What Watch did Yuri Gagarin wear in Space?

In our last article, we discovered that one of the watches (we assume there were several watches) which Yuri Gagarin took into space was the Sturmanskie watch, produced by the 1st Moscow Watch Factory (hereinafter - 1 MWF). Question is what exact model of Sturmanskie it was?

Later, we will post a dedicated article about this factory, but for now, a short story: in 1930 the young Soviet Union needed watches in wholesale numbers! So, In the heart of Moscow, just 3 kilometers from the Red Square, a watch factory occupying an entire quarter was founded.

расстояние до центра (1).png

The Soviet army needed accurate and reliable watches. Because, at that time, watches were the most important instruments, the accuracy (and availability) of which had a great impact on the battle. Have you seen the moments from war movies when the commanders check the time before an attack? Nowadays, all chronographs with logarithmic rulers, and other odd numbers in addition to the dial accomplish rather a decorative function and serve as a tribute to that time. 

In 1949, Sturmanskie watch appeared. This watch was not commercially available and was produced only for the needs of the air force pilots. This watch (Sturmanskie) was given to graduates of flight academies and future pilots. Yuri Gagarin graduated from Orenburg military flight academy with honors in 1957, also received this Sturmanskie watch. The main feature was the stop-second function allowing to stop the watch and synchronize the time. This was done by using the crown, which was first pulled out to the time change position (all mechanical watches have this function) and then stopped the second hand. 

It should be mentioned that 1 MWF produced two types of Sturmanskie watches and they were quite different, if you pay attention to it. In addition, there are many fakes of "Gagarin's watch" in the market, about which we will tell you in our next article.

Sturmanskie Type 1 and 2 (Source @sovietwatchmuseum)

Firstly, we shall say that Yuri Gagarin flew with Sturmanskie watch of the second type!

Talking about visual differences between the first type and the second type: the hands of the I type watch look like a sword blade, while the hands of the II type watch - like oriental sabres ending with a long needle:  Sturmanskie hands type 1 type 2

The crown has also changed from the elegant mushroom-shaped crown that can be found in early I type Sturmanskie watches to the rather massive, robust washer in the II type model:Crown type 1, type 2

These details can be determined in types of Sturmanskie watches absolutely unmistakably. All other differences are in the movement itself. We will discuss it a bit later, in a dedicated article about the both types and their specifications.

The Sturmanskie Type I was produced by 1 MWF from 1949 and Type II in the first quarter of 1954. By the way, Type I and Type II are not official names of models; we use these names to make it clear what kind of watches we are talking about.

So, all the main differences were hidden inside and the dial design remained the same. Also, considering that the Type I is not the most popular, collectors experience certain problems restorating these watches - the dial from Type I does not fit to Type II. 

As mentioned above, the main external differences are the hands, the design of which has changed significantly. And this is the element allowing to easily distinguish the watch model you are looking at - often, out of ignorance, it is the type I that is mistaken for "Gagarin's watch."  

The watch size remained the same, only 33 mm. The case is made of chrome-plated brass, which makes it easy prey for corrosion. 

One of the interesting features of the watch is that it is radioactive! And they emit quite a strong dose of radiation (800 milliroentgens per hour in the range of a few centimeters from the dial). Original watch featured a luminous composition based on radium salts. 

So one of the ways for checking the authenticity of the watch is to simply measure the radiation level. The original watch will have background radiation. 

Sturmanskie Type II features quite noticeable technical improvements - in addition to the stop-second, it was supplemented with a shock-proof device and a screw-in cover for protecting the watch from dust and moisture, which was important for military watches. 

Sturmanskie Type II. Technical data.


• case diameter - 33 mm.;

• thickness - 11 mm.;

• strap width - 16 mm.;

• weight with a strap - 39 g.

Daily movement variation is +/– 30 seconds.

Power reserve is 32-34 hours. 

Movement 43M with 17 rubies and a stop-second, shock-proof device on the balance axis and a watch case that is the same as Sportivnie watch, with a screw-in case back.

• brass chrome-plated case;

• blued hands with luminous material;

• red second hand;

• domed crown;

• inscription on the dial: Штурманские, МЧЗ им. Кирова (Sturmanskie, Kirov Moscow Watch Factory);  red star logo.

Under the case back: 

• shock-proof device on the balance axis;

• movement decorated with Cotes de Geneve; 

• inscription on the gear system bridge: "17 камней"(17 rubies) and "Первый МЧЗ"(First Moscow Watch Factory);

• date of the watch manufacture stamped on the fusee bridge. 

Things to pay your attention to:


Inscription on the case back: "Пылевлагонепроницаемые с противоударным устройством"("Dust-proof with shock-proof device") and "Пылевлагозащита - Баланс Амортизированный" ("Dust and moisture protection - Balance Amortized");

Screw-in case back (5 slots);

Minute hand runs exactly around the oval;

Second hand runs beyond the oval;

Movement - a washer with a hemisphere.