Adjusting a Russian Wostok 2209 Wristwatch to 5 Positions

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I’ve been wanting to get a “weekend beater,” a hand-wound watch with no date—something I can wind up and wear over the weekend without leaving it on a winder during the work week.

And when you want a beater watch, you naturally think of vintage Russian watches. Those watches were survivors.

Here’s a Wostok 2209. It must be an export model: the dial text (18 jewels, Made in USSR) is in English, unlike the domestic models.

It seems rough at first glance—no crystal, no minute or sweep second hand—but the dial seems fine enough.

Shockingly, this watch runs okay right out of the Russia Post cardboard box.

But I couldn’t set the hands. The setting was far too stiff. Hmm…

Here’s the problem. The Wostok 2209 has an interesting gear train. One of the wheels has a cannon pinion attached.

Like a cannon pinion on a center wheel, this should be firmly seated but loose enough to allow hand setting. In this case, though, someone apparently thought it wasn’t tight enough. This bugger was on impossibly tight. Note the dimple on it.

Someone dimpled it to increase the cannon pinion’s friction on the wheel. This prevented the hands from setting.

Indeed, some of the setting components were broken. Some teeth on the castle wheel and intermediate setting wheel were chipped off, probably from someone trying to force the hands to set.

I stripped down the watch, cleaned the many parts, and replaced a few. The sweep second pinion was bent, likely from whatever accident caused the loss of the hand, so I replaced it.

I have a new mainspring for it—this watch takes a GR2918DB mainspring—but the old one was probably okay. The mainsprings in vintage Russian watches usually have a simple coiled shape instead of a the reverse coil common in Swiss and American watches. They look like they’re “set,” but they might be fine. This watch was running at a high amplitude before, so I’ll just clean the old alloy mainspring and see how it goes.

Adjusting the Watch

The watch started right up, so after a good demagnetizing and a couple days to run, it was time to measure the rates.

I did not have high hopes for this watch. The bad signs were many:

  • it’s a Russian wristwatch, people. Russian watches have their fans and their charms, but one can only imagine the workers’ enthusiasm for continuous quality improvement, the Marxist paradise being as enchanting as it was.
  • the watch lacks a regulator that can be finely controlled
  • it has a flat hairspring
  • the traces are a little wavy—the rates vary around +/- 4 seconds across a couple minutes

But on the good side:

  • the amplitude is great in all positions and the timing machine traces are clean
  • the balance wheel is a composite wheel without screws. These usually have excellent poise, so the watch ought to be reasonably well adjusted

What were the baseline rates?

This isn’t terrible. The dial up (DU) and dial down (DD) rates are basically identical, and that’s a relief: aligning those can be a big drama. And the vertical positions aren’t terribly far apart: the biggest gap is 26 seconds (between PU and PL).

So, in short, it’s a good start, but we could adjust the watch to keep closer time across the 5 main wristwatch positions.

This balance wheel is a smooth alloy. It lacks screws or weights that can be modified. Your only adjusting options are to tinker with the hairspring (not recommended) or to remove weight from the wheel.

In our case, the watch is already running slow. Removing weight from the wheel’s heavy spot would thus improve poise and align the vertical and horizontal rates. (But if it were running fast, we could nudge the regulator to make it slow.)

We can find the heavy spot in this sort of wheel just like any other: run the watch at low amplitude and find the fastest position. The heavy spot is directly below the balance staff in that position.

Running this watch at around 140 degrees of amplitude showed that it was fastest crown-up. We can remove weight from the heavy spot using pivot drills. I put a small pivot drill into a pin vise. The drill bit is .40 mm, which is fairly big by pivot-drill standards.

The goal is to remove a small amount of weight from the heavy spot. I marked the rim of the wheel with ink beforehand because it’s easy to lose track of the target spot without landmarks like screws as aids. Then lightly dimple the underside of the wheel.

A small amount was drilled out. Easy does it—there’s no way to add weight to a wheel like this, so it is best to remove a tiny amount, check the rates, and then remove more later if necessary.

And don’t even think about dimpling the side of the balance wheel. It’s an easier spot to reach, but it looks tacky.

A wee dimple did the trick. Here are the rates after that one round of adjusting.

This is not bad. The biggest difference between any 2 positions is 14 seconds, and the largest rate disparity is in the 6th position.

I think I’ll nudge the regulator to +3 DU and call it a day.

If the rates were more stable, I would probably do another round or two. But when the timing traces are a bit wavy, there’s no point in chasing super-precise rates across the positions. This watch will wear well.

Wrapping Up

So far, so good. This watch illustrates a point we often make on this blog: most watches are capable of keeping much better time than they do. Mid-grade watches, like this Wostok, were roughly adjusted to 3 positions. With patience and modern tools, we can usually squeeze better rates out of such watches.

Why one would bother, of course, is a question best left unasked.

Next up—finding some new hands for our Russian friend.