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Raketa Antarktida 16 SAE ? a piece of history (AWW 31)

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Raketa Antarktida 16 SAE - a piece of history (AWW 31)


Name: Raketa Antarktida 16 SAE
Movement: 2623 Baltika, 21 jewels, shockproof, 18,000 bph
Time display: 24 hour, minute, seconds, 24 on top
Case: antimagnetic steel box inside 20 micron gold plated frame, stainless steel screw back
Size: diameter 35 mm, 38 mm with crown, 39 mm lug to lug
Height: 11 mm
Face: dark blue with white Antarctic continent in the middle, six Soviet polar bases marked with synthetic rubies, white odd hour numbers, golden even hour markers, lumed hour dots, white minute markers and numbers
Text on dial: [Raketa logo] АНТАРКТИДА 16 САЭ
Text on back: ВОДОЗАЩИТНЫЕ ПРОТИВОУДАРНЫЕ (water resistant shockproof)
Hands: golden lumed hour and minute hands, red seconds hand
Water-resistance: water resistant
Crown: unsigned crown at 3 to set time
Crystal: domed acrylic crystal
Lugs: 18 mm


24h Raketa watches are probably the world's most popular watches with 24h dials. It is hard to even estimate how many thousands of them were produced during last 40 years and the number of different dial and case combinations is huge. But some of them, especially first Raketa 24h watches produced in the 70s, are very rare. The first series of 24h Raketas are limited series productions made especially for the members of Soviet Antarctic expeditions. And when most of the 24h Raketas are very affordable and the prices are about $50, the early limited series watches can easily cost 20 times more - up to $1000.

Here is one of them. For sure one of the best and most valuable Soviet/Russian watches I have. Raketa Antarktida 16 SAE - made especially for the members of 16[SUP]th[/SUP] Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1970-72.

This watch was listed in ebay for $950. It sounds odd, but when I saw the picture of this watch's case back I decided to react immediately and offered $750 (and I was ready to pay more). My offer was accepted and in two weeks I got this watch. (In the same time I had negotiations with another collector who had Raketa Antarktida 16 SAE in a better condition and for $1000.)


Let's start with the case back. Why I was so hooked with it? As you probably know it is a habit in Russia to engrave on gifts some inscription - who is the receiver, who is the grantor, what anniversary we celebrate etc. This case back says:
"Дорогому Марку Ивановичу Шевелеву, 70 лет, от ААНИИ" - „to dear Mark Ivanovich Shevelev, 70 years, from AANII".

Mark Ivanovich Shevelev, lieutnant general of aviation, was a very popular figure in the polar community. He was well-known arctic flyer in the 1930s, later chief of the whole Soviet arctic aviation. He passed away in 1991 aged 86 (see obituary This watch was given to him in the occasion of 70 year birthday in 1974 by AANII - Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute.

I'm pretty sure that here I have the real thing.

The watch is in overall good condition. Sometimes you can find Raketa Antarktida in excellent condition, but usually it is assembled from different NOS spare parts. In the time when I'm writing this you can buy from ebay a NOS dial for this watch. The most difficult part to find is the crystal. Let's take a look at the very exceptional construction of this watch.

Movement. All the 24h Raketas are based on well-known 2623 movement. But there are two main types of 2623. Early models have so called 2623 "Baltika" movement, which is absolutely different from the later 2623 which is in use until today. Russian collectors name the current 2623 movement "Flat Russia". There is two main subtypes of 2623 Flat Russia - the first one which was used in the 70s had bevelled edge around the movement. Later in the beginning of 80s, when Raketa factory started using automatic movement assembly machines, the movement was made slightly simpler and the bevelled edge vanished.

