I have started this page because I like pocket watches.
Russian Molnija watches are robust, good quality watches and are still available
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
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.
Молния -- Molnija.
сделано в ссср -- means Made in CCCP (Soviet Union).
Russian Molnija watch with "made in russia".
сделано в россии -- means Made in Russia. This is an idication that this watch was made between the late 90's and 2007. It contains probably one of thos less durable movements with no nickel plating and a reduced number of jewels.
Russian Molnija watch from the 1980's
CCCP is Russian (Cyrillic) for Союз Советских Социалистических Республик -- it's the abbreviation for Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).
the little red symbol with CCCP on top of the letter "K" is the official soviet mark for the certification of quality (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Quality_Mark_of_the_USSR). The symbol with the K on the side and CCCP on top can be seen in the middle of the dial. The Russian word for quality is "качество" thus the letter "K" in the symbol. This CCCP quality stamp means as well that this particular watch was made between 1967 and 1991 (that's the time period where those symbols where assigned to products by the State Attestation Commission).
Russian Molnija railroad style watch
Russian railroad style watches have this "wheel with wings" symbol (flying wheel) on the dial and a train on the back. Note that those are watches with standard movements. They are not more accurate than any other Molnija watch.
A watch that does not have any cyrillic letters on the dial was made for export.
Markings on Molnija watch movements
One or more of the following markings can be found on Molnija movements:
"ЧЧЗ" or "Ч2З". A lot of people will read this as
443 or 423. It's however not a number. "ЧЧЗ" is an abbreviation for
"Челябинский Часовой Завод" and means Chelyabinsk Watch Factory. "Ч2З" is an acronym for "2nd Watch Factory" and it was located outside Moscow. On older watches you will find decorated factory symbols: What looks like 4 and 4 on top of a star with the 3 in side the star is the Chelyabinsk Watch Factory and the 423 with teeth from a saw on the outside is the Moscow factory. There is as well the Chistopol Watch Factory (Чистопольский часовой завод) and it would as well be abbreviated as ЧЧЗ (443) but that factory did not make any Molnija watches. It produced the Восток (Boctok, Vostok) line of watches. In other words ЧЧЗ (443) in the context of Молния means always Chelyabinsk and never Chistopol.
The Chelyabinsk Watch Factory used in the 60's and later sometimes this symbol of a watch showing 9 o'clock.
The amount of jewels (ruby stones bearings, камней). Most Molnija pocket watches have either 15 or 18 jewels. Early Molnija watches had 15 jewels and more recent watches had 18 jewels.
A serial number. It seems that this number was frequently reset to some value.
It's not exactly clear what tiggered the reset of the serial number and how it was really used. It is possible that a new 5 year plan, which changed about every 3 years, might have triggered the reset of the number. Communists have this notion of a 5 year plan were they set targets for the next 5 years such as e.g production volume targets. Thus the number was reset every 3-5 years and it might have been just a counter for the amount of units produced within a planing interval.
Caliber or movement type. Molnija watches did at the beginning not have a caliber system to identify the movement. Early Molnija movements with 15 jewels have an abbreviation stamp that looks like "4K-6" and stands for "Часы Карманные - 6" which means "Watch Pocket - 6".
The caliber system came up in the early 60th. The pocket watches movements have a diameter of 36mm and the first two digits in the Russian caliber system are equal to the diameter. The other two digits define the type of movement. The Molnija pocket watches were available in the following caliber: 3602=small second and without shock protection, 3603=small second and with shock protection, 3608=central second and without shock protection. "ЧК-6" (ChK-6) is sometimes incorrectly referred to as caliber 3601 by people who think that 3601 was the model before 3602 but there was never a 3601 pocket watch movement. Almost all pocket watches are either "ЧК-6" or 3602 caliber movements.
A date code in the form of "year quarter" or "quarter-year" and the year was written with just 2 digits (e.g 3-67 meant third quarter 1967).
SU for country of production, Sovjet Union.
15 jewels, 1st quarter 1953, factory code "Ч2З" (Moscow), caliber "ЧК-6", serial number. It has a very nice high quality surface finish (Geneva stripes) only found in early molnija models.
15 jewels, 3rd quarter 1952, factory code "ЧЧЗ" (Chelyabinsk), serial number. It has a very nice high quality surface finish only found in early molnija models.
15 jewels, 3rd quarter 1967, movement 3602, serial number
15 jewels, 3rd quarter 1958, factory code "ЧЧЗ" (Chelyabinsk), serial number
15 jewels, 4th quarter 1958, factory code "ЧЧЗ" (Chelyabinsk), serial number
This is not a Molnija movement. It's an Iskra movement. Note the "Искра" on the winding gears. It's basically the same movement as Molnija but it has 17 jewels. 1st quarter 1956, factory code "Ч2З" (Moscow), serial number.
18 jewels, country SU, movement type 3602, serial number, probably 1980's or early 1990's
18 jewels, 9 o'clock symbol from the Chelyabinsk Factory, movement type 3602, serial number
18 jewels (not visible), 2nd quarter 1985, serial number
Serial number, country SU, 9-o'clock symbol for Chelyabinsk watch factory below balance wheel, 3603 movement with shock protection. This is a 3603 movement from the 1990's.
18 jewels and serial number, no date code but old version of the 3602, probably a movement from the 1970's.
Finding the age of a Molnija watch
It is of course interesting to find out what the age of a given Molnija
pocket watch is. In case of many western watches the serial number can
be used to determine the age. This is not the case for the Molnija.
It seems they did frequently reset the serial numbers and I have not found
a list of number ranges for a given year.
The situation is clear in the cases where we have
a date stamp on the movement. As you saw in the above pictures
there are cases where the movement has no date stamp.
In those cases you can estimate the age from the number of jewels and
in general the amount of markings:
Molnija pocket watch movements have from 1947 to 1960 normally 15 jewels.
Molnija pocket watch movements had from 1965 to 1997 normally 18 jewels. From around 1997 they started to produce cheaper versions with fewer jewels (same basic movement just some jewels replaced by steel or brass parts).
Early Molnija pocket movements do normally have date codes and are nicely finshed. Recent movements did no longer have date codes nor had they factory codes.
Watches made in the last decade before the closure of the factory (around 1997 and up) had often very rough and unpolished parts with no nickel plating. Those watch movements have a brass like color and a reduced number of ruby stones.
Date codes were no longer used from around the 1990's. The 1970's and 1980's were mixed: Some Molnija movements from the 1970's and 1980's had date codes most did not.
Some watches made in the 1990's and later had a spring loaded mechanism
for the removal of the the stem (older watches would have had a screw). To remove the stem you put in "set time position" and then you press the pin pointed to by the arrow in the above picture with a toothpick.
The presence of this mechanism is a clear indication that this particular watch was made after 1990.
There are two versions of the 3602 movement. The early version from the 1960s up-to mid 1970s had different plates holding the cap-stones for escape wheel and balance wheel. This is visible from the dial side of the movement. All recenet movements have two identical small plates where as the old version of the movement has a bigger plate for the balance wheel cap-jewel and a small plate for the escape wheel. There is as well a difference in the shape of the pallet bridge. Molnija watches do not have banking pins for the pallet fork. The pallet bridge itself stops the fork from moving too far and those faces stopping the fork are different. Finally the small winding wheel is held in place by a plate and two small screws in the old version of the 3602 while the new one has one screw that is left threaded.
If your molnija has a logo on the back then this can be used to date the watch to some degree.
In the 1980's and earlier the back of the case was a solid silveroid cast and
the inside of the case was then nicely finished on a lathe. In the 1990's they
stamped the logos into standard plain cases. You can clearly see the difference. Both
cases shown in the photo have a train logo on the outside. The photo shows the inside of the case back.
