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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Hello fellow comrades!

Just on the heels of my last thread, I have an even more exciting announcement. Yesterday, I received one of my most highly-anticipated timepieces: a (mostly) genuine Sturmanskie 17j "Gagarin". Many of you are familiar with this watch as it is thought to be the first watch worn in space by Yuri Gagarin on April 12th, 1961. As such, it is a highly collectible watch and an important historical timepiece. Yet these are quite difficult to find for a number of other reasons...

1. They're old. A 15-jewel version was produced from 1949 to 1953, and the 17-jewel version was produced from 1954 until approximately 1960. Over the span of more than half a century, many have been lost or destroyed, and the number of genuine examples decreases every year.
2. Original dials contain radium lume on the numbers, which I understand can decay and severely damage a dial beyond repair....especially when given between 55-66 years to do so.
3. Production numbers were limited. Sturmanskies were only issued to Soviet Air Force pilots and never made available to the public (much as the original Strela chronographs were only for official use and never for sale in the open market). Therefore, a limited number were produced to be bestowed upon pilots at graduation. I have searched for an estimate on how many were produced in total, but my efforts have proven futile. (Anyone know?)
4. Frankens. As is the case with many desirable watches, Sturmanskies are often faked in an effort to turn a profit. The most common franken has a new replica dial which can be spotted fairly easily with a little visual training. But many others have incorrect cases, replaced crowns, new hands, improper movements, etc. As these are not cheap watches, it would be wise to thoroughly research before purchasing.
5. Demand. All this history and scarcity leads to incredible demand, meaning some buyers are willing to pay sky-high prices for mediocre examples. From what I read, these watches used to be far easier to find at reasonable prices, but it seems the days of the sub-$200 genuine Sturmanskie are long gone.

So now, onto my watch. I found this example on eBay several weeks ago and actually liked the patina and fading of the dial. But the watch unfortunately had the wrong case and crown (not an uncommon occurrence; the 15-jewel Sturmanskie belongs in a case with a snap-on back cover and a "pillow" crown, while the 17-jewel version should have a screw-on back cover and thicker crown à la Sportivnie). Here were the original seller's original photos:

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I reached out to the seller to inquire whether a Sportivnie case was available, and if so, could she please swap cases (I also offered to do this myself at a considerable reduction in asking price). The seller kindly responded that the watch used to be in a case with a screw-down back, but it was in poor condition so she had transferred the watch to a new "original" case(!). She said the "old" case was probably still available, and if so, she could put it back. I was ecstatic. Within a day, she had emailed me new photos of the watch in its truly original case. Yes, it is more weathered, especially on the sides (not shown in photos), but it's likely this dial originally belonged in this case, as that's how it came to the seller. Of course, it's impossible to know for sure if any of these parts originally belonged together, but the wear and tear seems consistent, so I deem it a match.

Still, there was one problem -- the movement was wrong. Here were her updated photos...

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But despite the incorrect movement, the dial, hands, case, and crown were all correct (right?), and I believe a majority of the price you're paying on a genuine Sturmanskie is for an original dial and hands in decent condition. I made an offer on the basis of the replaced movement, and scored the watch for about one-third of what most sellers are asking on eBay.

The watch arrived and I'm extremely happy with it. The hands have definitely been relumed (see photo), which I happen to really like. The watch is keeping perfect time, but I will eventually restore the movement with an original 17j hacking movement. I understand Sportivnies can be donors, but does anyone know if there were subtle differences between Sportivnie movements and the 17j Sturmanskie? If not, then all the better. If so, finding an original Sturmanskie 17j movement could be a fruitless endeavor, but I shall try!

This 17j Sturmanskie joins my 15j version from fellow member slls in absolutely pristine condition. Of course, my newest member is not quite as flawless (how could it be?), but for the price I paid, I'm satisfied. Mr. Selles has an absolutely wonderful website with a page devoted to Sturmanskies. His entire website is a wealth of information, but this page in particular is very helpful for anyone looking to learn more. Also make sure and check out his invaluable post about identifying the two authentic varions of this watch (and don't forget those helpful links at the bottom).

Finally, for some interesting information on the Sturmanskie emblem, see here. And in case you wanted to know what "Sturmanskie" actually means, well, good luck :-d

Below I include my two Sturmanskies side by side as well as some shots of pilot watches from three countries: USSR, India, and China.

