Russian watches are a niche. True, a lot of them weren’t well-made, and that especially applies to the finishing of the movement. Yet, somehow, vintage Timexes with their shoddy pin-levers have scores of fans.
However, Russian watches are getting more attention these days. So, I was excited when one landed on my doorstep. And quite a watch it is. After all, the Vostok Amfibia is the cult classic among Russian watches.
A bit of history
In 1967, the Soviet navy wanted a new watch for its divers. For whatever reason, the Soviet government refused to buy anything from the West. They also wouldn’t buy any Swiss designs to implement them in domestic production. So, they turned to the factory that was already supplying watches to the Red Army – the Vostok factory in Tchistopol.
The task was given to two designers at Vostok – Vera Belova and Mikhail Novikov. They had to come up with a brand new case design, which would meet the required specs. It also had to be simple enough to be produced with the tools and machinery at hand.
The technical side – the case
The design that Belova and Novikov came up with turned up to be good. So good that it has remained unchanged for 53 years of continuous production. The case works on a principle similar to EPSA Compressor cases – the deeper it goes, the tighter it seals itself.
The case back consists of two parts – the center disk, and a threaded ring. The center disk, with two alignment protrusions fitting into the recesses in the main bloc, is pressed against the gasket by the screw-down ring. While it’s simple, it’s very effective. In an ordinary screw-in back, opening and closing cause some friction on the O-ring. If the gasket isn’t greased, it might get damaged, which will compromise WR. In the Amfibia, the gasket and the center disk don’t move about while the ring is screwed on.
The gasket isn’t an ordinary O-ring, either. It’s a large chunk of rubber – giving the case back a considerable amount of material to compress until the pressure would affect the case back itself.
The crystal is a plexi, but its shape and proportions were also designed, so it deforms evenly with the increasing pressure. It can deform by roughly 0.5 mm, while at the same time squeezing itself tighter against the case. If you have to replace the crystal, you’re going to have to use an OEM replacement. If you want the watch to retain its specs, that is.
The crown is made of chrome-plated brass. It’s relatively large, due to a long, threaded stem tube. A lot of people complain about the fact that it’s wobbly and feels like it’s not firmly attached to the stem. Well… that’s because it isn’t. It’s a safety measure, intended to protect the stem. A stem bent by the crown would compromise the water resistance of the watch. Important to remember – you have to be careful when screwing the crown back in. You don’t want to cross the threads.
Ref.150 case and finishing
- Width/bezel diameter – 41mm
- Lug to lug – 46mm
- Lug width – 22mm
- Thickness – 15mm
- WR rating – 200m
The classic Amfibia case design, just as it was from the beginning in 1967, is the ref. 710. Ref.710 seems to be pretty much the first choice for most Amfibia buyers – especially with the “SCUBA Dude” dial. Since it’s the case that was used on the original mil-spec Amfibia, it’s known as the “Ministry case.” Which does seem to have an effect on the cult following the 710 Amfibia has.
The 150344 has a slightly different case. The 710 “Ministry” has narrow flanks, the top slopes down towards the tips of the lugs, and the overall shape is more of a tonneau. The 150 is slightly different.
It has wide lug tips, taller flanks, and the lugs aren’t as tapered, giving the watch a more cushion shape. The crown isn’t as recessed as in the 710 – there is a recess for it, but far more shallow.
The case is all high polish, excluding the circular brushing on the bottom, between the lugs, and the case back. I’ve heard some complaints about the case finishing on some Vostoks, especially the Komandirskie K-65. These concerned the sharp bottom edge of the flank. Clearly, that’s not an issue with this Amfibia.
Like other models of the Amphibian Classic line, all variants of the 150 have a chrome-plated brass bezel. While some might shout of that being cutting corners, it’s not unheard of. The original Zodiac Sea Wolf divers also happened to have a chrome-plated bezel.
The bezel in the Amfibia is unlike most dive watches. It’s bidirectional, non-clicking. That said, it’s just a friction-fit ring with a tension spring. Fret not, it does put up decent resistance while turning.
My 150344 appears to be the second generation of this reference – the bracelet is slightly different, and so is the bezel. Previously, the stock bezel had the same style of markings, however, it had a relatively thin flank with a coin-edge surface. The current one has a tall flank with small recesses for gripping. The grip on that isn’t nearly as good as it’d have been on a coin-edge bezel. However, with the non-clicking, friction-fit design, at least it won’t catch the jacket sleeve.
