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The History of Pobeda watches

by Mikhail Burdoev on

An Introduction to Pobeda Watches

Pobeda watches are one of the most popular Russian watches produced in the USSR and remain to this date a highly collectible and wearable item. Recognisable by their understated and utilitarian appearance, Pobeda watches were easy to manufacture, cost-effective and a reliable source of timekeeping designed to adorn the wrist of any hardworking citizen. As such, they are considered both a reflection and representation of their contemporary society’s Soviet values, which championed rapid industrialization and faith in the proletariat.

Indeed, the brand was established with the aim of developing and presenting domestic watches whereby the name “Pobeda” would become synonymous with victory, heroism and will of every inhabitant. This was an objective highly in keeping with particular contemporary ideology that was being postulated and pedaled by the state -specifically, the archetype of  “The New Soviet Man”. This was a model of the ideal citizen who was both physically and politically fit, who was muscular and strong, and thoroughly committed to spreading the Socialist Revolution. This archetype was presented to civilians as something to aspire to and served as a crucial tool in the states aim of creating a single Soviet People. Pobeda can subsequently be considered an excellent example of soviet watches, which typically include design features that reflect the state positively or commemorate its achievements.

Both the brand name - Pobeda (Победа meaning "victory") - and characteristics of its design were given the personal seal of approval by Stalin himself, who had ordered that the initial batch to be ready for the 1946 anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. These watches were therefore commissioned as a commemorative, yet simultaneously practical commodity that in addition to marking time was an inherently political accessory that reminded its wearer of the states success and power. As a result, they are now considered luxury watches with significant historical value, and are thus highly sought after by collectors worldwide.

A Short History of Pobeda Watches

Whilst America and some European countries had been designing and creating timepieces since the early eighteenth century, the first Russian watchmaker was not established until over a hundred years later in 1927. Prior to the October Revolution, watches were assembled from parts imported from Switzerland. The acquisition of watches up until the mid twentieth century had been somewhat of a rarity. This was particularly the case in Tsarist Russia, where they were only available to those of a higher socio-economic class who could afford to purchase them or had the social connections to receive them as gifts.

However, watches soon grew in importance when it became apparent that precise and reliable timekeeping was essential in transforming Russia from an agricultural society into a self-sufficient industrial power. The demand for watches therefore increased exponentially, and the Soviet Union sought international funding and expertise for the development of a domestic industry for functional timepieces.

The First Moscow Watch Factory

The first Pobeda watches for sale were scarce in numbers and very costly. However, the securing of a contract with the French company LIP SA d’Horlogerie meant that by 1936, a far more successful attempt to launch a production was made. With the input and help from French specialists who had extensive experience of creating complex timepieces, a specialist watch factory was founded in Penza, a large administrative city of located southeast of Moscow. Here, several movement designs were licensed including one from 1908- the R-26 - which later received significant alterations and was renamed the K-26.  This design should have been realised prior to 1945, however World War II disrupted its production schedule.

The design was finalised and completed at Penza, and full-scale production of K-26 (Pobeda) began at the First Moscow Watch Factory, a business that had been developed in October 1930 as part of the Soviet Union’s first 5-year plan. Initially, this factory had lacked the equipment to make entire watches from scratch so the USSR sought its equipment, patent, parts and design from elsewhere. When the bankrupt Deuber-Hampden Watch Factory of Canton, Ohio went up for sale, the USSR invested and relocated all of their resources (including the workers) to their country to establish their own domestic watchmaking industry. In addition to Pobeda, other iconic brands manufactured at the First Moscow Watch Factory included Sputnik, Shturmanskie, Poljot, Kirovskie, Kosmos and Vimpel.  These remain popular antique brands of men’s watches to this date, and are recognised for their excellent craftsmanship, functionality and classic appearance.

The mass manufacture of such a prioritised commodity by 1945 was a significant milestone, as when the First Moscow Watch Factory was initially established it had lacked the labour, skills and capacity to function at its optimal capacity. The fact that fashionable and functional watches could be designed and produced within a specific schedule for a mass demographic is therefore demonstrative of both the effects and scale of rapid industrialisation under Stalin’s rule.

The Production of Pobeda

The production of Pobeda watches at both Penza and the Russian Watch Factory were instrumental in laying the foundations for their future and continued manufacture, and these wristwatches went on to be established at several other factories. These were the Chistopol Watch Factory (1949-1950, the Second Moscow Watch Factory (1953 – 1964) and the Maslennikov Plant (1951 – 2004).  As with many commodities manufactured on a large scale over an extensive period the movement was subject to degrees of evolution and alteration. With every new manufacture, some small but discernable changes were made. For example, the Second Russian Watch Factory implemented the addition of a calendar and two cap jewels.

Pobeda is still in production to this date, and is now held exclusively by the Petrodvorets Watch Factory in Saint Petersburg. This is an institution that dates back to the 1700’s, making it one of the oldest factories in Russia.

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