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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Since there seems to be a lot of interest in the massive Zlatoust Diver among members of the Forum, I thought you might like to see what the very first one -- produced in the 1950s -- looked like. There are some key differences with the later issues that we are more familiar with.

First, the dial on the earliest version has minute markers. These were dropped from versions produced after about 1960.

Second, The nickel-steel case is not numbered. The back is plain and the machining is relative coarse. Circular machining marks are clearly visible across the entire back and there is a deeply etched circle about 5mm wide at the center of the back.

Third, The crystal is glass (probably mineral glass) and not plastic or acrylic.

Lastly, the lume is radium based. In fact it is the most radioactive dial I have yet encountered on a Russian watch or clock - even more radioactive than radium lumed aircraft chronometers that have much bigger dials and markers. This is also the first radium lumed Russian timepiece I have where large amounts of radioactivity penetrate through the movement and caseback. I bet the diver who wore this watch never had any children, or if he did they probably arrived with a few extra fingers or eyes LOL. For obvious reasons, I did not open this watch to examine or photograph the movement.

These are very rare, but I have seen 3 or 4 others over the years.

You can see other photos and additional information on my site Welcome to USSR Time!. It is record number 1453.

-- Mark
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I measure all watches made before 1960 that come into the collection with my trusty Russian-made dosimeter. Almost all that have radium-based lumes contain only small amounts of radium and are not dangerous if left unopened. Rare is the piece that the dosimeter can detect from a distance of 15 cm. This one is obviously an exception.

The subject of the safety of watches with radium-based lumes has come up in earlier threads, where I and others have stated the scientific facts and expressed various opinions. Basically, don't open them and you'll be ok. The big danger is from radium dust particles and radon gas, a by-product of radium decay, that you might breathe in if they are opened. It is also not a good idea to lick the dials.

-- Mark
 

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Thank you Mark, I always enjoy reading your posts. That is a fine 1950's example, but is it the earliest? It is my understanding that the very first version had deeply angled case back bevel, as well as an angular bezel. I have one with a movement dated to the fourth quarter of 1955. The dial does however lack the minute markers of yours. Another difference is the minute hand, which features two segments, compared to three segments on succeeding models. It uses radium paint and the case back has a very low serial number. A similar watch can be found in ill-phil's collection.





 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Lucidor -

This is an area about which little is known. I have never seen any kind of authoritative history about these early divers. Here is what I can say:

Altmeppen has a piece with the same dial as yours that has a passport paper dated 1961 (it is illustrated in his book). So here is a benchmark date, 1961, for a radium-lumed diver without minute markers. Such a watch and dial combination definitely existed by 1961.

Given the practicality and conservatism that Soviet watchmakers have consistently displayed, it makes little sense to me that the factory would start with one dial design, the one without minute markers, then go to a dial design with minute markers, and then return to the original design without minute markers.

What makes more sense is that the factory started in the mid-1950s (nobody knows the exact date that production of this model commenced) with the dial design with minute markers and sometime before 1961 (the date of Altmeppen's passport) simplified the dial by eliminating the minute markers (probably because the minute markers were confusing divers or because they served no purpose for divers supplied with air through a hose). Initially, this simplified dial design used radium lume until they switched to a non-radium lume a year or two after 1960.

If this sequence is correct, it dates my piece to before 1961, probably the mid-1950s.

I cannot comment on the hands on your piece, though I have not seen this style of hands on any other Zlatoust diver. Altmeppen's piece from 1961 has the same style hands that my piece has, which are the same as the other 3 or 4 pieces with minute markers that I have seen. It is possible your hands are a replacement. But I don't know enough about these early pieces to say this for sure.

As for the number on the caseback. These numbers do not seem to correlate with the production date on any of these watches from any period. I would be cautious and attach very little significance to them. It is interesting that my piece does not have a number at all. This makes sense for a special-purpose caliber that was produced in very small batches or in very small numbers.

Looking at the relatively primitive finishing on my case, and the amount of wear and tear and the number of gouges, I think it is almost certainly the original case for the dial and movement it contains.

As for the date on your movement, it is entirely possible that these movements were stockpiled for awhile before they were used. I really don't know what else to say. It is also possible the movement in your piece is a replacement movement, or that production of the version without minute markers began earlier than I thought, shortly after 1955. If this is the case, then my piece with the minute markers would pre-date 1955.

On the basis of all this reasoning and circumstantial evidence, I would date my piece to the late 1950s and your piece to sometime from about 1960 to about 1962. However, if your movement date reflects the approximate manufacturing date for the watch, then it is possible I am too conservative and my piece dates from before 1955 and yours to shortly after.

