By TLex The Zlatoust 191-ChS Divers watches were produced in the late 1950s and 60s in the Zlatoust Clock Factory in Province of Chelyabinsk, Russia. They were supplied to almost every USSR Navy (ВМФ СССР) diver, who wore them as part of their diving equipment. Apart from their hands and markers, which were (at the time) applied with radioactive material these watches were highly visible to their wearers thanks to their enormous 60mm cases making them legible even through the small windows of the divers helmets.
These imposing looking watches, which are also referred to as 'Vodolaz' (the Russian terminology used for a diver who dives with heavy equipment, walking as an aquanaut does rather than swimming) were produced in the Zlatoust Clock Factory up until the mid-seventies, when production ceased. [For reference 'ныряльщик' the Russian word for 'diver' refers to divers using light equipment such as scuba divers or free divers using no equipment.]
The legendary Zlatoust 'Vodolaz' watches made a comeback after almost 40yrs of absence with a re-edition, the 192- ChS (featured here). Interest in the Zlatoust Divers watch dramatically increased, when one was spotted on the wrist of the former governor of the State of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger whilst making an address from his Governor’s office. There has been some debate as to the authenticity of many of these watches; as not all Zlatoust ‘Vodolaz’ watches are authentic!
However I can assure that the watch featured here (192- ChS) is the genuine article! And I have it on very good authority from an expert on Russian military watches and indeed Russian watches in general; a gentleman who I have just recently had the good fortune to become acquainted with and, who invited me to view a spectacular collection of Russian military divers at his distributorship in Taipei. One watch immediately caught my eye not least of all for its monstrous size, but also for its simplistic no-nonsense vintage military styling.
I was already somewhat familiar with the Zlatoust divers watches, but not to the extent that I have now become thanks to my new friend, who is also fully fluent in Russian and who regularly corresponds with, and was (at the time) collaborating with the Zlatoust Clock Factory on a new project of theirs (read on) . . . and so begun my education!
Many watches have laid claim to the heritage and pedigree of the legendary Zlatoust 'Vodolaz' watch, one of which includes a claim made by a well known American owned Swiss watch company, who claim to have in 1959 been commissioned to produce 100 or so watches for officers of the Russian Naval Fleet. Their popular 'Russian Divers' watch (current model) was designed; they say working from historical technical drawings of this diver. But as you will soon learn this design could not have been based on an authentic Zlatoust 'Vodolaz', but is most likely based on an interpretation of the original Zlatoust 'Vodolaz' of the types that can nowadays be acquired so easily on eBay or are more commonly seen in the souvenir shops of Moscow.
These watches are not fakes per se, least of all by definition, but they are not authentic items either even though pertaining to be. Neither are they built to the same exacting standards or specifications as the 191- ChS or its re-edition the 192- ChS are, and as such are inferior.
AUTHENTICITY So how can you tell which is which? For the most, unauthentic models can be distinguished from the real thing at glance because they are frequently fitted with protective steel grids over their glass crystals, something that the Zlatoust 191- ChS watches never possessed. Apart from 191-ChS' wooden ammunition box and paperwork, other distinguishing features should include: the absence of any text or markings on the dial (whatsoever); two fixings should be visible on the dial at 4 and 10 o’clock.
The only markings on the caseback should be that of the watch’s edition # (today an additional triangular '3 3' factory logo accompanies it). There should be no elaborate engravings or text on the caseback either. When removed the canteen crown protector should possess a second inner covering; and where the winding crown is and its rubber seal, the crown should be held in place by no less than three fixings.
The screwdown bezel of the 191-ChS, which to an extent is fixed can theoretically be removed (read on) to open the watch. However opening the case is not advised as the watch's water-resistance could well be affected; in fact such is the torque used by the Zlatoust factory to tighten the screwdown bezel, opening by hand is pretty much an impossibility. This is yet another distinguishing factor between those 'souvenirs' sold on the streets of Moscow from the actual Zlatoust divers 191-ChS / 192-ChS.