Starting in the mid 1990's cheaper versions of the molnija movements were produced.
Those movements had no nickel finish (the movement looks golden) and a number of ruby stone
bearings where replaced by simple metal bearings (look at the arrows in the above pictures). There is no indication
on the movement as to how many jewels the movement has. If you have a watch with such a movement then it was probably made between 1995 and 2007. It is unclear why they decided to reduce the production cost and the quality of the watches. It might have been an new management team that failed to see the value of the Molnija brand and that lead finally to the closure of the factory in 2007.
Molnija pocket watch cases
US and Swiss pocket watch are often made from precious or precious looking
materials such as gold filled copper cases, silver cases or silveroid/silverine (looks exactly like silver but is an alloy made copper, nickerl and zinc, also known as German silver).
Early Molnija cases are all made of brass with a layer of chrome or a nickel-copper alloy on top.
have a silverine back cover and a chrome plated brass case or have cases made completely from silverine. The solid silverine cases can very easily be
cleaned and polished because you can polish them indefinitely without
any other metal comming through. Those solid silverine cases are from the 1980's and early 1990's.
There are some cases from the 1970's that had a matte grey looking main case ring and I believe that this ring is made of brass with rhodium plating on top.
The Russian caliber system
The caliber of a watch movement is not referring to the diameter
of a movement. It describes the type of movement. The Russian caliber system came up in the early 60th and was used from late 1963 onward. All normal Molnija pocket watch movements have a diameter of 36mm. The first two digits in the caliber system are the diameter (xx in the below table).
XX00 without second, without shock protection
XX01 without second, with shock protection
XX02 small second, without shock protection
XX03 small second, with shock protection
XX04 small second, date, without shock protection
XX05 small second, date, with shock protection
XX08 central second, without shock protection
XX09 central second, shock protection
XX10 central second, shock protection, anti-magnetic
XX12 central second, shock protection, alarm
XX14 central second, date, shock protection
XX15 central second, shock protection, automatic
XX16 central second, date, shock protection, automatic
XX17 small second, without shock protection, chronograph
XX23 central second, shock protection, 24 hours
XX24 central second, shock protection, automatic, 24 hours
XX27 central second, day-date, shock protection, automatic
XX28 central second, day-date, shock protection
XX31 central second, date, shock protection, automatic, 24 hours
XX32 central second, date, shock protection, automatic, day/night-indicator
XX33 small second, date, shock protection, chronograph
XX34 central second, with/without shock protection, stop-second
XX35 open balance
XX35 central second, date, shock protection, automatic, day/night-indicator
XX95 additional stopwatch
Shock protection for a mechanical watch indicates that the delicate pivots that hold the balance wheel are mounted in a spring suspension system. A shock
resistant watch is supposed to survive falling from a height of 1 meter onto a horizontal hardwood surface without any damage to the balance wheel staffs.
Most of the Molnija pocket watches are caliber 3602. Shock protection is
highly recommended for wrist watches but rarely used for pocket watches especially older models. Pocket watches are more protected against shock if
they are properly secured with a chain or some kind of string and carried in
A few pocket watch models in the late 80's and 90's were caliber 3603. The 1980's models had a triangular metal piece holding the balance jewel and the late 1990's models had a star shaped metal piece with a round center hole.
Older Molnija watches made before the introduction of the general Russian caliber system
had caliber "ЧК-6" which is functionally similar to 3602.
Components of the older "ЧК-6" are however not necessarily
interchangeable with 3602 due to minor differences in form and dimension.
The 3603 Molnija movement (shock protection) is not seen very often but it can be easily identified because the regulator has two arms that can be moved and the jewel on the balance cock is held in place by a small metal piece sitting on top of the jewel. The metal piece holding the jewel has in this particular case a triangular shape and this is therefore one of the early 3603 movements:
The photos above show a Molnija from the 80's with a 3603 movement. You have to be careful when you regulate such a movement. The regulator has 2 degrees of freedom: one arm changes the beat error and the rate at the same time and the other one changes only the rate (=speed or frequency). If you do not have a timegrapher then avoid to touch the arm for "beat error + rate" since there is no way you can get the beat error right without an electronic timegrapher.
A Molnija chronograph pocket watch with caliber 3017 was produced from 1959 until 1970. A chronograph is a watch with a stop watch function (not to be confused with a chronometer). It was known as Molnija Strela (Стрела, means: arrow) and had a movement with 19 jewels. The 3017 movmement was based on the Swiss Venus Cal.150 movement. It is however a completely different watch and has very little in common with the normal Molnija pocket watches described on this page.
A Molnija pocket watch with the the words English "MADE IN USSR" at the
bottom of the dial was produced for export.
Molnija wolves, 3602 movement, 18 jewels, Made in USSR on the dial, plastic dial, solid silverine case. The back of those type of Molnija watches with a theme on the back was always painted with a grey matt paint. The paint wears off over time but this watch is very well preserved and you can still see it. You can as well see a bit of the 9-o'clock symbol from Chelyabinsk Watch Factory under the balance wheel.
Those "export molnija" watches had inside most of the time the same
3602 movements as for the home market.
The below watch is special
because it's completely "English", outside at the bottom of the dial and inside.
It's an interesting watch because it has a 3603 movement (with shock protection
for the sensitive balance staffs). You can see that the bearings of the balance wheel look different.
We know that molnija watches made in the last decade before the closure
of the factory (year 97 and up) had nice designs on the outside but where
often technically poorly done on the inside with rough surfaces,
simplifications like no central ruby stone, almost no markings on the
movement. In other words the below watch was definitely made before 2000.
I think that this watch might
be from the early 90's.
The fact that it has a special 3603 movement, when most watches used 3602,
suggests that they wanted to produce a watch with good technology inside.
Molnija signs of zodiac, 3603 movement (shock protection), 18 jewels, markings all in English, plastic dial, silverine case
Another example of Molnija watches made for export where the Serkisof
watches. Serkisof was an Istanbul-based jeweler, a family business. Serkisof imported those
watches from Russia in sufficient numbers to be able to ask for small modifications to the style of the watch. Most of them where sold to the Turkish National Railways. The back of those watches said "Serkisof Demiryolu".
Demiryolu is Turkish and means railway. The Serkisof watches are from
the 70's and early 80's. The movement is an unmodified 3602 movement with
markings in Russian (not English). The Serkisof watches have
an extra dust cover (visible when you open the back) and it
was either a plain cover or it said "FIRST QUALITY, SERKISOF, GUARANTY" (in English, not Russian, not Turkish) on the dust cover.
Molnija Serkisof, standard 3602 movement, 18 jewels, plastic dial, silverine case
Note that those Molnija Serkisof railroad watches are not the same as
american railroad watches. They did not have higher accuracy requirements.
Those watches have ordinary Molnija movements.
A number of jewelers sold in the 1980's Russian Molnija watches
with their own logos and brand names. Some Molnija pocket watches (and other Russian watches)
were sold under the name "Corsar" in Germany. The Corsar
watches had no mentioning of their Russian origin on the outside.
Molnija Sekonda watches were mainly sold in Britain. Services is a watch company from Leicester, England, and they distributed watched made by other companies under their "Services" brand name. In Canada and the US
Molnija watches were sold under the brand name Marathon. Marathon is a company
located in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada and they are distributing different watches to this date. Molnija pocket watches were sold
under more than a dozened names by jewelers all over the world.
A jeweler in Verona, Italy (Visio S.R.L) imported in 1988 an number of Molnija pocket watches specifically to sell them as "authentic Russian fashion curiosity" with Russian look and feel. Visio S.R.L registered both the brand name KRASNIKOF and the corresponding Russian word (КРАСНИКОВ) as trademarks. Interesting is that the watches had on the dial everything in original cyrillic letters except for the word Krasnikof even though they had as well registered the cyrillic equivalent. The Molnija Krasnikof watches were sold
in small brown wooden boxes with the letters "KRASNIKOF" on the box. Visio S.R.L sold
those watches only for a few years from 1988 until the early 1990's.