Congratulations if you've made it this far. Here is your reward... :)

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Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Great write up mroatman one of my must find in the minefield out there.. Thankyou so much for sharing with us .Its very much appreciated. DW.

sent from Billy super-Duper
 

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Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Well-done mroatman, the 17 jewel movement is quite common and I'm sure you'll find a replacement soon if you so desire. The dial and hands are the difficult parts to collect for the 17 jewel and you look like you've done well there. With the 15 jewel the movement is much scarcer and was not found in any other watch I am familiar with.

That Chinese chrono is really a nice looking watch. How rare/collectible is one like that? Like a Strela?

It makes sense that the Strela was the next watch used by soviet pilots after the sturmanskie (1MWF never produced another conventional "hacking" movement) but I don't recall ever having seen a "military" Strela. If the availability of the first Strelas was limited to military only, why its appearance in the 1960 catalog?

Thanks for sharing, comrade!
 

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Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

That Chinese chrono is really a nice looking watch. How rare/collectible is one like that? Like a Strela?
I think, it is Seagull 1963, I can not find used ones, but new watch costs about 300 $ + shipping.
 

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Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

What a great idea and beautifully executed! I can't quite make out the green dial watch, what is that one?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Great write up mroatman one of my must find in the minefield out there.. Thankyou so much for sharing with us .Its very much appreciated. DW
Thank you for your comments! Hopefully you can find some information from the links I provided. And if you ever decide to pull the trigger, feel free to PM me first and I'd be glad to impart whatever knowledge I can. I've spent many hours studying and researching these watches, so I'm happy to double-check any watches that seem suspicious to you.

Well-done mroatman, the 17 jewel movement is quite common and I'm sure you'll find a replacement soon if you so desire. The dial and hands are the difficult parts to collect for the 17 jewel and you look like you've done well there. With the 15 jewel the movement is much scarcer and was not found in any other watch I am familiar with.
Thank you for this. My 15j (ex-Hans collection) certainly has the right movement, and I'm glad to know the 17j is the same as a Sportivnie and therefore easy to source -- I was worried there might be small differences. Actually, the seller just credited me $35 because the hacking isn't working. And I was going to swap the movement anyway! Lucky me.

That Chinese chrono is really a nice looking watch. How rare/collectible is one like that? Like a Strela?
I think, it is Seagull 1963, I can not find used ones, but new watch costs about 300 $ + shipping.
Tomas is right, it is new. Truly vintage Seagull 1963 chronographs are exceedingly rare. I have only seen one original watch in a picture -- never one in the "wild". But if you compare the two, the reissue does the original justice, with only very, very minor changes (for example, the shape of the 4 is curved on the original and more angular on the reissue). It's easily one of the best reissues I've seen in term of preserving the original design. The dial is even "aged" with a somewhat off-white, olive color that's difficult to photograph.

Typical prices are $300 and up, but with the weak Euro, you can buy one for about $100 cheaper here, especially if you forego the display case back (and therefore, truer to the original watch). At just over $200 shipped for a brand new high-quality chronograph movement, this represents one heck of a deal. This is the only retailer I've found that offers the watch for such a low price. It pays to do your homework!

It makes sense that the Strela was the next watch used by soviet pilots after the sturmanskie (1MWF never produced another conventional "hacking" movement) but I don't recall ever having seen a "military" Strela. If the availability of the first Strelas was limited to military only, why its appearance in the 1960 catalog?
I wondered the same thing in my previous thread (post #22). It really doesn't make sense. Yet still, I read time and time again that the first cyrillic-branded Strelas were only issued to official personnel (not just air force). You can read about this here, here, here, and this most helpful explanation by Tammo (post #5).

My best theory is that if, indeed, this watch had wide use in fields from scientific to geographical to rail and military, then maybe marketing materials were still released for these various industries. If true, this would make original Strelas less exclusive than Sturmanskies, but still more rare than any watch sold in the public market. That's the only way I can reconcile the clear evidence of marketing materials with the countless claims that this watch was originally for official use only.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

What a great idea and beautifully executed! I can't quite make out the green dial watch, what is that one?
Thank you, shandy!

I'm not sure which one you're talking about, since none of the watches have a truly green dial (this is all a product of outdoor reflections and iPhone camera quality). Since I'm assuming you know all three Russians pictured, the other two are: Seagul 1963 (somewhat faded/golden color dial) and HMT Pilot (jet-black dial that doesn't photograph well outdoors).

See below for the common name of each watch...

