Buying a used Russian watch – such as a Vostok – might be deemed simple, but it can be fraught with potential issues at each turn.
Guide to buying used Russian watches
Luxury watches aren’t the only watches to be faked, and there is a growing number of Russian watches being copied. This makes buying a used one tricky as not only could you encounter a fake, you could also find modded ones which isn’t bad, but they could easily be mistaken for fake. There’s also tonnes and tonnes of different designs of the same watchmaking it even more difficult to spot a genuine one as you can’t be sure if it is a made-up design or one of their original ones.
1. How to spot a fake Russian watch
Spotting a fake Russian watch can be tricky as it’s quite difficult to tell if a watch is simply just a mod or if it’s a fake. But there are a few ways to help identify a real one.
A. Look out for case imperfections – Here, you want to look out for any thinning metal or metal that is starting to flake or dimples in the finish. These are signs that the case material is probably not steel and is likely some cheap metal. Also, look at the colour; if it’s yellow-tinged and not supposed to be that way, then that is another sign of poor quality metal.
B. No Screw-down crown – Most – but not all – Vostoks have a screw-down crown, so if you get one that’s supposed to have this feature and it doesn’t, you could have a fake.
C. Poor fitment of the bezel – Vostoks build quality can vary, but they should have a pretty solid feeling bezel. Fakes have a really poor fitting one and, in some cases, will even fall off completely.
D. Not working – A common thing with fake Vostok and other Russian watches is the fact they’ll arrive dead and not work at all. Most Russian watches take a bit of use to get them started, this is done by either movement or winding, but a fake will not do anything.
E. No lume – Most real Russian watches will have lume; though not the best in the business, they still should have it, whereas a phoney will simply fake this by painting the (in this case) dots on the dial.
F. Sloppy dial work – Russian watches that are really should have pretty cleanly done dial artwork and numerals, whereas a fake will be scrappy looking and often be smudged. (look at the example below)
G. Altered papers – Sometimes Russian watches will come with papers, and often these can be altered; this can be hard to spot, so make sure the watch you are buying is numbers matching to a genuine one. You can research this online and make sure that the model you have bought is an actual model that has been made.
2. Lookout for modded watches
Modded Vostoks have certainly grown in popularity over the past few years, and while there’s nothing wrong with a modded one, it can sometimes be hard to tell a modded one from an original as there are so many different takes on the same design and also especially if it’s been done right. So if you want to have a fully original Vostok or another Russian watch, be sure to ask the seller if it is all original.
Some common mods include dial swaps, bezel insert changes, bezel swaps and upgraded crystals. These, technically, can make the original better, especially if you are upgrading to a ceramic insert and sapphire crystal though there are fans out there that want a fully original piece, and again if you aren’t 100% sure, then ask. Most sellers should state if anything has been altered, but if they haven’t mentioned it in the listing, the best thing to do is ask.
3. Visit Russian watch forums
These forums can contain a wealth of information from avid collectors and fans all over the world, and these can even help you identify if your watch is the real deal or not. If you join a thread or make your own, you are likely to be greeted by users looking to help you out.
4. Buy from a reputable Russian watch seller
If you look hard enough on eBay, you can find authorised dealers of Russian watches that have good feedback. But again, you have to be careful and make sure you research the seller on the forums and any reviews if they have any. It’s always better to be safe in these situations. A good place to look is Chrono24, as they usually vet sellers beforehand and take all the hassle out of that for you. Again though, it’s worth doing your research and ensuring that the seller has good reviews that are genuine and not paid for.
Another tip is to buy from a proper store with a good reputation as they are more likely to be dealing with genuine goods. Buying from private sellers is a little riskier as there isn’t as much comeback if something goes wrong. Private sellers are risky in another way, too, as they can disappear easier than a proper store can, heightening the risk factor. Now not all private sellers are looking to take you for a ride and are genuine. So you can’t paint all private sellers with the same brush; you just have to have your wits about you more so than when dealing with an established store.
5. Make sure all the original items are present
The watch you’re looking at may or may not come with extra goodies like documents, spare straps and tools, so be sure that they come with the watch. This helps authentic the watch as some fakes might not come with all these extras. They also help boost the value of the watch too; which is great if you ever come to sell it on.
6. Check the Russian Watch’s service history
Depending on the age of the watch, it should have at least some records of any service that it has had, especially on the more expensive watches like this Poljot Ocean Chronograph 3133. If you buy the original from 1980, then it should have had at least two to three services in that time, maybe even more, and with that comes documents. Again this helps verify it as a seller isn’t likely to provide these unless they’re trying to sell it, so our tip is to look at the records and verify with the service person if this watch was serviced. A fake document may say one particular service centre, but if you ask them, they should have all the original records, which will not match if the docs are fake. If it’s real they should match.
7. Look out for stock photos of Russian Watches
To me, if I’m looking at buying a used watch, I want to see that watch and what it looks like, if a seller is only using easily found stock photos for a used watch, then ask for some photos of the watch, if they refuse, walk away. If a seller can’t be bothered to provide these, then they’re likely hiding something or possibly haven’t even got the watch they’re selling. If the seller is good, then they should offer photos with no fuss.
Here you have it, a comprehensive guide to gander at before you think about buying a pre-owned Russian watch. If you follow our list, then you should be able to more easily find a good deal as well as find the right seller that offers all of this. Keep in mind that buying experiences vary from seller to seller, which is why WRUK recommends choosing Chrono 24 when shopping for your next luxury purchase as they only work with reputable sellers across the globe and have a great reputation for looking after both buyers and sellers alike.