Phewww!!! I think we have just had the most authoritative discussion, ever, about these early Zlatoust divers.

-- mark
 

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I hope ill-phil doesn't mind me posting one of his photos here, in which case I apologize. But as far as I can tell, his piece is identical to mine: same dial, same hands, same angular bezel and same angular case. Even the serial number is close. It constitutes no proof, but at least it strengthens the likelihood that these watches were indeed made this way. The date of manufacturing is still a mystery though. I agree that one cannot draw conclusions about the dating with respect to the date of the movement, since it could be either old stock or a later replacement. I also agree that it would make little sense to start with dials without minute markers, then later introduce the markers, only to drop them again for the remaining production. Either the first run featured the markers which were subsequently dropped, or they were part of a prototype run that didn't qualified for volume production.



That leaves us with case styling. I'm aware of three distinct versions. The angular back bevel in combination with an angular bezel as in mine and ill-phil's watches. Then there is the rounded back bevel in combination with a rounded bezel as in your original post, and finally there is a rare variant with a slight rounded back bevel, of which I include a photo below. This last one is possible a prototype according to Kinaed. Following the same logic as you applied to the evolution of dials, I venture a guess that the cases started angular (which is simpler to manufacture), and then evolved into the rounded style, possible transitioning through that slightly rounded version below. But I'm just reasoning here, I have no good sources to refer to. And I'm not sure I'm becoming wiser or more confused.
:think:

 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Now that you have shown me the hands on Phil's piece, Lucidor, I agree they are original. As for the rest, unfortunately we are at the limits of my knowledge... or more accurately at the boundaries of my ignorance. I think we can agree, though, that these are both very old pieces from the dawn days of the Zlatoust diver.

Given the evidence, I am beginning to believe that the pieces with the minute marks maybe from the earliest 1950s and the pieces like yours and Phil's might be just a bit later from the mid-50s. That's even more exciting then my original hypothesis.

1952 was a good year for naval horology in the soviet Union. It was the year that the 1st Moscow Watch Factory began production of both the 6MX chronometer and the Deck Watch. For no other reason than sentimentality, I propose 1952 as the start date for the production of Zlatoust divers :)

Let's hope more information eventually surfaces that helps us clarify the situation.

-- Mark
 

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This is very informative and I wonder how many of these Zlatoust diver's are sitting in desk and dresser drawers of old retired Soviet Navy diver's and deckhands? As for the radiation, it is (as you say) negligible, but constantly wearing the watch could cause (over a LONG period) problems. Secondly, I agree with not opening it at all as unsealing it might cause those old seals to never be 'right' again. But finding out now, just how far back these things may have started being produced is AMAZING...I'm such a history and military nut and this stuff is just like finding a treasure trove. I DO HOPE to own one in the future. Thanks for sharing all of this, Mr. Gordon!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Lucidor -

I have taken another photo of the watch to better show the style of the case. It has a rounded bezel, but it is different than the rounded bezel in later pieces. This one has a pronounced flat lip around the outer edge. The piece with minute markers in my friend Dmitry's collection in Moscow also has the same case style.

If you go to the search page on my website and click on 'Diver' under the 'Other' heading, you will find examples of Zlatoust divers with the other case styles (and also 2 examples of tourist pieces from the early 1990s).

-- Mark
 

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Mark,

I see now from your new photo that the bezel of your example is indeed different from the style used in the later generations of the Vodolaz. The history of these watches is a bit of a mystery, and I feel that we have both reached a point where we are speculating. In an effort to bring more facts to the table, I have just sent an e-mail to the Agat factory, asking for clarification regarding the history of these watches. Maybe they don't care to respond, or the information is no longer available, but I thought it could be worth a try.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 · (Edited)
I hope you get an answer, Lucidor. But, a couple of years ago I asked the factory about these watches through Igor Zubovskij, the Managing Director of Vodtok Europe. He was told that the factory never made these diver watches :-d After this response, I gave up.
-- Mark
 

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I hate to confuse the situation even further but....
Analog watch Watch accessory Watch Fashion accessory Strap

Fashion accessory Strap Belt buckle Belt Metal

I haven't opened this one up yet but according to this post it's an early to mid 50's case with a late 50's to 60's dial. Confusing and I like it. I'm proud to be in the club of mystery...the confusion gives the Zlatoust Diver it's mystique.
 