Rubies or jewels
Ruby is a gemstone that is almost as hard as diamond. It consists of
Al2O3 with some chromium (Cr3+) ions
in the crystal. The chromium gives it the red color. Ruby does
occur naturally but it is not too difficult to produce synthetic rubies.
This made ruby an attractive material for durable low
friction bearings in watches. Molnija watches have, dependent on
the model, between 15 and 18 rubies.
The evolution of the Molnija movement
The Molnija pocket watch started in 1947 with the "ЧК-6" (ChK-6) movement. It had 15 jewels and the only caped jewels were those on the balance.
The "ЧК-6" (ChK-6) movement 15 jewels, the balance jewels are caped.
This movement evolved then in the mid 1950's into
the Iskra movement ("Искра"). It had 17 jewels
and both the jewels on the balance and on the escape wheel are caped. The movement has the same nice striped finish (Geneva stripes, Côtes de Genève) as the original "ЧК-6". This movement was however never used on real Molnija watches. It was sold with a watch called
The iskra movement, 17 jewels, both the jewels on the balance and on the escape wheel are caped.
Around 1964 a new movement called 3602 was introduced. It had 18 jewels with caped jewels on the balance and on the escape wheel. It was first used in a watch called "Кристалл", Kristall (Kristal) or crystal in English. There are actually some Kristall watch movements from 1963 that where early pre-3602 versions. Most bigger wheels and the balance are interchangeable with the final 3602 movements but all the screws holding capped jewels where not standardized yet. That early "prototype" version of the 3602 was not yet called 3602 (no 3602 engraving) and it was clearly more
complicated to manufacture than the final 3602.
The first 3602 movement as used in the "Кристалл" watch, 18 jewels, both the jewels on the balance and on the escape wheel are caped. It has still the nice striped finish but the balance cock is already without that finished surface. It says 3602 on the side under the balance.
This 3602 movement was then produced without the nice surface finishing and
used from around 1966 on in all the Molnija line of watches. There might have been a few early Molnija models too that used the same movement as the Kristall. The final 3602 movements was
optimized for mass production with as many screws of the same size as possible and a less complicated surface finish.
How to open a Molnija pocket watch
Put a white linen sheet or white pillowcase on the table before you
take a watch apart. This prevents small parts from bouncing around in
case they are accidentally dropped.
All Molnija pocket watches have a "snap-on" case. That is: you need a case
knife to open the front and the back. Near the top (where the crown is, at 11 o'clock or at 1 o'clock) should be a small gap between the case ring and
the front / back. This is where you can carefully insert a case knife
and open it. Don't apply too much force. It should open easily.
Molnija pocket watch case and crown with stem.
To remove the movement from the case you need to first take out the crown.
Pull the crown up and then loosen screw 1 a little bit, just a few turns (see below for more details). This will allow you to
pull out the crown and stem. Remove the front (crystal with the metal ring around it) and then remove the
two case screws 2, 3. The movement will come out towards the front.
Taking out the stem and crown
There is a small clutch wheel that is sliding over the stem in the opposite direction in which you pull the stem. If you remove the
stem the wrong way then you might end up in a situation where it becomes
difficult or even impossible to put it back without taking the watch apart.
Taking it out:
Pull the crown out into the position where you would normally
set the time. Remember how far out it is.
Unscrew the little screw on the back about 3-5 turns and push
it in with the screw driver. The stem should now come out easily.
Putting it back in:
Put a tiny drop of oil onto the stem.
Hold the watch face down and insert the stem to the same position
that you remembered before.
Tighten the screw gently by 1-2 turns and then move the stem slightly up and
down to check if it has snapped-in properly. This little screw controls a
nose which needs to go into a groove on the stem.
Tighten the little screw a bit more (gently). Push the stem in all the way once you are sure that the nose controlled by the screw snapped-in properly.
Removing the hands of a watch
Normally one needs a special tool to pull the watch hands. However if you just repair
watches once in a while then it's not worth it to buy all kinds of
special equipment. To pull out the watch hands with your finger nails
is not a good idea as
you can easily hurt yourself or bend the watch hands. To use
a screw driver does more damage than good.
What works well is a prybar type of watch hands remover:
Pry-bar watch hands remover made out of copper wire
To use this watch hands remover you cut a v-shape out of a piece of paper.
You discard the V and slide the remaining paper
below the watch hands to protect the dial against scratches.
You insert the small prybars at the axis below the hour hand and
then you push them both at the same time carefully down. The watch hands will just pop up. You can
put a transparent plastic bag on top of the watch hands while you do this.
This will prevent the watch hands from flying around when they come off.
To make these pry-bars you take a thick copper wire and you cut 2 pieces off.
You bang with a hammer onto the wire ends until they are flat. After that you
take a file and you make the ends thin enough such that the can be inserted
between dial and hour hand. Finally you use needle nose pliers to bend the ends
as shown in the above picture. Dull any edges with fine sand paper.
Brass wire, as used for welding, is even better than copper wire because
it is stronger. You can as well make such watch hands removers out of
stainless steel bicycle spokes.
Removing and cleaning the dial
It's not obvious at first how the dial is mounted on the watch. There
are 2 small screws on the side of the movement. One between 4 and 5 o'clock
and one between 10 and 11 o'clock. Those have to be turned loose a few turns
and then the dial can be taken off. Obviously the hands for the hour, minutes and seconds have to be removed
There are 2 small screws on the side that need to be loosened to remove the dial
Not all Molnija dials can be cleaned. New dials are sometimes
out of plastic and they can be washed with a bit of soap. Older dials
are silver coated metal plates painted with a white, semi transparent
paint. Those dials can not be cleaned. Any cleaning or washing will normally
damage the dial and make things worse. You should as well avoid touching
the dial with your fingers as salts and acids on the skin will show
up as finger-prints after a while.
Cleaning and polishing watch crystals
Almost all Molnija watches have acrylic crystals (plastic crystals). Plastic crystals
were in the 50's and 60's considered more modern and they had a real advantage
over mineral glass. They are somewhat flexible and they would not easily break. Today the trend has
reversed a bit and people prefer glass since it does not scratch as easily.
Scratched crystals are a real problem with wrist watches. Crystal scratching is
not as much of a problem for pocket watches since they are more protected.
I would not suggest to fit a glass crystal into a Molnija. Stay with plastic
crystals if you need to replace one. They are good and they are in line with the original Molnija design.
A crystal that appears a bit "foggy" because of tiny scratches can easily be
polished. Especially plastic is very easy to polish. You need 1micron diamond
polishing paste. Use a basic paste, not one with ammonia and other additives
for metal polishing. Just simple 1micron diamond dust in some greasy paste.
Put a bit of that polishing paste on a cloth and polish the crystal with
that cloth for about 3 minutes. The crystal will become shiny and look like new.
Don't use any motorized polishing methods. Those rotate usually too fast
and generate too much heat. High temperatures will cause the plastic surface to melt
and the paste will burn into the crystal. Just be patient and polish it by hand.
Cleaning and oiling a watch
Used and old watches can be dirty and the pivot holes (bearings) might contain
some metal particles. Such a watch needs to be cleaned if you really want to use
it on a regular basis. A small amount of dirt in the watch does not effect the frequency
at which the watch is ticking. It affects how strong it is ticking. A watch
that is running weak due to friction in the movement may temporarily
stop and then it will affect the time. If it is running just weak enough
to not cause the pallet fork to do a full swing then the escape wheel might
slip once in a while and the watch will run way too fast (e.g off by 30min per day).
