I’ve been on a James Bond kick lately. So as the release of “No Time to Die” draws closer, I decided to check into buying one of the watches worn by the iconic super spy. But, a quick glance at the prices was enough to nix that operation.
Well, if I can’t afford a Bond watch, what about something that could have been worn by one of his Russian nemeses? Enter the $60-ish Vostok Amphibian, a Soviet timepiece released in the same year as the Connery classic “You Only Live Twice.” These watches are legendary for their oddball appearance and durability, backed by a legitimate diving pedigree. And hey, if it’s good enough for Steve Zissou, how bad could it be?
On paper, the Amphibian (also known as the Scuba Dude) reads as a moderately-sized watch. The steel case measures some 41mm across, with a sensible lug-to-lug span of 45mm. The outlier here is its 15mm thickness, which makes this a rather high-riding piece. Just take a look at that domed acrylic crystal.
My eyeball test estimates that the glass rises somewhere between three to four millimeters above the rest of the case. Why so tall? We’ll cover the purpose behind its architecture in a few moments. For now, know that Vostok does offer several different cases. This particular example is from their 710 line, also known as the “Ministry” style. There’s also the rounded 420, and a host of other more minor variations.
Despite its height, I’ve found the Scuba Dude to be an incredibly comfortable piece on my wrist. The lugs slope nicely away from the bezel, creating an interesting geometry. It’s a definite departure from your typical Swiss or Japanese design aesthetics, making it immediately recognizable.
Let’s get this out of the way: The Vostok 2416 is not a modern movement. It’s a hand winding, automatic mechanical straight out of the swinging 60s. In fact, it’s changed very little since it debuted alongside the first album from “The Doors.” That was in 1967, with LBJ in the White House and The Jungle Book in theaters. So, if a hacking seconds hand and quick set date are on your list of bare necessities, you’re out of luck.
Still, there’s plenty here to light my fire. For what it lacks in modern amenities, the 2416 is a proven, durable movement. There are certainly some rough edges, however, especially in the setting experience. Hacking may be absent, but you can get the seconds to stop for a while by dialing back the minute hand. This lets you get somewhat close, though it occasionally requires a shake to restart. Also, my Amphibian arrived with a weird stutter-step between the five and ten second marks. This sorted itself out over the course of my first two hours with the watch, and hasn’t reappeared since.
Let’s talk accuracy. For the first half the week, I was running around 45 seconds fast per day. While that’s certainly not great, I’d rather have my watches run fast as opposed to slow. Further reading indicated that most watches passing through international mail will be exposed to some form of magnetism. That’s a major problem for automatics, so I ran the Vostok over my degausser. The results since then have been closer to plus-35 seconds per day, so there’s been a slight improvement.
It’s also worth noting that, according to various internet forums, these watches have a break-in period of a few weeks. While this could be anecdotal, mine has gotten more accurate over its week-plus on my wrist. The hand-winding is a bit rough, but we’ll cover the quirks of its crown below.
Overall, I knew what I was getting into with this movement. With its hearty gears, stoic silence, and blue-collar ethos, it’s not hard to see the Russian DNA here.
Case and Crown
Though there are countless Amphibian combinations, I opted for the standard Scuba Dude because of its more traditional divers’ appearance. The entire affair is made stainless steel, with a surprisingly nice polish. The brushed back features Cyrillic script that I can’t read. Oh, except for the “200M.”
Let’s take a second to cover the uniqueness of the Scuba Dude’s construction. The story goes that, back in the 1960s, the Russians needed to develop a watch with a 200M diving rating. Being a Communist nation, they weren’t keen on the idea of purchasing patents for such tech from the Swiss. A group of engineers was tasked with replicating their results, while operating within the limits of the Soviets’ industrial capabilities. What they came up with was the Amphibian, a watch that utilized a domed crystal and rubber gasket. Under pressure, the watch’s components actually squeeze in on themselves, creating a tighter seal as the wearer descends in depth. It’s a neat bit of history, even if I’m unlikely to take up deep-sea diving.
Speaking of unique construction, the Amphibia’s 2416 movement has one of the strangest crowns you’re likely to encounter. It’s actually disconnected from the shaft, giving it a wobbly feel that can trick folks into believing that their watch is broken. Supposedly, this is intentional. Vostok enthusiasts claim that it provides additional protection to the mechanism in the event of an impact to the crown. The theory is that, since it’s free-floating, the winding shaft won’t be able to slam into the heart of the movement. Some folks consider this annoying, but I’ve chalked it up as another lovable quirk. Connected or not, I’m just happy that it’s a screw-down crown.
Dial, Bezel, and Crystal
Call me crazy, but I feel this is one of the most stylish watches available under $60. The eponymous Scuba Dude is a classic logo, and the polished hands and indices are really sharp. I love the sea-green dial, and the red second hand really pops. The date window is perfectly placed at 3-oclock, and the whole affair is nicely proportioned. Oh, and the lume far outpaces the weak paint found on the similarly-priced Seiko SNK809. The hands and hour pips are clearly visible through the night. Not quite as bright as the Citizen BM8180’s, but that’s more due to the smaller applied points.
Let’s talk about the bi-directional bezel. This is a sore spot for some dive-watch purists, who want to stick closer to the diver aesthetic. A one-way bezel allows you to more reliably track the amount of air left in your tank, while an unwanted spin of the Vostok’s outer ring could provide a dangerously misleading reading.
But for my needs, I’m onboard with the two-way spin. I actually found myself using the Amphibian’s bezel more than those on my traditional divers, from timing flights to making basic computations.
Lastly, there’s the acrylic crystal. Will it scratch? Yes, for certain. Do I care? No, not really. This is a fun, budget diver meant to be worn. And unlike harder mineral crystals, a quick application of Polywatch should be able to restore the Amphibian’s glass to its former glory.
Ready for my biggest criticism of the Vostok? This is, hands down, the worst bracelet I’ve encountered. Even among enthusiasts, the universal consensus was this – The metal is sharp, prone to pinch, and loves nothing better than to devour each and every hair on your arm. Thankfully, I had a backup plan in place.
Full disclosure: The green NATO you see here was provided free of charge by an outfit called Cincy Strap Company. I’ve been a long-time customer of theirs, and they hooked me up with a few of their “Premium SB Straps” as both a “Thank you” and a way to get their name out there. Until now, I’ve always purchased their standard (and excellent) Milspec models. But these premium SB’s are worth every cent of their $26 price tag. The material quality is top notch, from the hardware to the supple strap itself.
Here is a shot of the Amphibia next to my Casio MDV106-1a “Duro”:
While I love the look and feel of the NATO, it does cause the watch to ride higher than a UFO on my wrist. Still, I gladly rocked this look for several days’ worth of travel and testing.
I’ve purchased a basic rubber band for wear on the job, which should help keep the Dude’s dome from smashing into a steam valve. But, man, that olive NATO really pops with this dial.
Vostok Amphibian “Scuba Dude” Review – Final Thoughts
Long story short, I adore this watch. Between the historical significance, quirky design, and rugged personality, it’s exactly the kind of fun piece I enjoy having in my collection.
Now, here’s the hard part – Where can you buy one? While they’re available on Amazon for around $100, your cheapest route is through eBay. I paid $57 for mine, with free shipping. Just look for a dealer with a lot of positive reviews, and you should be okay. Here’s the catch – The watch ships from Russia. That means you’ll be waiting somewhere between two and four weeks for the Scuba Dude to swim across the pond.
There is another option – Meranom, the official Vostok distributor. The shipping isn’t any quicker, and the prices are generally around $75. But if you want to browse through the mind-boggling variety of the Vostok catalog, they’re your source.