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Sad news. I contacted the factory, which send me information of their new line of watches and told me that my photos didn't show in my mail. So I converted my original mail, including photos, to pdf and tried once more. I did never hear back from them again. I guess PR is not a high priority at the Zlatoust factory.
 

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Hi everyone,

Just joined the forum to see about these watches...I've actually owned one of these for two years now and no absolutely nothing about it! I didn't even know what it was called, the maker, the age, the value. I'm in a similar situation with a Zenith bomb timer i've got... another one i know nothing about yet.

Having read peoples responses i'm aware there are a fair few of you who have far greater understanding of these than i currently do. Namely, the real from the fake, the good from the bad... so I thought i'd put a few photos up here of mine and if anybody fancied shedding some light i'd be most grateful. I have been wearing frequently and would like to know whether the dial has radium in it or not? It might determine the fate of my future children having 2 arms and 2 legs.

PS - My brother made the strap and we stole a buckle from a Panerai (as you do)

Watch Analog watch Watch accessory Strap Fashion accessory
Analog watch Watch Watch accessory Wrist Strap
Analog watch Watch Watch accessory Strap Metal
Watch Watch accessory Analog watch Fashion accessory Material property


Many thanks in advance for any who reply.

Kind regards,

Mark.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
The direct answer to your question is that under most circumstances the small amount of radium in the lume (typically about 0.01-0.03%) causes a reaction over time which decomposes the phosphor (the chemical that actually glows when it is exposed to the radium, typically zinc sulfide). This cause the lume to become chalky or caky and to take on an uneven light brown or brownish-orange color. Watches made after 1960, including those with tritum-based lumes, do not react in this way and do not assume this very characteristic color.

The main danger of radioactive lumes was never to the wearer. It was most dangerous for the people who painted the dials. I have read, and confirmed with my own dosimeter, that the radiation output of radium-lumed dials is dissipated by about 10 to 15 cms of air. The steel in the case and movement considerably shorten that distance through the rear of the watch.

Watchmakers in the Soviet Union stopped using radioactive lumes by 1960, actually a couple of years earlier then in the West. However there is some evidence that radium-based lumes were used for a while longer in Zlatoust divers, into the earliest 1960s.

If a watch with radium-based lume is opened, there is a real danger from small particles of radium or molecules of radon gas that could be inhaled and become lodged in the bronchia of the lungs. These radioasctive particles can cause a mutation in the DNA of nearby cells that will trigger a cancerous growth. In theory, a single atom of radium is all that it takes. However, the danger is statistical. Not everyone who is exposed in this manner will get cancer.

It is like smoking cigarettes. Not everyone who smokes cigarettes will get lung cancer. Even many chain smokers don't get it. It is the same for exposure to small amounts of radium dust. There is increased risk, but not a certainty of morbidity.

If you are not planning on wearing the watch frequently and you do not open it in a poorly ventilated area, you are in no real danger from it.

Of course the best and most certain way to determine the composition of the lume in your diver is by testing it with dosimeter (aka Geiger counter). And, if you are unsure of the composition of the lume in your watch, assume it is radium-based and treat it respectfully.

-- Mark
 

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Does anyone know of the age, and background of my Zlatoust Diver?
I bought it at an Antique Gallery in Hamburg. The owner didnt know much about it
other than what he googled, which was far less then most of us know about it.

But, I thought it was a 1950 or 60's Zlatoust from Russia that was sent to Germany and the German navy stamped it with their import stamp.

but looking at it closer, especially with the canteen cover crown, i think it might actually be a German made military watch for their divers.

Also, it seems to have the 2 white marks on the minute hand like "ill-phil's" Zlatoust.

I dont know, I'm not sure, can anyone help.
post here and or please email me [email protected]

Cheers,
-Thom

Here is all the information the seller had. It is in German, I have the English Translation below.

KAMPFSCHWIMMER-ARMBANDUHR. Vernickeltes Messinggehäuse. Schwarzes Zifferblatt mit phosphorierden Ziffern und Zeigern. Abschraubbarer Kronenhülse an kleiner Sicherungskette. D. 54mm. Auf der Rückseite nachträglich angebrachter WH-Hoheitsadlerstempel und Stempelung "M 238". Funktionstüchtig. Sehr selten !

COMBAT SWIMMER WATCH. Nickel plated brass housing. Black dial with phosphorierden numerals and hands. Removable sleeve crown of small safety chain. D. 54mm. On the back subsequently fitted WH Hoheitsadler stamp and stamped "M 238". Functionally. Very rare!

Watch Analog watch Watch accessory Fashion accessory Strap
Watch Metal Nickel Fashion accessory Silver
 
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