There are lots of resources on youtube.com as well as some blogs (e.g http://dcwatches.blogspot.ca/2011/08/russian-molnija-3602-pocket-watch.html)
that describe how to take a Molnija apart. I will therefore
not cover this part here. I do recommend to get a set of quality
screw drivers, good tweezers and it is a good idea to watch a number of Molnija watch repair
videos or read some blogs about Molnija pocket watches before you even start.
You will find passionate discussions about the right watch oil.
is something that a lot of people recommend but I think the whole
discussion about oil is really over rated. There are cheaper alternatives
that are as good. Watches are normally operated at temperatures between
20'C and 36'C and they run rather slow. Not very tough conditions. Watch oil must however fulfill
the following requirements:
It must be a thin oil that does not spread.
It must not gum-up. Thus it should consist of molecules of similar length only (synthetic oil).
It must not be plant based (no canola oil). Plant based oils contain many different molecules and oleic acids that can react with metal.
It must not degrade (evaporate or oxidize). Any oil evaporates slowly over time even at room temperature but a small drop should stay for decades. Oil can react with the oxygen in the air and watch oil should not do that easily. Synthetic oils are all very stable and are not expected to oxidize, polymerize or volatilize at room temperature for at least 10 years.
Moebius 9010 is a rather thick oil with a viscosity of 150cSt at 20°C.
Look for a synthetic watch oil with a quite high viscosity (a thick oil) but it does not have to be Moebius 9010.
The type of oil needs to be seen
in the context of a specific watch type. A more robust Molnija watch
can accept more tolerances and work with a wider range of oils.
An easy way to apply a small drop of oil is to use a dip style watch oiler. Such an oiler can be made from a thin wire. (It's described in my Hamilton-992b article).
A tiny drop forms at the tip of the wire when you take it out of the oil and
then you just touch the part you want to oil with the tip of the wire.
The drawing shows the very thin balance staffs sitting in the caped balance wheel jewels (red) with a thin film of oil (blue). The staffs glide on this thin film of oil amost frication free.
There is no oiling chart for Molnija but a Rolex oiling chart can provide
some guidance as to where to put oil (rolex-oiling-chart.jpg).
You don't have to use so many different types of oils for the Molnija.
Just use the same oil for all the parts except the escape wheel.
It's important to not apply too much oil. A watch that has too much oil
will not work reliably. A watch should look "dry" at first sight.
The Rolex chart suggest to put oil onto the escape wheel. What they really mean is to put a
few molecules of a very thin oil onto the ends of the escape wheel teeth.
A completely dry escape wheel that has just been cleaned and stripped of any
oil can benefit from this but be very careful with the amount. You need
extremely small amounts that can not even be seen.
The pallet fork "hammers" onto the the escape wheel teeth. Oil has surface tension and too much oil or a too thick oil can "glue" the pallet fork to the escape wheel when it is trying to get away from it.
However a tiny amount of very thin oil will usually improve the amplitude. It is enough to apply oil
to two teeth and it will slowly distribute to the others. I get good results with Moebius 9000 which has a viscosity of 100cSt at 20°C (a rather thin oil).
The most difficult to oil parts of a mechanical watch are the balance staffs. This is unfortunately as well the most important part. The balance staffs are very thin "needles" at the end of the balance wheel axis. They have typically a diameter of 0.1mm and are barely visible with the naked eye. The balance wheel rubies are caped. That is: they are closed at the end and you have to take the balance wheel out to apply oil. You can not oil this part from outside while the watch is still assembled.
I was very nervous when I took for the first time a balance wheel out of a
pocket watch but now it is almost a routine job. It is not difficult. The main thing to remember
is: Do not force it! It will go out and back in easily if it is in the right
position. When you put it back in you just place it approximately in the right
position and then push it gently with a tooth pick until the staffs find
the holes in the ruby stones. The wheel will start spinning once it is
in the right position. You fasten the screw on the balance cock only once
you are sure that everything is working.
A tiny drop of oil needs to be between the balance staff and the rubies. The staffs glide on this film of oil. Too little oil causes too much friction and damages the balance staffs over time. Too much oil will dampen the oscillation of the balance. The watch will become
unreliable when there is too much oil or too little oil. The drawing on the
right shows a balance staff sitting in the ruby stone with the right amount of oil shown in blue.
It's enough to clean and oil a watch every 10 years if modern syntetic oils are used.
Molnija pocket watch accuracy
Don't compare the accuracy of old mechanical movements with
modern quartz watches. Those old mechanical watches where made when
people would tell the time in increments of 5 minutes.
Molnijas are said to be rated with an
accuracy of -15 to +40 seconds a day. I think however that
you can tune a Molnija to be much more accurate than that.
The precision of a mechanical watch depends very much on the environment it is used in. The good thing about mechanical watches is that you have to wind them every day and you can use that moment when you wind the watch to check the time and set the correct time in case the watch it too far off.
It's a good idea to wind a mechanical watch just once a day around the same time. E.g every morning after getting dressed.
These Molnija watches have
Elinvar hairsprings which go a long way in reducing the effect of
temperature on the beat rate but to have a perfectly temperature
corrected watch one needs to play with the alloy and the geometry of the
balance wheel until the whole system of hairspring and balance wheel
compensates all temperature effects over a wide range. The Molnija watches
are approximately temperature compensated. It is good enough for nomal uses. A communist system does
not have competition and the products produced by state owned factories
just have to be usable. There is no need to bring things to perfection.
Here is a copy of the papers that
came with a Molnija and it states "The average daily rate at the temperature of 20'C +/-0.5'C is -15s to +40s." I think however that this was more a disclaimer
than an accurate specification of the varriation you can expect if
from a well tuned watch.
Papers that came with a Molnija watch bought in Belgium in 1993. The text is in Russian, French and Spanish. Click on the image to view all the papers as PDF.
Papers from 1980 with sections in Russian, English, French and German. I have framed the English
part in orange as the layout is a bit confusing.
Click on the image to view the papers as PDF.
A well maintained and clean Molnija pocket watch can easily be calibrated to your
usage pattern and be within 10sec accuracy per day. I have infact one
particular Molnija watch that is off less than 10sec per week. Such
accuracy is however rare.
To really get a Molnija to keep perfect time you will need to adjust the
regulator with the help of a timegrapher. You can ask any professional watch maker
to see if he has such a machine and if he can adjust your watch.
If you clean a watch and the watch runs after the cleaning a lot faster then
check the hairspring on the balance wheel. There might be a tiny amount of oil or dirt somewhere
on the spring. Even if the spring coils do not permanently stick together
they might do so temporarily while contracting and expanding. The hairspring should always be totally clean and dry. A similar
problem appears when
you accidentally magnetize the hairspring coil with a magnetic
screw driver. Never get too close to the hairspring with a screw driver.
A watch that is running much too slow despite everything cleaned and oiled might
have a loose cannon pinion.
The wheel for the minute hand is not permanently attached otherwise one would not
be able to set the watch. This cog wheel is called the cannon pinion. The
cannon pinion is attached with a friction fit. The friction
between the axis and that little wheel
has to be much higher than the friction caused by the cog wheels used
for setting the time and the force needed to move the hour hand (motion work).
Adjusting the rate of a Molnija
Only a clean and properly lubricated watch can really be accurate.
has a regulator with a simple lever which you can move left or right.
regulator should be approximately in the middle if everything is right
and original parts where used during any repairs.
The problem is that the regulator has no precise scale that allows
you to adjust the watch in very small increments and this is were
a modern timegrapher can be very helpful. A timegrapher is a machine
that listens to the various "click events" that a mechanical watch produces
and it times those events.
A Molnija watch in the watch holder of a Timegrapher. The silver piece
on the back contains the microphone.
