Monsters, machines, mechanical marvels and masterpieces – Part 6

May 2012

(Continued from Part 5) Raketa
Last year I stopped very briefly to browse in the showcases of the Russian brand Raketa in Hall 4, promising myself to return when I had more time. A year later I found the time and was greeted with a “Welcome to Russia” from Count Jacques von Polier, Raketa’s Managing Director, who is also the Head of Design and Propaganda.

Count von Polier explained that although the Raketa (Russian for rocket) brand name was only created in 1962 in honour of Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut, the Petrodvorets Watch Factory where the watches are manufactured is Russia’s oldest factory, having been founded by Peter the Great in 1721. The Petrodvorets factory is still located in its original building in St Petersburg and is one of the relatively rare watch factories manufacturing its own movements. It is also now the only Russian watch manufacturing company.

“In the 1970s and 80s the factory was huge,” Count von Polier told me. “It produced about five million mechanical watches a year. Before the Second World War the factory had about 600 employees and during the war a third of the employees were killed. In 1945, the remaining 400 workers started to rebuild the factory that had been heavily damaged in the siege of Leningrad as it was then called.

“From 1945 onwards, the factory continued to grow, reaching almost 8,000 employees by the end of the 70s with a production of five million watches a year. The city and the Raketa Factory were almost like a single unit: the factory had its own symphonic orchestra with 150 professional musicians and an Olympic-size football stadium and was heralded as the epitome of communism with its happy, smiling workers.

“After the fall of Soviet Union, Russia entered a chaotic era—the Yeltsin epoch. This period of the 90s under the Yeltsin regime saw literally hundreds of factories close one after the other, because not only were they incapable of adapting to the new economic environment, but also because the economy was governed by what became known as the Russian mafia.

Monsters, machines, mechanical marvels and masterpieces – Part 6

“During this period our factory also suffered badly. Watch production fell drastically, sales collapsed and qualified workers became taxi drivers and grew potatoes in their garden to feed their families. But despite all this, thanks to a few state orders essentially for the Russian army, the factory survived. Its size was seriously reduced with time and when I arrived at the factory for the first time in 2009, I found 100 watchmakers, 300 machines, but a rare know-how.

“Based on this and with the help of Swiss engineers, the Petrodvorets Watch Factory was reorganised and last year modern watchmaking equipment was purchased from the Swatch Group resulting in an immediate improvement of the quality of Raketa watches. I think it’s fair to say that we arrived just in time to save the last Russian watch manufacturer - one of the very rare watch factories in the world that produces entirely its own movement from A to Z including the hairspring, balance wheel and escapement. Currently we have a production capacity of 2,000 watches a month and by next year we should double that figure. “Today, our priority is to initially develop the Russian market and then continue with the rest of Europe.”

At BaselWorld, Raketa presented a prototype of its new automatic movement the Automat Raketa. Designed and produced in-house, the new Automat is thinner and of a smaller diameter than the automatic movement the factory manufactured back in 1975. The new movement will come in two versions: the Automat 2615 with three hands and the Automat 2627 with a double date feature. As Count Jacques von Polier explained, “By the end of this year we hope that some of our models from the collection will be available with the new automatic movement. The first model will most probably be our actual ‘best seller’, the Petrodvorets Classic. Then eventually we will adapt other models to our automatic movement including the Vodianova, which at present is equipped with a Raketa 2609 engraved and gold-plated movement.”

The Vodianova to which Count von Polier refers is the new Raketa watch presented this year that was designed by Nathalia Vodianova, the Russian supermodel. Having delved into the Raketa archives, she decided to use as the basis for her design a popular Raketa model from 1974. The new watch has a mother-of-pearl dial decorated with red crystals in the form of the famous red star that adorns the four corners of Moscow’s Kremlin, and in Cyrillic on the rotating bezel are the city names representing the various time zones.
As they say over there, Хорошее здоровье и Успех!

Source: Europa Star June - July 2012 Magazine Issue