If you find the stock bezel not up to your liking, there’s an absolutely massive selection of alternatives. Some are offered by Meranom, Vostok’s official webshop. 12h bezels, fully indexed dive bezels, decompression scale bezels, you name it. These will usually be in stainless steel. Various eBay stores also offer custom parts for Amfibias – custom inserts, bezels designed to take Seiko SKX inserts, and the list goes on and on.
I might be tempted to get a fully indexed bezel from Meranom at some point. The stock bezel for the 150s really isn’t practical. It’s nice, but not useful. Still, for now, I like it as it is.
Movement specs – Vostok 2416B
- Jewels – 31
- Diameter – 24mm
- Power reserve – 31h
- Date – semi-quickset by changing 20:45-24h
- Frequency – 19800 A/h
- Hand-winding feature – Yes
- Hack feature – No
Originally, the Amfibia was hand-wound, fitted with the no-date Vostok 2209. However, later on, in the 1970s, the hand-wound movement was replaced with the Vostok cal.2416 automatic. And so it remains.
The 2416B is a living fossil – it doesn’t have a quickset date. There’s a way around that, though. What it does have, is setting the date by changing 20:45-0:00. Turn the watch to just past midnight, right after the date switches. Then turn back to 20:45, and again to midnight. Repeat until you’ve set the correct date, then just set the time.
Frankly, I’m confused by the conflicting info in terms of the movement specs. The manufacturer provides the minimum power reserve as 31h, while the Ranfft archive mentions 40h. In this case, I’m inclined to trust the more conservative estimate.
The overall work culture of the movement is really good. I’d have expected the noise comparable to a brigade of Soviet tanks on the move, but it’s nothing of the sort. The rotor works very quietly, and you can barely feel it turning. The hand-winding also feels really good. If not for the absence of a firm resistance when fully wound, it feels like in a decent hand-winding movement.
While there’s no hack feature, you can stop the seconds hand by applying some force on the crown in the setting position, as if you were to move the hands back.
The accuracy isn’t exactly astonishing. Vostok’s factory tolerances are, well, of the lenient kind. -20 to – wait for it – +60 seconds per day. My specimen seems to run at roughly +20 seconds per day, which is well within these rather massive tolerances.
Is it possible to get this movement regulated better? Possibly, but I don’t mind it as it is. If it was any worse than it runs now, I certainly would have it regulated.
If I was to complain about anything, it’s the keyless works. I can’t feel them re-engage to the winding position after setting. They do, but it’s just really hard to feel that.
Fun fact – Vostok’s recommended service interval for the 2416B is 10 years. I’d suggest servicing it a bit more often than that, though.
Dial, hands, and lume
For a budget-friendly watch, I’m surprised by how well the dial is finished on this Amfibia. That’s a consistent reaction to Amfibia dials in general. The base finishing is matte black, with a semi-gloss wave pattern in the center. The wave pattern is nicely done, subtle, and unobtrusive.
The date window is placed between 4 and 5 o’clock. I like that – it lets the dial retain that nice 12-3-6-9 layout. The window is finished nicely – nothing shoddy about it.
The hands are a standard Amfibia set – pencil shape for the minutes, arrow for the hours, straight seconds hand with a circular lume plot.
Frankly, if I was to name one thing I don’t like here, it’d be the seconds hand. For whatever reason, Soviet – and then, Russian – watches always have the sweep seconds hand way too short. Regardless of whether we’re dealing with an Amfibia or some dress watch, they just usually have a seconds hand not reaching the minute track. Fortunately, the minute markers are long on the 150344, which compensates for that.
The hour and minute hands are polished. The seconds hand is finished in a semi-gloss (or semi-matte?) white.
The lume on the hands is applied generously, and the plots on the dial are substantial. The material – whatever it is – seems to charge up quickly, and give an intensive glow. Not a very lasting one, but decent enough. All in all, it’s way better than the lume in my Timex MK1 and my Dan Henry 1970.
Still, I’ve seen some negative opinions about the lume on Amfibias. I don’t pretend to know if that’s any variance in quality, or has it improved recently. Anyway, the lume on my watch seems to work just fine.
What happens to an Amfibia, once it reaches the hands of its new owner? It sheds the bracelet, obviously.
The Amfibia bracelets are among the most hated out there. If there’s any part of this watch that’s bad, it’s the bracelet. The contraption is made of folded links, held together by flat pins. Yikes, is that one bloody hair-puller.
