‘Once a homeless man brought us a Raketa watch. We sold it in Belarus for 650,000 rubles’

The owner of a collection of 5,000 watches about the Russian watch industry and very expensive accessories

Vostok watch factory from Chistopol manufactured a line of Kremlin watches 20 years ago sharp (watches with the coat of arms of Russia) whose appearance was linked in the mass media with the coming of Vladimir Putin to power as president. Now this line is a thing of the past, but such watches often end up in the hands of collectors, rise in price to hundreds of thousand rubles. We talked with the owner of 5,000 watches Aleksandr Brodnikovski about the watch industry in Russia and how watches become very expensive — moreover, such watches are often found among the outcast.

40 years and 5,000 watches

Could you tell us about your collection? How many watches does it have? How did everything begin?

It has over 5,000 watches. But the thing is that I don’t think I am a watch collector, I am an accumulator.

What’s the difference?

A collector is a person who collects something specific. For instance, there is Aleksandr Uvarov (Editor’s Note: the owner of one of the fullest collections of Pobeda watches in the world). He collects only this Pobeda, knows everything about it, chooses only it, purchases them in markets, at auctions. Other people collect, for instance, only Longines (Editor’s Note: a famous luxury brand of Swiss watches). While I didn’t even want to collect anything at first.

Everything began in 1974 when I entered college. I graduated in 1977 and began working in a watch factory. We had very good teachers, they inculcated me with love for watches, their mechanics, all things. Then I saw service in the Northern Fleet, I took a small watch instrument there — tweezers, a magnifying glass, screwdriver, support plate. In the boot camp, we were lined up, the foreman walked along, asked who what did at home. I said I was a watch repairer. He replied: “Oh, you will be our office manager”. I was in the office and began to repair officers’ watches. I was brought various watches — Commander’s, Vostok, Raketa. And I dealt with this activity for eight months.

I sent myself a parcel with different spare parts at home. I step-by-step worked in the watch factory, dissembled spare parts — I had a shoebox with all this stuff. Once I showed it to one my lad, a college mate, he said: “Sanya, this needs to be showed”. I made a stand, hanged up the watches, it was little. I went to the market, familiarised with all peddlers who resold watches.

I don’t think I am a watch collector, I am an accumulator

I have been dealing with this activity for over 40 years. I was interested in old watches, I purchased various models. It was much easier to collect watches, everything was cheap. Now old things suddenly became very expensive. I am at an advantage because I know how to repair watches, I am a sixth-grade watch master.

So I started to accumulate a collection of old watches. And here I was given a tip that I should deal with Soviet watches — it felt like it would be my thing in the following years. Then I purchased a Polyot Deluxe watch — 20 microns of gold with an automatic winding mechanism, a gorgeous watch — I purchased it for 300 rubles, it is very cheap. Then when I had a tendon tear, I couldn’t repair watches, decided to register my watches. My son, Dima, was little yet, we just bought him the first computer. Then I became famous in the community.

Why do watches fascinate you and people in general? Why do watches are collected, looked for and become even a cult? Why do people pay big money for them?

It is very hard to answer. I don’t know why I like them. It is my life. I rather like the repair process, restoration. I liked to make something with my hands.

My collection has things that are unique, there is no other. I just can’t imagine how much they cost

Why watches can be very expensive and how the homeless find watches for a half million

By the way, as for expensive watches. They often become a news piece — when people discuss Patriarch Kirill’s watch or that pf the Russian president’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. People learn watches can cost unimaginably expensive. What do very expensive watches have that usual watches don’t?

Of course, a lot depends on the company, brand. Another thing is the case. There is, for instance, Konstantin Chaikin (a worldwide known watch master, an author of a series of limited collections) made Joker watch, now he makes Martian watches. And he has an exclusive mechanism, there are few watches made by him. And the fewer watches of a model there are, the more expensive they are.

I have a Raketa 3031 watch, I bought it for 1,500 rubles. And now it costs 800,000 rubles because it is rare (Editor’s Note: Realnoe Vremya managed to find several ads selling such watches in the diapason from 500 to 750,000 rubles. According to some sources, there were made from 150 to 2,000 watches of this kind).

I am friends with the homeless — they are brought very interesting things. They brought me so many things, this is crazy. My friend, an antiquarian, was once brought this Raketa 3031, that’s to say, people thoughtlessly throw it away. And we sold it in Belarus for 650,000. A person arrived by train to get this watch, brought a suitcase full of money, picked up the watch and left.

My collection has things that are unique, there is no other. I just can’t imagine how much they cost.

The fewer watches of a model there are, the more expensive they are

Watch industry revival in Russia?

Who makes watches in Russia now? In 2016, Director of Vostok Chistopol watch factory Ivan Grachyov claimed that they were Russia’s the only full-cycle enterprise.

Yes, now only Petersburg Raketa, the Chistopol factory operate full cycle. Molniya is reaching the full cycle, it is the Chelyabinsk watch factory. I don’t know that Chaika (Uglichi watch factory) seems to be reviving. Though it is almost an impossible thing to raise a watch factory. For instance, the second Moscow watch factory — it doesn’t have even shops, everything destroyed. The first factory has the same trouble, it almost doesn’t exist.

Have you seen products of the Chistopol factory? What can you say about it?

I once even made a video about Commander’s. The first Commander’s watch was made on request, it had especial mechanics — stop-seconds to stop the balance. In the 70s, barrel-shaped watches started to be made. Then there were orders from the Ministry of Defence, these watches are still made. There were not only Commander’s watches but also Sergeant’s, Yesaul’s, Admiral’s. There was an interesting story there. Some Chinese liked this watch very much, they began making the same watch in China. Everything was the same, the star, the tank, it was written the watch was made on the Defence Ministry’s request — a carbon copy. But instead of 17 Kamney (stones in Russian) it was written 17 Kamnen. They didn’t have the Russian “y” letter.

Now the Chistopol watch factor makes quite good watches. They have a good design, steel cases. I like their watches.

I have everything: exhibits, their documents, but everything is in my flat. It is good I have a son who can be passed everything when I die

Have you seen the Kremlin watch? They were made for left-handed people, for right-handed people because Putin who just came to the Kremlin wore watches on the right hand.

It is an interesting example. I can’t say they are very famous, I haven’t seen it.

As for Putin. You once turned to him with a project on your own watch museum, right?

The idea of a museum came to my mind when I had my first exhibition, some 10 years ago. A brother of Petergof’s mayor told me that a museum needed to open. And I wrote to everybody then, I wrote to Putin twice that I needed money for the museum. I have everything: exhibits, their documents, but everything is in my flat. It is good I have a son who can be passed everything when I die. There is such a disorder in the country now, everybody is pilfering as much as they can. It seems that the country so far can’t help with the museum.

Interviewed by Aleksandr Artemyev. Photo: facebook.com/brodnikovskij