The procedure to regulate a watch is as follows. After any cleaning
you put the watch into the Timegrapher and you check that it runs
at a steady rate with a good amplitude.
Lift angle: 52°
3602/3603 movement, 18j:
Amplitude in horizontal position: about 280° to 350°
Amplitude in vertical position: about 30°-50° less than in horizontal position.
Beat error: below 1ms
ChK-6 movement, 15j:
Amplitude in horizontal position: about 220° to 330°
Amplitude in vertical position: about 30°-40° less than in horizontal position.
Beat error: below 1.5ms (the beat error was not adjusted
as carefully in the 1950s as in later production years)
There is a difference in the behavior of old ChK-6 Molnija movements with
15 jewels and the more recent 18 jewel movements (3602/3603). The different
jewel bearing types (caped vs not caped) change the internal friction
that a movement experiences.
Most Molnija movements are 3602 and you should get in horizontal position an amplitude of about 280° to 350°
Anything less means normally that the oil in the watch movement is old and gummy. If the movement has just been serviced and old oil is unlikely to cause any problems then the next most likely reason for a low amplitude is cracked jewels or bent balance staffs and a defect like that is not easy to fix.
Don't try to adjust the rate with the regulator if the amplitude is too low. It will not keep time consistently. Ensure first that the watch runs with a good amplitude. Note as well that the rate of a mechanical watch has a dependency on the amplitude (the higher the amplitude the faster the watch runs).
The rate difference between vertical position and horizontal position is about
15-25sec/day and this is due to the increased friction on caped jewel bearings in horizontal position which results in a change in amplitude. This may seem like lot of positional dependency but
even American railroad pocket watches which brag about being adjusted to all 6 positions do
have about 15sec/day difference between vertical position and horizontal position. You can still get your watch to be off less than 10sec/day if you carry it
the same way every day. E.g mostly vertical while in your pants during the day
and in horizontal position at night. The watch will then run a bit slower during the day, a little faster at night and it will average out. There should be almost no difference in the rate between the different vertical positions (stem up, 3 o'clock up, etc...). If there is a difference then the balance wheel is not true.
The beat error of a watch can be adjusted by turning the hairspring collet with a screw driver (be very careful to not damage or bend the hairspring). The beat error should be tested with a timegrapher but to adjust it already approximately you can use the following rule that is only valid for Molnija watches:
With the jewel on the roller table pointing exactly up the hairspring stud should be at the edge of the left balance arm. Note the roller table and the jewel is in the above photo on the other side of the balance and therefore not visible. Inexperienced hobby watchmakers should avoid to play with the beat error. There is always a risk that you damage the hairspring shape when detaching or re-attaching the hairspring from the balance cock. Moving the hairspring stud by an angle of about 3° changes the beat error by 1ms or if you can imagine a distance better: you are moving the stud by 0.2mm to change the beat error by 1ms. However don't get too excited about the beat error. A watch can keep time nicely even with a higher beat error.
The beat error is zero if the roller jewel sits in idle position exactly at the mid position of the pallet fork such that the pallet fork pushes the balance wheel left and right with the same force. The distance between the two lines on a timegrapher corresponds to the beat error. The smaller the beat error the closer the lines come together. This assumes that the pallet fork works properly. You can have a single line on the timegrapher and still a beat error. If that is the case then double check the pallet fork. The pallet fork is not pushing with equal force left and right.
Here is how a good Molnija should look like on a Timegrapher.
Timegrapher readings of a Molnija pocket watch.
After initial adjustments you use the watch for about a week. At the end
of the week you note the error and calculate by how many seconds per day
it should be changed. You open the watch and you move the regulator
a bit.... but how much is a bit? Let's say we have to increase
the rate by 17sec a day. There is no way to know by how much you have
to move the regulator since the scale on the regulator arm
is way to coarse. This is where the Timegrapher is very helpful.
You can easily push the regulator back and forth until you get
the rate changed by the required amount of seconds on the Timegrapher display.
The normal Molnija regulators allow you to adjust the rate from about -4min to
+4min per day. You can see how little you have to move the regulator
to change the rate by just a few seconds.
Note that a Timegrapher can not see any errors due to a loose cannon pinion.
Check the cannon pinion if the Timegrapher shows that everything is perfect
but the watch is still off by several minutes per day.
Molnija watches with "precision regulators"
The Russians favour usually straight forward basic technology that just works. In general the Molnija movements
are exactly that. There is one exception: Molnija watches with a precision regulator. These regulatores don't work at all.
Many American pocket watches had a swan-neck regulator where you turn a screw and you would know that one
turn corresponded e.g to 20 sec. This way you could regulate a watch very precisely even without a timegrapher.
The Russians came up with this design:
A failed design: The Russian precision regulator.
You are supposed to turn that strange shaped excentric wheel in the centre and the regulator arm would move. But it does not work
because there is way too much friction. It does not glide nicely. This wheel is always stuck somewhere because the outer rim is not round. A regulator is a delicate piece and you are supposed
to move it gently and precisely. With that setup you can not do it. Stay away from watches that have this "russian precision regulator". It is a scam.
Watch out: screw length on the bridges
If you take an older ChK-6 movement (15j with a striped surface finish) apart
then observe the different screw length. One screw on the barrel bridge is
shorter. Any of the other (longer) screws would fit but that short screw
sits unfortunately right above the arm which moves the clutch wheel for
the change between setting and winding. If you do accidentally use a long
screw in that position then you will push out that arm.
short screw, ChK-6 movement
Watch out: screw length on caped jewels
The tiny screws holding the two caps on the main plate of a 3602 can be different. Sometimes they have a different length sometimes they are exactly the same. If they have a different length then the longer one holds the cap below the balance wheel.
Stem for hunter case and open face
The stems for hunter cases have to have a longer groove to allow you to push
in the stem a bit in order to open the lid of the case. The cases have
then a spring to pushes the crown together with the stem back. If you use
such a stem for a hunter case in an open face watch then it will have a lot
of slag and feel "loose". The groove for a normal stem is 1mm wide and the
one for the hunter case is 1.5mm wide. Here is what those stems look like:
Top: stem for open face molnija, bottom: stem for hunter case molnija
3602 old and new generation clutch wheel
The clutch wheel in molnija 3602 movements up to the late 1970's had
a wider groove in the clutch wheel (1.15mm wide). The newer generation
of molnija movements had a smaller groove (0.8mm wide). The new
one will not fit on the old movements and you should not use an old one
on a new movement.
Different generations of molnija clutch wheels. Left: old, right new.
Regulator pins of ChK-6 movements
The newer 3602 and 3603 movements have regulator pins that are just two
posts with the hairspring in between. The hairspring can simply slide out
when you remove it from the balance cock. The older ChK-6 movements are different. They have regulator pins that are closed on top. To open them in order
to get the hairspring out one has to turn the outer regulator pin with
a screw driver. This causes it to open and you can take the hairspring out.
Be careful this is not a procedure for beginners.
The regulator pin that can be turned in order to remove the hairspring. You can see the slot on the regulator pin where you can insert a screw driver in order to turn it.
Case ring height
The cases for the first generation Molnija watches (15j, ChK-6 movement) are
0.4mm slimmer than those for the new 3602. You can't fit a new 3602 movement
into an old case. The back of the case will hit the movement.
Replacement balance staffs for 3602
If you replace a balance staff (not something a beginner should attempt)
then watch out for the type of replacement balance staff you buy. There are
2 types. The one for newer balances (from around year 2000) with 3 balance arms
has a little ring inside and is slightly heavier. If you use
such a staff on an old balance (the one with little weights on the rim) then
the watch will run too slow. It is only a bit too slow and you can
compensate it with the regulator but the regulator will point a lot to the
Different balance wheel generations and the different balance staffs (axis) for those different generations of the 3602 movement.