Here they are from left to right:

  • 2623 Baltika
  • 2623 Flat Russia w bevelled edge
  • 2623 Flat Russia from 80s onwards

Usually is the movement type pressed into bridge. The base Raketa movement was always 2609 and 2623 is just a 24h version of the base movement with many identical details, including bridge. Especially inside new grey market Raketas you can find 2623 movements with bridges marked as 2609, 2628, 2614 etc. (Sometimes you can even see inside grey market watches movements assembled as a mixture of details of the 70s with bevelled edges and from the 80s without bevel.) One general rule is that 2623-marked movement is a proof that you have official Raketa factory produced watch. But very often the watchmakers changed the bridges with otherwise marked details. And according to the stories from former Raketa workers in Raketa factory when they were short in spare details they often installed details with wrong movement type numbers.

I have no doubt that my Raketa Antarktida is the right one, but on the movement's bridge stands 2609.AI!

And as always - all the Raketa movements are immortal. Here you see my watch on the timing machine: daily rate -2 s, beat error 0.5 ms:

Case. This type of case is used only in two Raketa 24h models and both are very rare. First in 1969 was introduced the Raketa Polar and thereafter our today's watch Raketa Antarktida 16 SAE. Russian collectors call this case "каструля" - pot (or soucepot, I'm not so good in the .......).

Excellent description of this construction was given in Russian watches:
This case consists of anti-magnetic steel box (saucepan) with screw cap, gold platted frame and special glass which fixes on the rib of saucepan. As assembled, it shows a wonderful non-frame effect.
These pictures are made by member Dront and are taken from different threads:

The watch is water resistant, shockproof and antimagnetic, but I still feel that the construction is fragile. I'm not even thinking to wear my watch. I don't know what to do when the very special acrylic crystal gets broken.

The outer case is 20 micron gold plated.

Dial. On the dial you see Antarctica with 6 Soviet Antarctic bases marked with artificial rubies. The text below the continent is „АНТАРКТИДА 16 САЭ" - Antarctic 16 SAE (Soviet Antarctic Expedition). The expedition lasted 1970-72 and the watch was intended for members and other people related to the expedition. I don't know, did they get the watch before or after the expedition.

I've seen some pictures of this dial without number 16. What does it mean and who was awarded with these watches is not known to me.

The 16[SUP]th[/SUP] expedition was much bigger than previous Soviet Antarctic efforts - in total 566 people, including 354 as crews of ships (16). My hypothesis is that during the planning phase of this expedition two watches were ordered from Raketa - Raketa Polar and Raketa Antarktida 16 SAE. Mechanically they are the same, the only difference is dial. The design was confirmed in 1969. Here is the Raketa Polar design sketch from December 1969 with a confirmation signature by deputy manager of 16 SAE V.M.Rogachev.

It is very likely that both watches were produced in 1970. Later, after the expedition in 1972 Raketa started already production of Flat Russia movements.

How many Polars and how many Antarktidas were produced is not known. Presumably some hundreds. Both models are very rare, because most of them are usually still in possession of families of the polar explorers. Russian collectors assess Polar to be rarer than Antarktida.

I got this watch in a small Petrodvorez Watch Factory box and I believe that it is the original one. The passport inside the box is unfortunately not from this watch; just some previous collector added a random 24h Raketa passport. I got this watch not directly from Mr Shevelev's family. Before me as a minimum three different Russian watch collectors owned this watch and even pictures of this watch appeared in Russian forums. This underscores the fact that it is not easy to find these watches.

I recommend visiting following links containing excellent pictures:


I'm really glad that I have this watch. This is a piece of history and I have absolutely no intention to wear it. BTW, that is the main difference for me between collection and wardrobe. Wardrobe is a practical thing - a list of items you are just wearing time to time. As soon as you add to your wardrobe something absolutely impractical - something too beautiful, too weird or too expensive to wear - you are starting a collection.

Next week I will present another collector's item, also related to researchers, but from a different country.

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Re: Raketa Antarktida 16 SAE - a piece of history (AWW 31)

Beautiful......and the history! Thanks for sharing both.
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