I started writing this post twice yesterday, and couldn't figure out where to start because my thought process on this topic for the past 2.5 months has been very labyrinthine. The short version is that I got this watch in the mail on Saturday:
It took me a long time to figure out what kind of mechanical watch I wanted; when I figured out I wanted a Russian 24-hour (a Raketa in particular), it was easy to narrow down but hard to get my hands on. This is because (from what I understand) fakes in Russian watches tend to run rampant, and it's hard to know unless you're holding one whether or not it's real.
I fell down one of my rabbit holes with Raketa a few weeks ago; I found out that it means "rocket" in Russian, and that it was founded to commemorate Yuri Gagarin's "first flight in the history of mankind" into space. The factory that produces Raketa is the oldest factory in Russia (founded by Peter the Great! in 1721); it was destroyed by Nazis during the Siege of Leningrad, and rebuilt in 1944.
Googling "Raketa 24-hour" yielded many awesome watches, and the above is the one that caught my eye the most. But I couldn't pull the trigger. Both eCommerce sites that had them in stock were very shady, and I had read things about them on forums confirming my suspicions. I felt a bit paralyzed, until I mentioned the conundrum to a watch journalist and collector in Singapore, SJX. He and his friend helped point me into a trustworthy eBay seller's direction about a week ago. After talking to him and reading the seller's description, I don't think this watch is actually a Raketa, but rather a brandless Russian watch designed some time between the 1970s and late 1990s. I was deflated for about 5 seconds, but then realized that I didn't even care; I love this thing, and this was the one that I had already formed a relationship with online over the past several weeks.
If you click through and zoom in, you'll see a few stars sprinkled onto Antarctica – they mark Soviet research stations. I could go on for pages about the stuff I dove into afterward – about the Soviet Antarctic Expedition, the global research that happens on the continent, and that there are places called the Pole of Cold and Pole of inaccessibility (whoah) – but I'm still trying to unravel my brain from it all. All the while I kept thinking about this Herzog movie I saw years ago, Encounters at the End of the World –
I'm still trying to figure out what to name the penguins. Fabian and Mikhail? All suggestions welcome.
If you're curious:
Raketa's new designs from BaselWorld 2011
Russians Relaunch Soviet-Era Space Watches on WSJ's Emerging Europe blog
Antarctica on Wikipedia (the entire article is fascinating)
Soviet Antarctic Expedition on Wikipedia
Pole of inaccessibility on Wikipedia
Pole of Cold on Wikipedia
Antarctica The Coldest Place on Earth group on Flickr (awesome photos)
(Also, I know about 2% of what I'd like to know about both mechanical watches and Soviet-era watches; apologies if I got anything wrong here. Please let me know if this is the case.)