You are more likely to find the newer type of balance staff because
they were produced last but most of the molnija watches out there require
the older balance staff version.
Some people use the new
staffs on the old balances and start then to remove a significant amount
of weight from the rim of the balance and that is really a bad idea because
you have just ruined the original balance. It
is much better to get the right staff and then everything will run properly without any damages to the balance wheel.
All good but amplitude too low
It can be a lot of detective work to find the cause of a low amplitude problem.
If you have a watch that is not running well then I would recommend to take
out the balance and check how the pallet fork moves. Wind the watch a bit
and then move the arm of the pallet fork slowly to the other side. After
you have moved it about 1/4 of the way it should suddenly
accelerate and shoot off to the other side. It should land on the other
side with a "bang" (click). If this is not the case then the problem is
somewhere in the drive tain, or the pallet fork itself. If the pallet fork
was shooting off as expected then the problem is related to the balance.
Some watches run weak even after everything was cleaned. Here are some ideas:
Broken or cracked jewels. Check for chipped ruby stones or stones that have a hair line crack that goes towards the center where the hole is.
A bent balance arm is pressing too much onto the ends of the balance staffs. To test for this condition: take a screw driver and pry the the balance cock a bit up. Just a tiny bit, don't slip. See if the balance runs stronger while you pry it up.
Too much oil on: balance fork, balance bearings
Too little oil on the escape wheel or the balance bearings
Hairspring sagging and touching the balance arms or hairspring generally out of shape (ruined by a previous repair attempts).
Balance scratching occasionally on the pallet bridge (bent balance wheel or damaged staff)
Seconds hand scratching somewhere
Missing oil on setting wheels.
Are you sure you cleaned all the jewel holes properly?
Pallet bridge bent and pressing too hard onto the palet fork.
By far the most common problem is a hairspring that is out of shape.
Especially the end-curve is often twisted. This is usually the result of
poor repair work.
Many hobby watchmakers don't have timegraphers to easily diagnose poor repair
work. They are often not aware that their way of handling the hairspring
twists the spring a bit. After two or three services of the same watch
the problem becomes finally so bad that the hairspring is touching
somewhere. The watch runs often at a very low amplitude but even if
it still has a good amplitude it will no longer keep time in different
Such watches are frequently sold as "working and serviced" but
they are no longer proper time keepers. It requires a steady hand and a lot
patience with many small iterations until such a messed-up hairspring is
back in shape.
Here are two timing machine readings from the same watch. In the first reading you see how
a hairspring with a twisted end-curve is scratching somewhere ever so slightly.
Note that the watch is actually running at a good amplitude (325°)
despite the scratching (it's just touching a bit, if the hairspring end-curve would be twisted even more then the amplitude would go down significantly).
This is a very typical fault frequently found on old watches that had been
serviced by many people many times over. The dots on the timegrapher
are all over the place but without a timegrapher it could easily be taken as
watch at first glance because it is running strong. However make no mistake. This watch would be
a terrible time keeper.
Below is then the same watch after some careful adjustments of the hairspring. You see two parallel lines on the timegrapher. This watch will now keep time.
Timing machine readings: hairspring with a twisted end-curve and the same watch after the hairspring was adjusted.
Tightening the cannon pinion
You should avoid to take off the cannon pinion when you clean and oil a watch unless you suspect there is a problem. This is a small cog wheel that sits on the axis in the center of your watch and the minutes hand is attached to it.
The cannon pinion is a cog wheel that is sitting with a friction fit on the axis
The cannon pinion is attached with a friction fit. If you take it off, oil it and put it back on then you will reduce the amount of friction and the watch may stop working.
A watch that is several minutes slow per day and the amount of minutes change in an erratic way from day to day may have a loose cannon pinion. A typical example would be a watch that is one day 5 minutes slow and the next day 9 minutes slow. If the cannon pinion is very loose then you will see that the watch is ticking, the seconds hand is moving but the minutes hand does not move.
Normally you need special pliers to tighten the cannon pinion. If you are however an occasional "weekend watchmaker" then it's a problem to buy all those tools.
Here is a cannon pinion tightening tool that works well and you can build it yourself. You need a small steel metal sheet, 0.6mm to 0.8mm thick and you cut a slot into it using an iron saw with a fine blade. This cannon pinion tightener can be seen in the photos below. You slide the cannon pinion into that slot and you tap with a hammer gently onto the top of the cannon pinion tightener such that the
middle of cannon pinion is compressed. When you think that you did compress it enough then you turn the cannon pinion by 90 degree and you compress it again. Be careful to not
make it too tight. You can mark one tooth of the canon pinion with a felt tip marker such that you know which sides you have compressed. This way you can test it in the watch and
put it back into the cannon pinion tightener with the same orientation in case it is still too lose.
The self made cannon pinion tightener
You tap with a small hammer on top of the self made cannon pinion tightener to tigthen the cannon pinion. Don't hit too hard!
Molnija cases and designs
There are just too many different designs to list them all. You may
have noticed that there are no pictures of hunter cases on this page.
There are many Molnija hunter pocket watches with interesting case designs. I just don't like them.
The cover of a hunter watch is in my opinion pointless. It does not offer
any protection. The real dangers for a pocket watch are mechanical shock, water
and dust. The hunter case does not protect against any of them. It might
be useful if you have some other things in the same pocket such as a pocket knife or keys but if you care about your watch then you reserve an entire pocket for
it. It's safer.
Most open face Molnija pocket watches have a similar dial designs. White or silver
dial, black numbers maybe some red. There are however some watches
that stand out as completely different and those are often home made versions.
Molnija PILOT. The movement is a 3602 from 1984 but the dial is clearly new. The dial is made out of a painted thin metal base sheet. This is basically how most dials are made today for any kind of watch. I do really like the look and
the design of the watch.
This one is essentially the same as the Molnija PILOT but in a smaller case and it does actually say Molnija on the dial itself. The dial is again made like any modern watch dial (painted metal). They did certainly not come out of the main Molnija production line. In any case, a very nice watch.
The Molnija brand is still alive and there is still a Molnija company. A few people have
carried on making "Molnija watches" even after the factory closed. They do
watch designs and they outsource the actual production of dials to other companies. This is then combined with movements and cases from old watches or "new old stock" parts. People working at the Molnija factory took boxes of parts home when the
factory closed. Some of these parts are still around and they show up in new watches. Each of those watches is slightly different since they are not production line
watches. They are however very nice watches and they are truly unique.
Molnija air-force reconnaissance. The movement is a 3602 from the 1980s. Chorme plated brass case. At the bottom of the dial it says in dark red letters "военно-воздушная разведка" which means air-force reconnaissance (espionage from the air).
This Molnija watch from the 1970s is somewhat unusual because of it's dial size and the rather small crown. It hurts almost when you try to wind the watch because the crown is so small. Smaller Molnija watches have normally a 39mm dial and the bigger ones have a 43mm dial. This watch has a 41mm dial and only very few watches of this size where made. All pre 1970s watches have a 39mm dial and the bigger watch dials came later. I believe that this 41mm dial was a somewhat experimental design before they settled with the nice big solid silveroid cases and the 43mm dial. It shows that the transition from the old Molnija design to the new was done in steps and they tried different options before they found a good design.
The early open face versions of the Molnija watches had just patterns or strips
on the back and the case was made out of chrome plated brass.
In the late 1970s open face versions of the Molnija watches with cases made out
of silveroid had back covers decorated with some kind of theme were produced. There are a lot of different themes to commemorate events and there were some generic ones.
The more common ones are shown below:
Animal themes: Russian wolves, Russian bears and horses.
Sailing ship: This ship on the pocket watch is probably the Russian frigate Oryol that served in the Russian navy from 1667 to 1670.