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Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Nice collection, I like the picture with the watches on the aged wood.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Pretty convincing sources, I must say. Maybe the very first Strela from say 1959 were private issue only with a future public offering being advertised in the 1960 catalog.
My thought exactly. But then I realized this can't be true. In Tammo's post, (s)he says, "The Scientific, Geographical, Railways and Military people demanded the need for a chronograph, and the original Strela with and without tachymeter scale on the dial was born" (emphasis added). And to my knowledge, the tachy Strela was released after the arabic Strela, likely in 1960 or later. Furthermore, Tammo states: "Later (1965) when it was decided that the 3017 could be commercialized, several variants of the 3017 were branded under Poljot and Sekonda using the same case as the Strela." This clearly implies that commercialization did not take place until the name was changed from Strela to Poljot/Sekonda in 1965, presumably for marketing purposes, and further suggests that all cyrillic-branded Strelas were non-commercial.

And then there's that ad from 1960. I remain perplexed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

To anyone reading this thread: please correct me if any of these details are incorrect. I try very hard to thoroughly research my statements to avoid the spread of misinformation, but the internet, public forums, and the field of Soviet watches are all riddled with misleading "facts". If anyone can clarify, it would be much appreciated.
 

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Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

I also wondered about this. My guess is that Hungary, Berlin and maybe Czechoslovakia had a somehow privileged status within the Soviet empire at that time - they were on the Western border of the empire, so their citizens were offered more consumer goods than the average Soviet citizens. Another option - these catalogs were one of the many tools in propaganda competition - they advertised goods, but there were no guarantees that you would find them in the shops.
 

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Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Many congratulations on your 17j Sturmanskie Gagarin - one of the most iconic watches of the Soviet era. The dial is very beautiful, with the sort of patina really like, it gives the whole piece a wonderful 'vintage' feel. When I was searching for my piece, I found the 17j a particularly difficult piece to source - so I think you've done really well. What a great pair you now have, enjoy them both in excellent health, and I'm sure they will give you years of great pleasure. My 17j Gagarin says hi....

 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Great, thanks a LOT for further complicating matters! :-d

I really don't know what to make of it. I hope someone can chime in here with some elucidating trivia.

Man, I so love those '60s catalogues. But they're a bit terrifying as well...make me think I'll never stop collecting :p
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Many congratulations on your 17j Sturmanskie Gagarin - one of the most iconic watches of the Soviet era. The dial is very beautiful, with the sort of patina really like, it gives the whole piece a wonderful 'vintage' feel. When I was searching for my piece, I found the 17j a particularly difficult piece to source - so I think you've done really well. What a great pair you now have, enjoy them both in excellent health, and I'm sure they will give you years of great pleasure. My 17j Gagarin says hi....
Thanks, Geoff! I've always liked yours -- you don't find dials that pristine very often. Well done :-!

Yes, I certainly agree that the 17j Sturmanskie is a particularly difficult watch to find. For the past several months since I've been looking, it seems many 15j Sturmanskies were (and are) available on eBay, including several genuine examples. However, the 17j version is much harder to source, at least in my search. And the few that are available have significant faults. Finding a dial that's still legible, those rare blued hands with lume, and a full-length seconds hand that extends all the way to the perimeter of the dial is just plain hard to do.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

I like the 17j version most because of the hands.
I agree, the hands make it extra special. I enjoy these "Lanzenform" hands on the Sportivnie, but the blued hands on the Sturmanskie are even more unique. (By the way, does anybody know an English translation of "lanzenform"? Lance-shaped, perhaps?)

Slls, your 17j Sturmanskie remains one of the best examples I've ever seen, with a perfect slight patina and incredible preservation across the entire dial. Were the numbers on your 17j also re-lumed with a non-toxic radium alternative? Perhaps that would go towards explaining why your 15j and 17j Sturmanskies are both so well-preserved...?

It's funny, even though I bought the 15j from you, I still think of it as "your watch", the same way I think of the watches I've obtained from Russell Cook's collection as "his". I guess I think of myself as their permanent guardian :)

If you ever decide that "my" 15j and your 17j belong together again, you know my email address ;-) ;-) ;-)
 

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Re: Sturmanskie (Штурманские) 15j and 17j

Ha, I can imagine you like to see those 2 watches together some day. But I'm afraid the 15j has to deal with the fact that the 17j is staying in good old little Holland. I'm almost sure the 17j still has it's original lume, but if it's radium, I don't know. At some point late 5o-ies or so, the watch industry stopped using it.
 
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