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Molnija pocket watches

I have started this page because I like pocket watches. Russian Molnija watches are robust, good quality watches and are still available second hand. I don't speak or read Russian but I have some friends that do and sometimes I ask them for help.

Why pocket watches?

I never really liked wrist watches and I used to carry my wrist watch in the pocket or I would just not carry any watch at all. I retired my watch when small GSM mobile phones came up. All the phones had a built-in clock. I had no more need for an extra watch. Today smart phones are so big that they restrain you when carried in your pant's pocket. Now I avoid smart phones and wrist watches in my spare time. I find it good to do something together with my family and be not reachable by phone. Thus I have re-discovered the good old mechanical watch.

As an engineer I find mechanical watches interesting from a technical point of view and we start with that aspect.

The Molnija mechanical movement

Molnija (Молния) pocket watches were made from 1947 to November 2007. The main factory was located in the Ural town of Chelyabinsk with a second factory outside of Moscow. The Russian word Молния means lightning.

The word "Молния" is pronounced like the English letter combination "Molnya".

A communist society does not have the concept of competition between rival companies. Thus there is no need to innovate a lot and re-design all the time. This can be very bad for the advancement of technology when it evolves still a lot. Cars and computers did e.g go through massive changes between 1947 to 2007. Mechanical watch movements did however have the time of new technology and innovation much earlier. By 1947 is was pretty much known how to design a good mechanical watch (the famous Waltham Watch Company stopped production in 1949).

The Molnija movement is basically a copy of a Cortebert movement as used e.g in Rolex watches from around 1940. The Russians improved accuracy of the movement quite a bit when they upgraded it to their 18 jewels version of the movement but the basic design remained the same until the closure of the factory in 2007. In other words the Molnija movement was originally a Swiss Cortébert movement. A high quality movement.

From left to right: a 1940's Rolex movement cal. 618, an old Molnija 15j movement, a Cortebert cal. 624 movement, a Cortebert cal. 616 movement.

This swiss movement design was very popular and a blueprint for many movement designs from that time. Here is a 1947 Bulova watch movement:

A 1947 bulova pocket watch

The fact that the Molnija movement changed very little over time does of course not mean that all Molnija watches were the same from 1947 to 2007.

Molnija watch from the first few month of production. Made end of 1947 in Moscow.

The early Molnija design. All Molnija watches produced just after 1947 until the mid 1950's looked like this.

Even a communist society had a demand for more individual and different pocket watches and they changed them externally. The Molnija factory produced just one style in the early years but over time they came up with many different cases and dials. They changed as well the movements and you can not easily mix spare parts from different Molnija generations but overall the changes made to the movements where minor.

Molnija watches where sold in the 50's and 60's in nicely made card board boxes. In the 70's and later small black-marble colored plastic boxes where used. I am not exactly sure when they switched the watches sold in the USSR from card board boxes to plastic. Jewelers outside the USSR selling those watches did often provide their own individual boxes and packaging.

Picture on the left: Molnija watch 15j, 1954 with papers and box. The two pictures to the right: Molnija watch 18j, 1974, with certificate and original box, front and back view of the watch and the certificate. Click on the photos for more details.

The Molnija movement is a good, robust and reliable mechanical movement. An advantage of having very similar movements in all Molnija watches from today's point of view is that it is not difficult to find spare parts.

The movement is mainly made out of a nickel copper alloy. The smaller and more delicate cog wheels are made of brass and the bigger wheels which are directly connected to the main spring are made out of carbon steel.

Molnija technical specifications

Movement diameter: 36 mm

Movement types: early movements are called "ЧК-6" (ChK-6) and they have a nice striped pattern finish (Geneva stripes). Around 1964 a new movement called 3602 was introduced. The 3602 is almost identical to the "ЧК-6" but it has no finishing pattern and some of the internal dimensions are different such that you can not exchange parts between the two types. The 3603 movement is a 3602 movement with shock protection (the balance wheel jewels are different).

Jewels (gemstone bearings): normally 15 on the "ЧК-6" and 18 on the 3602/3603 movements

Rate: 2.5Hz, 5 beats per second, 18000 bph (beats per hour)

Main-spring reserve: The watch runs about 40 hours when fully wound.

Balance staff: riveted, note "ЧК-6" (ChK-6) and 3602/3603 movements require different staffs.

Balance wheel: The balance wheel alloy was changed and improved over the years. I have seen at least 3 different kinds of alloys with different colors in Molnija watches.

Hairspring material: Elinvar, hairspring form: Breguet overcoil for 3602/3603 and flat hairspring for ЧК-6

Russian words and symbols on Molnija watch dials

Russian Molnija watch with Молния written in script.

Russian Molnija watch with "made in russia".