Train, steam locomotive: The steam locomotive with its tender on this Molnija pocket watch is probably the soviet passenger steam locomotive P36 (П36). The P36 was built in the 1950's at the Kolomna Locomotive Works. It is the last line of steam locomotive built in Russia.
Tale of the Ural:
The watch design is based on a monument by Vitaly Semenovich Zaykov
(Виталий Семенович Зайков). It was erected in 1967 and can be found to this date near the main train
station in Chelyabinsk. The mighty giant is 12m high and refers to the Tale of the Ural mountains, written by Pavel Bazhov. The sentence on the pocket watch back "сказ об урале" means Tale of the Ural. This sentence is as well found on the stone statue on the side. The sentence below the front of the stone statue is "Урал! Опорный край державы, её
добытчик и кузнец" which means "Ural! The State's backbone, its
supporter and blacksmith". Here is a screen-shot from google maps and a photo of the actual statue:
Firetruck, tractor and motorcycle: These are less common themes. The motorcycle is mostly found on Molnija quartz watches.
The Chelyabinsk watch factory
The Chelyabinsk watch factory was the main manufacturer of Molnija pocket watches. The factory produced watches for civilian use but it was
as well a supplier of the Russian Ministry of defense. One of its products
for the military was the aircraft cockpit clock АЧС-1 (AChS-1).
You can find the address of the factory on old warranty certificates that
came with some of the watches issued in the 1970s:
The plant was located in the city center of Chelyabinsk in a four-storey building, originally designed for the urban public library. South of the former factory building is a nice administration building with white columns. Here is address of the factory written such that you can copy/paste it into google maps:
ul. Tsvillinga, 25
ул. Цвиллинга, дом 25
This is a screen-shot of google maps showing the factory building and the admin building:
Below is a photo of the original factory building and the admin building would be to
The factory building was renovated after the closure of the factory in 2007. It got a new black/grey glass facade and was converted into a shopping mall. What you find
today in google street view is this:
You see the admin building in front and the glass building in the back
is the shopping center which would have been the former factory building. A google street-view screen-shot from the other side shows then only the shopping center (former factory):
Here are some historic photos of the Chelyabinsk watch factory. You can click on the individual images to see them bigger. Much of the assembly of the watches was done by hand. The Chelyabinsk watch factory provided work for many people in the city:
From left to right: the admin building in the 1960s or 1970s, the conversion of the factory building into a shopping mall, workers assembling the watches, a worker and some of the Molnija pocket watches she just made; this photo has a note on the back which says:
production unit 9, Ivanova Lusya Dmitrievna, 1980, city of Chelyabinsk.
Buying a Molnija on ebay
Some people list watches as "excellent condition, working" just after
winding them and checking for a moment that they are ticking. That
may be an acceptable test for a quartz watch but mechanical
watches are complicated devices and can't be checked like that.
If you are looking for a watch that is actually working
and really usable as a watch then read description carefully to
see if the seller makes any claims with regards to the accuracy
of the watch.
Check the description of the seller to see if the watch was serviced
by a watchmaker. My experience with ebay is that Molnija watches that have not been
serviced properly are normally barely functional even if the description
says "running" or "working".
Buy a Molnija in Guido's own watch shop
I love pocket watches but I noticed during the many years that
I haven been collecting watches that it is really hard
to buy a good vintage watch that really works.
To fill this need
I started my very own pocket watch shop and I am selling only
watches that are really good. I am selling vintage watches that can really be
used as reliable timepieces.
Buying a Molnija at antiques stores or flea markets
Here are a few suggestions for things that you can check when
you buy the watch in person.
Inspect the watch visually for damage.
Listen to it.
A good watch has a sharp metallic sound and it does not change
when you hold it in a different position. A dull click-click or a scratching sound is an indication of a severe mechanical problem.
Here is how a good molnija pocket watch sounds:
DIY pocket watches based on Molnija parts
Both the swiss movement manufacturer Cortebert and Unitas, another
famous movement manufacturer, were part Ebauches S.A. Ebauches S.A was
a holding for different movement manufacturers and it became later ETA. Those companies under Ebauches S.A focused
mainly on movements which other companies would then use to make
brand name watches. Those where the "engine manufacturers" of the watch industry
and the raw movements are called ebauches. An ebauche is a working movement
but it is a blank without serial number or any detailed markings. Often it is not even lubricated yet. The expectation is that the company that installs it in a watch will finish the movement, oil it and regulate it.
Because of this friendly relation between Cortebert and Unitas there is a Unitas
movement which is pretty similar to the Cortebert 616 in terms of dimensions
and general layout. It is the Unitas 6497. Some of the screws are even in exactly the same positions.
The Molnija 3602 is derived from the Cortebert movement. Unitas 6497
movements are one of the most successful movements ever made and have been in continuous production since
1950. The Unitas 6497 has some of the features of the Molnija movement but it has
as well an Incabloc shock protection which makes it even better and more
It is possible to fit a Unitas 6497 into a Molnija case:
The distance between the seconds hand and the center is almost the same (there is a difference of 0.25mm and that is neglectable). The dial feet are however in a different position but it is possible to install new dial feet on an old dial. Here is a drawing with the exact measurements of the 6497: 6497-dial-measurements.jpg, 106483 bytes.
The vertical position of the stem is exactly the same.
The stem itself is different but the thread is the same. In other words you can use Molnija crowns on Unitas 6497 stems.
The whole in the tube on the Molnija case has to be enlarged to 1.5mm in order for a Unitas 6497 stems to fit. It is a simple matter of enlarging it with a 1.5mm drill and you are only taking away 0.02mm.
Both Unitas 6497 and Molnija 3602 have rougly the same size. You have to make the diameter of the Molnija case 0.6mm bigger and then a Unitas 6497 will fit.
Most movements you buy today are meant to be installed in wrist watches and
they don't have the same case screws as pocket watches. Case screws are as well not standardized and original Unitas 6497 (running at 18000 bph) case screws will e.g not fit into the Chinese ETA-6497-2 clone (called ST36, running at 21600 bph). However Molnija 3602 main plate screws (not case screws) or ChK-6 case screws can be used as case screws for ST36 movements.
You have to get new watch hands that fit unitas. Molnija hands will not work.
It is nice that a Unitas 6497 can be fit into a Molnija case because sometimes
it is very hard to repair an old and badly treated 3602 movement. A badly damaged movement can just be beyond repair. You can bring new life to
such a watch by installing a Unitas 6497 or the popular Chinese Seagull ST36. The ST36 is by the way an excellent movement. The Chinese made a very good copy of the ETA-6497-2 and improved it esthetically (an original Unitas 6497 has more "square" bridges). ETA-6497-1 is a movement compatible with the original Unitas 6497 and runs at 18000 bph. ETA-6497-2 is a newer version designed after ETA bought Unitas and it runs at 21600 bph. Most parts are not interchangeable between ETA-6497-2 and the original Unitas 6497. Most parts of the Chinese ST36 are interchangeable with the same parts from the ETA-6497-2. Watch out if buy individual parts for a 6497 movement. A lot of people seem to be unaware of those different movements and they might e.g sell you a main spring barrel for ETA-6497-2 calling it a Units 6497 barrel. A main spring barrel for ETA-6497-2 has however much smaller teeth than the original Unitas 6497 barrel. You can easily see the difference between those movements. The 21600 bph movement has a pallet bridge (under the balance) with 2 screws and the 18000 bph version has one screw on the pallet bridge.
Here is an example of such a watch. I did not reuse the old Molnija dial in
Molnija case from 1970 with a new Chinese Seagull ST36 movement, Unitas 6497 clone. The old case gives the watch a nice vintage look, a feature that I really like.
ps: Never convert a vintage pocket watch into a wrist watch. That's a crime ;-). Keep
those beautiful pocket watches alive. These days one can find a lot of crappy pocket watches but high quality pocket watches with a good
movement and a solid case are becoming increasingly rare.
