The Best Watches Under 100 – Vostok Amphibia
Hi my name is Nic Cohen and I’m mad about watches, over the years I have owned in excess of 300 watches ranging in price, style, function, movement and in quality and just like buy a new gadget or pair of shoes that excitement and buzz you get from that new purchase does eventually wear off, leaving you wondering if you should have bought the damn bloody thing in the first bloody place.
Of course many people would love to own a Rolex, Breitling, Tag Heuer, Patek Philippe, but realistically cannot either afford to purchase one, or just simply cannot justify spending so much money for essentially a bit of tin that tells the time, I mean we all have smartphones that can do that and a lot more! But, there is however something rather special about owning a timepiece that not only looks good and feels great, but starts conversations. And out of all the watches that I have owned and currently posses there is one that actually attracts more attention than all of my watches put together, the watch in question happens to actually be the cheapest in my collection and one of my favorites, and that watch is the Vostok Amphibia case number 090 and this particular versions watch reference is 090486. And it costs no more than approximately $60 / £45.
Vostok Watch History
The Vostok factory was established in 1942 and this particular model was introduced in 1967, some early examples can be found in the book below by Juri Levenberg. The early watches used a similar movement, the caliber 2209 which is manual wind version of the current model, they used then an 18 jewel movement. Now the older watches are a smaller case everything else is pretty much the same otherwise, other than the biggest problem with these basically all Vostok watches predominately from the 1940s all the way up until the 1990s, all had a powerful luminescence which lasted 24 hours without any sun light to power them because they used radioactive compounds and chemicals such as phosphorus in order to getting that luminescence. If the luminescence has gone, these watches are still highly radio active so do be aware!
Now the movement inside this beast is a 31 jewel in-house movement and the movement reference is 2416 it’s very strong, very robust and highly shock resistant, the manufacturer is so confident in this movement that they believe it won’t need servicing for up to 10 years, putting that in to perspective you could buy 10 of these for the same price as a standard service on a Rolex, how mad is that!
So, though the movement is 31 jewels it doesn’t hack at the same beat as a Rolex or many other ETA or Swiss movements at 28,800bph, it actually beats at 19,800bph, the reason for this is that the remainder of the jewels are used elsewhere within the movement to reduce the likelihood of damage form vibration over the years, it also makes the watch very quiet while it’s ticking, I don’t know if you have noticed if you do have a mechanical or automatic watch especially at night when you place it on your bedside table you can hear it ticking away, this is actually very quiet it doesn’t get that loud.
When the watch arrives it the post it arrives in a pretty sturdy, basic plastic box and it comes on a pretty lousy metal strap to be honest, and it doesn’t work or suit the watch, take it off and replace it with a nato, leather or mesh strap like this one I bought from ebay for $5 / £3, in fact Vostok do their own straps and they have one like this mesh which is only about $12 so it’s pretty cheap anyway.
The Vostok Amphibia 090 case shape is retro modern in my view, it’s a very solid case, quite heavy as well as having some very nice interesting lines to it going in different directions, you don’t notice they are their until you really take a look around it, and because of that curvature it sits comfortably on the wrist, you don’t feel like anything is digging and it’s just nicely put together. Just take a look at some of the images at the bottom of this page.
Diving with a Vostok
If you are a diver the watch is superb it goes to depths of 200 meters and instead of using a standard screw-down case back system which actually uses more components, and if not screwed down tight enough will still allow water in… the Vostok is very clever it uses fewer components overall, in the diagram below (from the book by Juri Levenberg) we can see the Vostok has a two layer case back with a metal ‘O’ ring and instead of a rubber ‘O’ ring it has a larger rubber disk that sits around the outside of the movement, the main case-back which has two pins at each end to keep it in place and is simply dropped into place, the metal ‘O’ ring screws in around the outside pushing the case-back firmly against the rubber seal. What this means is that if you go under water the back squashes against the the seal making it even more water resistant.
The same actually goes for the acrylic glass, this acrylic glass is very, very clever, the great thing about acrylic is if you do scratch it, obviously it’s not the same as sapphire crystal, but compared to other mineral glasses, you can easily polish the scratches out using a liquid metal polish like brasso, as demonstrated in this video:
You won’t be able to polish the deeper scratches out completely but you will certainly be able to hide them. So the glass is exactly the same as used on the early Rolex GMTs, Submariners and COMEXs up until the early 1990’s I think with the GMT. Whats great about this crystal is just like the case-back under water it becomes more water resistant as the water pressure will pushes the glass down further toward the dial, in fact while it does this the glass spreads, pushing the glass down from its peak by up to 2mm, It’s great it has that flex making it very resistant to knocks too.
The bezel on this probably isn’t the greatest it’s bidirectional, it does slip around, but this is in keeping with tradition with this watch really more than anything, so if you are a diver it might not be the best thing to use it with a tank, but I never use the bezels on my watches, they are usually all stuck at the 12 o’clock marker position, I rarely every turn them and to be honest with you with my more expensive watches I probably wouldn’t even take them diving which defeats the purpose of buying a divers watch, because you should be going diving with them, but anyway, that’s for another story!
If you do get one of these watches, the first thing people find scary is the crown, it’s wobbly, feels horrible and feels like it’s going to fall off, but in fact its a really clever design safety feature. If you think the largest proportion of people wearing these watches were the military, so if you think you had the army and navy officers standing there in the freezing cold with thick winter gloves on and they needed to adjust the time or date on the watch they may not be bothered taking their gloves off, the large crown helps them to get a grip with the gloves on and the wobbliness prevented any damage being caused to the stem, if the watch is dropped with the crown out the likelihood of the stem breaking is minimal.
The movement is not hack-able but uses a clever means to preventing damage to itself when adjusting the time. It’s probably best to watch the video around the 14 minute mark to see how to adjust the time and to wind this watch, which is pretty unique in its own right. You pull out the crown until it clicks to adjust the time, then you screw in the crown and unscrew it again in order to manually wind it to get it started, but when you unscrew it to manually wind, you need to pull the crown out and turn it at the same time.
So this is the Vostok Amphibia 090, its a fabulous watch which is worth every penny!