Jonathan is a keen watch enthusiast with a collection that always seems to be one watch short. See more reviews at the Top Watch Picks blog.
The Vostok Amphibia SE
The Vostok Amphibia watches are a range of classic dive watches that were first produced in the USSR in 1967. Their simplicity and reliability meant that they quickly became a stalwart choice for the Russian military, with some even venturing into space and back again during the 1970s. This particular Vostok, (reference number 420B35), is a special edition model that has a number of noteworthy upgrades over the standard Amphibia watches. It is available with a blue or a black dial in a number of different configurations, but all of them retail for less than $150 USD.
There are at least six different case designs among the Amphibia range of watches. This model takes on the dimensions of the classic 420 series. It's a nice mid-sized case that is versatile enough to be worn on a variety of wrist sizes. Here are some specifications for the Vostok Amphibia SE.
- Case Size: 39mm case, 15mm thick, 46mm from lug to lug
- Band Size: 18mm
- Movement: Vostok 2415 (automatic)
- Water resistance: 200m of water resistance.
- Crystal: Acrylic
Vostok Dial Design
The design of the 420B35 has a classic vintage look. There are no Arabic numbers and no date complication. Instead, triangles denote the 12, 3, 6 and 9 positions with baton-style indices for the 5-minute markers. The Vostok logo sits below the 12 position with a single line of Russian text above the 6-hour mark. The Vostok Amphibia SE is very easy to read at a glance. The black dial has a hint of metallic shine to it but and a subtle sunburst effect can sometimes be seen, but otherwise there is nothing to distract the viewer.
Date complications are useful, but the absence of a date on this watch is not a problem for me. In fact, I always like to have a no-date watch in my collection. They are easy to pick up and set if they have been lying unused for a few days, especially when you don't need to worry about whether it is set to am or pm. I also enjoy the symmetry of a no-date watch and the fact that there are no numbers on this watch is the simplicity I was looking for at the time.
The face of the Amphibia SE has some noticeable depth due to the sandwich-style dial that is used in this model. If you have never seen a sandwich dial before, it is essentially two dials that are stacked on top of each other. The bottom layer is a lumed circle that is overlaid with a second dial that has stencil-like cutouts for the indices. This dial type is just one of several upgrades over the standard Vostok 420, but unfortunately the lumed dial on the bottom is not much better than a standard Vostok. It works, but not for as long as you might want.
The classic, silver sword-style hands are perfectly suited to the style of this watch and help add to the legibility. Both have applied luminescence. The red second hand matches the red on the bezel, as well as the stitching on the strap, and has a lumed pip to help show the position of the second hand after dark.
Vostok Amphibia Case Design
In a departure from the regular 420 series of Vostok Amphibia watches, this SE version has a brushed stainless steel case. This makes it look more like a tool watch and is less likely to show bumps and scratches compared to the glossy polished look on the standard Amphibia line. It has a screw down crown that is signed with the Vostok logo, and a black and red dive bezel with a lume pip at the 12 o'clock position.
Speaking of the bezel, it's a little stiff, but this watch is new so it may just need some breaking in. Although it is a dive watch bezel, it doesn't click like the bezel on a traditional dive watch. Instead, the Vostok uses friction and an internal retainer spring to make this a silent, uni-directional bezel.
The brushed case, in my opinion, is a big upgrade from the polished stainless steel. It fits in much better with the aesthetic of an all-purpose dive watch. Less ideal, perhaps, is the 18mm lug width. I have never found this to be a particularly good size for my 6.5-inch wrists, preferring 20 or 22mm where I can. However, the included silicone strap flairs out past the lugs to 20mm, with no taper, so you get the illusion of a larger lug to lug width if you use the stock strap. Personally, I find it a little chunky, so my watch spends most of its time on a two-tone Barton Elite Silicone band. It's comfortable, waterproof, and looks at home on the Vostok.
The domed acrylic crystal adds to the vintage feel of this watch with its off-angle distortion. Of course, Acrylic is more prone to picking up scratches when compared to a sapphire or mineral crystal, but I have had no problems with mine so far and I live safe in the knowledge that any scratches I do get can be polished out with a tube of Polywatch. Personally, I find the acrylic dial to be very tactile. I like the feel of it, and the fact that it seems to stay smudge-free for longer.
Vostok Amphibia Movement
This Amphibia SE has Vostock's in-house 2415 automatic movement. It is rated at -20 to +60 seconds per day by the factory. However, I have found the accuracy of mine to be very good. Over a 10-day period I measured this watch at +4 seconds a day. This makes it among the most accurate automatic watches I have ever owned. I know they won't all be this good, but if you were scared by the variance of the factory numbers, just know that there are some good ones out there.
The movement can be hand wound, but it does not hack. When not on your wrist, the 2415 movement is rated to have a power reserve of around 31 hours. That means if you don't wear if for a couple of days, you will have to set the time and wind it before you can use it again. However, like I said above, it is quick and easy to set.
The Vostok's movement is protected by 200m of water resistance. It achieves this feat in a very unique way. The method is well-documented in other places, but essentially the Vostok relies on a two-piece caseback that allows for a larger rubber gasket. When subjected to the kind of pressures you might expect from deep sea diving, the caseback actually compresses further to produce an even stronger seal.
Value for Money: Is it Worth it?
This isn't an easy watch to find, but if you are willing to wait a few weeks, you can order it direct from Russia via meranom.com for around $130 USD. It won't get mistaken for a high-end watch, but I think you still get a lot for your money. If you were to buy a 200m dive watch with a screw down crown and an in-house automatic movement from the likes of Seiko or Citizen, you would easily be looking at paying something closer to $200 or more. Of course, it's not perfect. The lume is pretty weak, the 31-hour standby time is not great, and the acrylic crystal may not appeal to everyone. However, if you are looking for a solid entry-level dive watch, the Vostok Amphibia SE represents good value for money.
This is the second Vostok Amphibia I have owned, and it may not be the last because they have a certain charm to them that is hard to resist. They are a quirky watch, and not one you will see on the wrists of too many of your colleagues, but maybe that is why I enjoy wearing the one I do and for the money, they just don't have very many competitors. So, if you want a good looking watch that is also a conversation piece, the Vostok Amphibia could be just what you are looking for.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Jonathan Wylie