How to fix molnija dials
Almost all of the larger open face molnija watches have PVC dials. There is
nothing wrong with PVC. It is quite durable, the problem are the dial feet.
Plastic is soft and when squeezed by tight dial screws the feet mold themselves
into the holes and they are really stuck there. Never tighten the dial screws
In any case there are a lot of molnija watches out there that lost their
dial feet when somebody tried to service the watch. Even worse there are
"watchmakers" who use then glue to attach the dial directly to the movement.
That is the most idiotic thing you can do. It does not only degrade the dial
further, it damages as well the surface of the movement and it is very hard
to take the dial off without further damage.
The right thing to do in this case is to attach metal dial feet to the plastic
dial. It is possible to solder dial feet onto a thin copper foil and then
glue the foil to the dial. This way you have now a permanent solution
that does not easily break and the dial can still be attached and removed
from the movement.
Plastic dial with metal dial feet on thin copper foils. It makes the dial only 0.2-0.3mm
thicker. On this particular dial you can as well see significant damage from previous repairs were
the dial was glued directly to the movement.
The problem is that it is sometimes not possible to add dial feet. It works
only on molnija watches with a sunken sub-dial for the seconds hand. Molnija
plastic dials are 1mm tick and that is about the maximum thickness you can
have on a 3602 movement to attach reliably the hand for the seconds. If the
sub-dial for the seconds is receded then you have still enough space to add
metal dial feet on copper foils. They add about 0.2-0.3mm. There are however
some molnija watches with plastic dials which do not have sunken sub-dials. The whole dial is flat and
there is no way to fix those dials properly because there is no space left
to do anything. You can try to scratch plastic off the back of the dial to
add dial feet without pushing the dial up but that is difficult too.
Some watchmakers use thin double sided tape to glue the dial to the movement
and that is removable without too much damage but I don't like that idea and
such a "taped" dial can easily loosen over time.
One solution for such a dial that can not be repaired is a new dial. Here is how to make one. You
can as well use this method to make your own custom dial.
DIY watch dials
The best base material for making dials is a very thin metal sheet. I recommend 0.3mm tin.
You can use the bottom of a tin box for coffee, cookies, baby formula, ...
check your grocery store. Just make sure the tin is not painted. Tin is
iron galvanized with tin (Sn) and it can be very thin but it is still quite
Get a piece of copper wire with a diameter of 1mm, make a fresh straight cut on one end and solder it to the tin sheet. Molnija dial feet need to be 27mm apart
and a line between the dial feet passes 0.5mm below the center of the dial.
Cut the newly made dial feet to the right length (straight cut, don't use a cutter that produces sharp pointed ends).
0.3mm tin sheets are so thin that you can cut a nice round circle out of
them with scissors for cutting finger nails. This dulls the scissors a little
bit but you can cut quite a few dials with one pair of scissors. The dial
diameter for large molnija dials is about 43mm.
It is now time to print the new dial. I print the dial on good quality paper.
Some people print on photo paper but I think a good standard paper is better
because it can be soaked with paint and it becomes therefore more durable.
I print the dial pattern with a laser printer on high quality 100g/m2 A4 paper (or US letter, 8 1/2x11 inch, 24 lb paper, [~90g/m2]) such as Xerox Xprint paper. I use the old
Gimp-1.2 to print the file because it has a good print dialog where you can
position the image and scale it precisely. You have to experiment with the scaling. Dependent on your printer and the paper size (A4 or Letter) you will end up with slightly different scaling factors.
I spray the front of the printed dial
with a clear coat. I cover it right after spraying with a lid
from a jar such that the solvents concentration from the paint stays high
and the paint dries very slowly. It helps as well to spray in a cold area as this will again cause the spray to dry more slowly. All this soaks the paper in paint and causes the paper and plastify. Once the front is dry I turn the paper over and I paint the
back with a white oil based paint. The paper soaked with the clear coat paint
on the front becomes somewhat transparent and for the dial to remain white I
paint the back with a white paint. Let the white paint again dry very slowly
such that it can penetrate the paper from the back.
Cut the printed dial out and glue it to the metal dial base. Lepage (Henkel) "100% glue" works well and is solvent/oil resistant.
The final dial is very strong, durable and only 0.45mm thick. It gives you
ample space to install the watch hands properly.
Here are a few photos of the whole DIY dial making process.
Artistic and creative watch hands
Molnija watches are normally reasonably priced and that makes them
affordable for some home made watch designs. You would not risk
to ruin a 1000$ watch but you might want to try a few new things
on a 100$ watch.
New watch movements come usually with some default hands for the seconds
and the minutes. Those are plain brass watch hands, not painted or treated in
any way. They are ideal for some home made designs.
I am going to make a hand for the seconds that looks like an airplane.
A very nice feature for a pilot style military watch. For this I take
piece of 2mm thick cardboard and punch a hole into it with a needle.
This cardboard is going to be my "work bench" for soldering and
the hole will hold the axis of the seconds hand such that the hand is flat
on that cardboard. It can even be secured with a bit of tape. This allows me to solder two 0.15mm thick brass pieces
across such that they look like the wing and the tails of an airplane.
It is important that the final hands are as thin as possible otherwise they
will collide with the hour hand inside the watch. You don't need a special
soldering iron for this but you need a good SMD solder flux and you just
use tiny amounts of solder wire with lots of SMD solder flux. This will
allow you to create very thin films of solder. I paint the seconds
in black and one side of the "wing" in red.
A watch hand for the seconds that looks like an airplane.
You can build other things besides seconds that look like airplanes. A propeller comes e.g to mind when you think about pilot style watches. Just solder a very thin wire bent at an angle of 120° to an existing seconds hand and you have a propeller with 3 arms. The wire can be squeezed flat with pliers after it was bent.
Ideas, your experiences and suggestions
Write me if you have some thoughts about Molnija pocket watches.
You can contact me at:
Note: Don't ask me about the value of a watch. I don't estimate prices.
The value of a watch is all
in the head of watch owners and future owners. The value is not in the watch
itself. With the exception of some low-end poor quality designs
there is no difference between a 100$ watch and a 1000$ watch.
It's all in the name of the brand, the condition of the watch and mostly in your head or the imagination of other collectors. Yes, there are gold plated watches
and chrome plated watches and watches with blue screws and
watches with decorations
on the case and watches without those.... Do you think there is a difference in the material value (gold vs chrome etc...)? That difference in
raw materials is negligible. The difference is none. It's all in your head.
It's like art. You decide what the value is based on your preferences.
Many people understand old cars and the complexity that goes into the
price of an antique car better than antique watches.
Old watches are in many ways similar to old cars. What's the value of
an old car? It depends in its condition and the brand. You can buy rusted antique cars
for very little money but to get an old car that is in good condition
and works like a new car is very expensive. The same goes for the service.
To service an antique car can be way more expensive than the equivalent
procedure for a new car. It's out of production, good spare parts are
difficult to get and to find a skilled mechanic that can service such
a rare car without damaging it can be difficult and expensive.
It's exactly the same for antique watches.
There is a clearly quantifiable cost related to the restoration of an antique watch. It is simply the amount of hours and the cost per hour to do the work. It takes me usually 1/2 a day to clean a movement, replace any worn out parts, adjust and regulate it, wash and polish the case. Most antique watches have messed-up hairspring end-curves from previous services gone wrong. To carefully adjust that end-curve such that it will run like a new watch can take alone more than an hour.
http://molnija-ltd.ru/, Homepage of the Chelyabinsk Watch Factory "Молния", the main factory is closed but the company remains and works on new products.