After wrestling with the pins and getting the micro-adjustment on the clasp done, I didn’t even wear it on the bracelet for one full day. Just, no. The clasp is genuinely perfunctory, and its edges are finished… no, they’re not. They scratch the hand whenever they can, while the links give the wrist a rough shave.
The contrasting finish on the links was to be continued onto the straight end link. Well, it was, but not well.
Really, this part of the watch is…bad. Just, bad. And it’s not often that I say that of something. Even the bracelet on my Casio A168, also a rather wobbly and rattling thing, is better than this.
Since the lugs are 22mm, that gives you the room for basically any straight-end link bracelet, or any strap – leather, canvas, NATO, or whatever. If the width’s right, it’ll work.
While Vostok’s stock bracelets for the Amfibia are bad, the company offers plenty of other options. Meranom has a massive choice of OEM options, each of which will cost you something like the equivalent of 10 USD in Russian roubles.
Someday, I might be persuaded to order a Vostok-signed shark mesh bracelet from them.
How does it wear?
My wrist isn’t large – approximately 6.75’’. While the Amfibia 150 has dimensions very similar to the Dan Henry 1970, including an identical lug to lug distance, it certainly seems a bit more imposing. It’s not overbearing, but the cushion case means that there’s simply more of it. At least that’s the best way I can describe it.
The flat portion of the case back isn’t all that large, but the center of gravity is located relatively low in this one. So, it doesn’t feel top-heavy, even though it’s a bulky watch. A lot of the thickness is due to the bezel and a tall crystal. Since the crystal is a plexi, and the brass bezel is light, which helps in keeping the COG down.
After I’ve taken it off the stock bracelet, I’ve put it on a black rubber strap from an old Fossil beater. The Amfibia + rubber combo works nicely. I’ve also tried it on a NATO strap – however, with the NATO lifting the watch up, I’m starting to feel the weight of it.
My recommendation would be either a rubber strap, a shark mesh, or some nice, thick, “vintage tool watch” style leather strap. Or a canvas one. At least that’s what I think would get along nicely with the overall vibe of this piece.
Note that the crown sticks out on this watch. OK, it’s not a Tudor Black Bay with its massive crown. Still, if you wear it too loose, it could bother you. That’s one argument for wearing it on a rubber strap, which will keep it from moving around. Or, if the sheer bulk of the Amfibia 150 case isn’t enough, you might go for a strap with a pad. The crown doesn’t bother me, but others might not feel the same way about the same watch.
How you receive it
Vostok’s packaging for the watch is, well…something along the lines of a plastic transport case, and it looks like it’s meant to keep the bubble foil-wrapped watch more or less still inside the parcel. It sure isn’t a presentation box.
Then again, I’ve yet to see a Vostok Amfibia enthusiast who’d actually care about the box.
Is the Amfibia a good watch? I would say that it is.
Of course, if you want an ISO-compliant dive watch, the Amfibia isn’t that. It does have a few idiosyncrasies of its own, which either you can live with, or not. But from a collector’s perspective, it’s a really cool watch to have. After all, how many companies will sell you an automatic dive watch with an in-house movement for… circa 70 USD?
The price really makes Vostoks a choice worth considering. Shipping included, you can get them for roughly 70-80 USD. Parts are dirt-cheap. And if you like to customize your watches with all sorts of mods, the Amfibia is literally a mod heaven.
The accuracy isn’t great, but I’m OK with it, and since the case back’s closed, I don’t have to look at the T-34 industrial finishing on the 2416B. The exterior finishing is really something, especially for the money.
The Amfibia is available from a variety of suppliers. Still, the best deal will most likely be buying it from Meranom. If you have any local Vostok distributor/authorized retailer, the price + shipping might land you up a little bit higher than what you’d pay for ordering it straight from Meranom in Russia. Or not – I guess that depends on the exchange rate of the rouble, or if a distributor has any discounts.
The 150344 – and other 150s – all have the same price tag at Meranom. 4200 Russian roubles, which is roughly 56 USD. Add shipping to that, and it’ll land you up below 70 USD.
In the case of Meranom, however, if your order totals up to 70 USD or higher, the shipping’s free, so you might as well order a bracelet and some bezel mod at the same time. And you’ll still be below 100 USD with all that. That’s hard to beat. Really hard to beat. As I’m writing this, unfortunately, the stocks of this model ran dry, but no doubt it’ll be available again in some time.
Finally, given my experience with this one, would I consider buying another Vostok? Yes, without a doubt.
What do you think of this Wostok watch? Let me know in the comments below.