome.
Because they don’t have to spend millions on researching and developing new products, this certainly helps cut down on costs. If something isn’t broken, why fix it?
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All of Vostok’s models are very nice looking and affordable watches, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come without flaw.
One of the risks of buying a Vostok is the lack of quality control, which is said to be nowhere near that of other brands. It’s certainly inferior to that of Seiko, Citizen, Orient or any other watch brand that sells similarly affordable mechanical watches.
Not to mention, since some of these watches, especially the vintage models, can only be found on eBay from international sellers, you need to be even more careful when buying. I’ve heard some horror stories of some Vostoks keeping time as poorly as gaining +2 minutes per day. This definitely isn’t the norm, but something to be extremely mindful of, especially considering you’re likely to have to wait about a month to have this shipped to you internationally. Who knows how long the return shipping will take if something is wrong when your watch is delivered?
Always make sure you’re buying from a trusted seller. Always make sure they have a large amount (1,000+ sales transactions) and overwhelmingly positive feedback (98.5% – 100%). eBay user Zenitar is a well known and highly regarded seller of Vostok watches at the time of writing this, but he might not always have the one you’re looking for, so it’s best to do your own research as well.
But the lack of a strict quality control is another area where Vostok saves on cost.
Vostok watches are known for their awesomeness in many ways. They’re durable, the Amphibias are proper dive watches with 200m water resistance ratings, they have their own unique look and are very affordable. But what they’re not known for is their luxurious materials or elegance.
The cases of the Vostok Komandirskie, for example, are made of chrome plated brass.
Typically, you see cases made from a more durable and much more solid 316L stainless steel, even in watches similarly priced. But it’s likely those watches cut corners elsewhere in the watch. Not to mention, the Komandirskie, in particular, can usually be found for around $30 or so, so it’s already hard to complain, considering what you’re paying.
Even the watches that do have stainless steel cases such as the Amphibia do feel and look a bit cheaper than their similarly priced counterparts. The watches aren’t finished very well and the included bracelets are flimsy and cheap (usually always the case at this price point, however). The crystal is made of acrylic instead of sapphire. Though this is specifically intended to help make the watch water resistant with it’s uniquely designed case, it also cuts down on cost.
Vostok manufactures all of its watches in Russia. Russia isn’t known for having the cheapest labor costs in the world, and many cheap watch manufacturers are moving their production to China.
But still, Russia doesn’t have very high labor costs, nor a highly valued currency. Russian Watchmakers and factory workers don’t make nearly as much money as their Swiss counterparts, or if they were made in America, for instance.
Because the labor and craftsmanship are cheaper in Russia, this saves you some dough in the end price of the watch. But you’ll also likely have to wait weeks to receive your watch as it’ll likely be sourced and shipped internationally, from Russia.
In the grand scheme of watches, Vostoks aren’t finished particularly well nor designed for consumer tastes. But they were never designed for that reason. The USSR military needed a cheap, highly durable, functional and easily repairable watch.
They achieved that without all of the extra luxury fluff many Swiss brands incorporate, helping keep the overall cost down.
It’s pretty amazing how affordable watches like the Vostok Amphibia and Komandirskie are on Amazon and the like. They’re unique and kinda quirky, and there’s a reason they have such a strong following.
Last update on 2021-10-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API