Sunday, February 26, 2006

My First Poljot...

Sorry, got sidetracked for a few days.

And this post got delayed as well from last night.

The Poljot above is a very basic Poljot, which I bought from ChronoNet. No longer there, unfortunately. But you can find it here.

What was I doing buying a Russian watch?

Very simple. The Fortis is, for me, still one of the more expensive watches I own (I'm a tightwad when it comes to my hobbies), and I didn't want to take it with me on vacation to the US.

So I was looking for what I would now call a beater watch, one that if you beat it to death, you don't get all upset about. I had set a strict, very strict, budget of €100 maximum, and was looking to see what kind of watch you could get for that price that had at least a small modicum of style/panache/whatever.

Why? Well, even someone who is as stingy about things like this as I am wants to have a modicum of style. In other words, there are watches that I simply won't wear, since they either remind me of times when I was so broke that I couldn't afford anything better than the cheapest no-name, or simply weren't my style.

I was searching for something that would have a certain style without breaking my budget and for the very, very first time did the search on the Internet. We are talking, what, 2002 or so.

The watch is built around the classic Poljot 2614 caliber, 17 jewels, with calendar, 21'600 bph, officially -20/+40s per day, power reserve 42 hours, manual wind.

Identifying the pedigree of this caliber is both simple and hard: on the one hand, it is the workhouse caliber of the Russian watch industry (well, what is left of it); on the other hand, a cursory search on more information on the caliber doesn't lead to much. I remember speculation that it is based on the French LIP movement of the 1950s, but what with the WUS database crash, that thread may be lost forever. Will have to check on that.

It came originally with your bog-standard aviator strap, black leather with white stitching, and I was very pleased with it: solid, screw-down crown, very assertive watch.

And then the troubles began. I had dealt with screw-down crowns before, since the Fortis has one, and thought I knew what I had to do: unscrew it mornings, wind the watch, screw it back down and that's it.

Three days after the watch arrived, the problems started. It was just a tiny, tiny smidge of condensation on the inside of the crystal, the tiniest of smudges. The weather was a typical German end-of-winter/begin-of-spring kind of weather: cold and rainy. And very, very humid.

I decided that I didn't want to have to send the watch back and instead wore the watch with the crown unscrewed in the hope that the humidity levels in the watch would adjust to ambient and the condensation would cease. It did, just took a couple of days to do so.

The watch kept very decent time, not as good as the Fortis, but very decent nonetheless. After wearing it for 2-3 weeks it was within 15 seconds +/- a day, usually on the fast side.

I wore it on our 2002 trip to the US, where we spent time in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah.

The condensation problem came back with a vengeance. The climate in these states is so dry that you really do need to drink 2-3 gallons of water/day to avoid exhaustion and getting run down, and the high temperatures there increased the evaporation of whatever the moisture source was significantly. Undoing the crown and letting the watch more or less bake in the sun for a couple of hours a day (on the dashboard of our rental car) didn't really help all that much.

But the watch kept on ticking and keeping time very well. So I kept on wearing it, despite it being fairly hard to read through the collection of water drops on the inside of the crystal.

When we got back, I contacted ChronoNet and sent the watch back. He sent me back pictures of what the water condensation had done to the watch (I have no idea of where those pictures are...) , which, given the severity of the condensation and the amount of time that the watch was subjected to water in the works, was fairly minimal.

The connection rod between the crown and the winding mechanism was rusted, as was the sleeve. It wasn't that bad, but rust and watches don't get along real well in general.

He repaired it under warranty, despite feeling that the problem was on my side. Good dealer.

Since then: no problems. None whatsoever, zilch, nada. The only thing that I notice is that he didn'l clean, when he had the chance, the inside of the crystal, which, if you look really carefully - the above picture is useless for that purpose - has some drying marks where the condensation was particularly bad.

So what is the moral of the story?

Russian watches can take an incredible amount of abuse and keep on working under conditions where their more sophisticated counterparts would have given up the ghost. It is one of the two watches I wear when I go to the sauna: the other is a quartz watch that my youngest daughter persuaded me to buy when on eBay for much too much money (but still under €100), but that is another story.

This watch simply kept on working. The rust was limited to the parts mentioned above: the 2614 was completely unaffected by the condensation problems.

Today I have it on an original Poljot band which unfortunately is a bit of a hair-puller, which means that it doesn't get all that much wrist time. But once a week isn't bad: despite the terrible abuse that a sauna means for a watch (temperature of +100°C for 15 minutes, followed by 17° water immersion, repeat, then 20 minutes at 70° C with a 22° water immersion, etc etc), the Poljot deals with it as if it were nothing.
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