FIXED BEZELS I feel that it is particularly pertinent to this article to (do my best to) dispel the myth, that if a divers watch lacks a rotating bezel, whether that be in inner or outer, or indeed it is does not comply with ISO regulations or the such for a divers watch then it could not be considered a ‘true’ divers watch. Try telling this to a veteran USSR Military diver or indeed one of Incursori of the Italian Navy, who both dived exclusively throughout their military careers without the need of unidirectional rotational divers bezels.
Or try to argue this point with a seasoned commercial diver and they'll no doubt put you in your place. Most commercial divers that I know will tell you that a turning ring is not a necessity for them and was in fact developed with the recreational diver in mind. However fixed bezels are still beneficial, serving as strengtheners holding in place the watches glass or crystal and do much to achieve the minimalist look of these watches that I have grown to admire.
MEGA DIVERS The 60mm Zlatoust 191-ChS (now 192-ChS) Russian Divers Watch is one of the largest divers watches ever built, but not the largest. Other mega-sized dive watches include the PANERAI Egiziano AKA ‘The Egyptian’ that has a diameter of 60mm excluding its crown guard, its recent successor the titanium constructed PANERAI PAM00341 is also 60mm in diameter, the U-BOAT U-1942 with its gargantuan 64.4mm case (excluding winding crown) and the ENNEBI Titanic, which to my knowledge is the largest watch in existence with a mega 65mm diameter (excluding its crown guard).
Why on earth make these watches so big? I think the first observation to make is that these were not designed as, or in deeded ever intended to be used as everyday wristwatches, but as diving instruments with a specific purpose, deliberately designed to be as legible as possible under extreme conditions. Today they are first and foremost collector’s items. That is not to say (practicality aside) that they should not be worn.
ZLATOUST 192-ChS This is a re-edition of the legendary 191-ChS, which apart from its luminous material, which is now non-radioactive and an addition of logo on the caseback is pound for pound the same watch that was supplied to and used by the Soviet Naval divers of 60s and 70s. The watch measures 75x70x18mm (this includes the lug to lug length and takes into consideration its enormous canteen crown protector). The actual diameter of the case is 60mm. It has a 24mm lug width, the bars of which are fixed, not uncommon on a military diver.
The watch weighs 0.26kgs. The case, which has a hewn look as if it was almost chiseled with an axe, is constructed from stainless steel. The Zlatoust Clock Factory to my knowledge has written nothing to the actual water-resistance of the ChS-191 or 192 in any of their literature, but I am told that it is water-resistant to at least 700 meters or more.
Its movement, a 24mm hand wound Vostok 2409 with 17 jewels, shock protection and a minimum power reserve of 44hrs is accessible through the dial by means of a special key that goes into a hole beside the 3 o’clock marker. It should maintain a daily rate of accuracy of -24 to +40 seconds per day. The lume, which I should also add is exceptional is Russian made lume not Swiss and as previously mentioned is not radioactive. The watch has much character; it are its slight flaws and imperfections that give it its charm. The watch comes supplied on a hand cut rubber strap, which has been stapled rather than stitched; again it is this kind of no-nonsense styling that I find so charismatic.
Apart from being a fantastic collector's item the 192-ChS' sheer size will no doubt be of some concern even to those such as myself, who are wearing 50+mm watches. That is not to say that I won't sit at home with the Zlatoust 'Vodolaz' strapped to my wrist as I dream of deep sea adventures or that the watch is completely un-wearable. I think this will deepened on your level of passion for the watch and the kind of person you are. Nevertheless, I have some good news about a scaled down 53mm version of the diver that is soon to be released from the Zlatoust Clock Factory.
The new 53mm Zlatoust diver will house an automatic movement, will have a left-handed crown placement and will replace fixed bars with spring bars allowing for strap changes. The watch will have one last aesthetic enhancement, a small Zlatoust Clock Factory logo on its dial like the one at the bottom of the post. I am going to see this new version for myself this weekend and will be posting pictures and further details in the following days.
Please feel free to drop me a line if you are interested in either of the models discussed. I will be happy to pass your requests on to the only person I know, who is selling these watches. Please though, only genuinely interested parties should make contact. Please also kindly mark your email 'ZLATOUST'.