Mechanical movements of the Cold War: how the Soviets revolutionized wristwatches

Besides white supremacy, one of the key drivers of the last election was trade, with outsourcing being the main scapegoat (even though any economist able to count to 10 will tell you that it was technology rather than bad trade deals that really created the Rust Belt). But back in the Depression, one group of Ohio factory workers were delighted to have all their jobs outsourced, and some of them even went along for the ride. They were the workers of the bankrupt Dueber-Hampden Watch Company, which was bought in 1930 by the Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviets were keen to create from scratch a watchmaking industry to rival Switzerland's. In his latest story for Collectors Weekly, Hunter Oatman-Stanford interviewed a collector of Soviet watches (who happens to be Oatman-Stanford's younger brother) on this suddenly timely topic.

Here's a snip:

Three Soviets traveled to Canton, Ohio, where these two companies were based, to pack up all the manufacturing equipment, leftover watch movements, and pieces to ship back to Russia. Twenty-one former Dueber-Hampden employees from Ohio sailed with them to help set up this new facility in Russia, which was aptly named the First State Watch Factory. They began making 7- and 15-jewel pocket-watch movements made with parts from Ohio. The Soviets changed all the lettering to Cyrillic to signify their new ownership, and there were slight design modifications, all very minor. Starting around 1935, they began taking ownership a bit more, using different insignias that said “First State Watch Factory,” and as the years progressed, they began customizing their pocket watches to be a bit more Soviet-specific.

When World War II began, the demand for watches was unprecedented, and the Soviets went into overdrive. By the end of the 1940s, the Soviets had nearly a dozen factories producing watches, though some had been relocated during the war. They were still using the same movement designs from Ohio, but putting them into new forms.

These original so-called “Type-1” movements are still available today, and I have several dozen in my collection in various dial patterns. A wristwatch Type-1 variant was also produced, though a pocket-watch movement on your wrist makes for an enormous wristwatch, and it was very outdated with a noisy ticking sound. The old joke was that during the war, the Germans didn’t have to seek out any Soviets—all they had to do was listen for their ticking watches and shoot in that direction.

Start the discussion at bbs.boingboing.net