I follow recent developments of the watch industry in Russia and one of the companies that is worth mentioning is Molnija. As you probably all know Molnija was originally established in Soviet Union as ČČZ - Čeljabinsk časovoj zavod - in 1947. At first it was specialized in special watches for military purposes (airplane, tank, truck watches) but soon the production of pocket watches started (in cooperation with 2MČZ). ČČZ in time became a pocket watch specialist and pocket watches with movement 3602 were it's main product known worldwide. In 1960 company was renamed after it's main brand to Molnija. Company hardly survived post USSR period, but in 2010 it was privatized and became a solid company again. In latest years Molnija launched a lot of different models, seems that guys there have a lot of good ideas, since Molnija's latest watches are well designed and uses good quality materials. A variety of different movements are used. To be concrete, at the moment their offer consist of: AČS (named after board watches for airplanes) with quartz Ronda 3520.D or mechanical Miyota 8215, Baikal with Miyota 8215, Chameleon with Miyota 8215, Energy with quartz Ronda Z60, Evolution with quartz Miyota 6S21, Etude with own 3603 mechanical movement, Green Ray with 3603, Tribute 1984 and Tribute 1984 ver.2 with 3603 and Pearl with Ronda 715. Special watch is Hyron, which does not have any Molnija brand insignia on the watch and can be understood as separate brand. Hyron uses Selitta 215-1 hand winding movement.
I must say that I like what Molnija produces at the time being, that is why I have quite a collection of their new watches. So you can see on the first picture that my existing collection consist of Baikal, Chameleon, Hyron, Tribute 1985 ver. 2 and Etude (from top left corner to down right corner). What is worth mentioning is that Molnija does not use the same logos on all of their watches. I already mentioned strange Hyron status but beside that, Molnija uses two very different logos on other watches as well. While some watches use "Molnija" sign, others use logo which reminds me to two arrows. If this is some kind of lightening symbol (what Molnija means in russian), or something else, I don't know.
To conclude the introduction part - what is also interesting is that among stated wrist watches table clocks are also in Molnija's offer but one can not find any pocket watches anymore! So the main product from the USSR times does not even exist anymore. BUT, as already mentioned before, the most important part, the movement 3602 is still in production. Even though some other watches would also deserve some review (Hyron first among them...), I decided to focus on watches which uses 3602 movement, so full Molnija built watches. In fact, movement is not 3602 movement anymore, it is in fact 3603 movement, which was developed somewhere around 1990. To clarify at once - the only serious difference between 3602 and 3603 is that 3603 has a shock protection and 3602 not. Number 3603 also still follows the official ex. soviet coding of their movements, where first two digits represents the diameter of the movements, the remaining two or three digits define the complications of the movements. If you are not familiar with soviet coding system, I recommend you to visit www.netgrafik.ch/russian-codes.htm I need to add that this coding system was only introduced in the mid sixties so all movements prior that of course are not marked with adequate code.
So, to begin with 3603 movement watches review, I first must say something about the movement itself. Soviet Union watch industry developed first 3602 type movements based on swiss Cortebert 620 movement. First watch with this movement was produced by 2MČZ (stamp of the company is Č2Z - later known as Slava) soon after the WW2 (mine is from the first quarter of 1947). It was pocket watch Saljut and movement had 15j as original Cortebert. Soon Saljut was followed by Molnija but still produced in 2MČZ! On the pictures below you can see picture of 2MČZ Molnija, followed by Molnija from ČČZ. Please note the halmark stamp 2ČZ (middle) and ČČZ (right picture) on the pictures below.
Even though early movements of 2MČZ and ČČZ looks identical to 3602, they are in fact not. 3602 movements are a bit thicker and not all parts are interchangable! Also while old ČČZ movements still had 15j, Molnija has further developed this movement and by the time soviet codes were introduced, movement was improved to 18j. On the right side you can see two versions of two -already 18j - movements and stamped with 3602 marking.
Vast majority of the production was consisted of Molnija pocket watches, but also brands Kristall, Serkisoff and Sekonda were used.
Very interesting watch is also wist watch Ural, which was the only ČČZ wrist watch, produced in late fifties. What is interesting in Ural is the fact that for the wrist watch ČČZ changed the movement and instead of the small second a central second was introduced, that is why an additional wheel can be seen on the movement and movement is a bit thicker. It has 16j and if soviet coding would be already implemented at that time it would have been coded as 3608.
Ural was quite a big watch for that time with 39mm diameter and it had very unusual case. It's pity it was not produced longer.
Molnija never produced any wrist watches with 3602 movement but that does not mean that wrist watches with this movement did not exist. In fact quite a lot of a new born watch producers in new Russia used this movement for their watches. I used to have Moscow Classic watch called Sturmovik, for example.
Now, let's focus on the new 3603 watches itself. In the introduction I mentioned that four lines of watches use this movement - Green Ray, Tribute 1984, Tribute 1984 ver. 2 and Etude. As far as I know by this order the stated collections were launched and that is seen also in the design. While Green Ray is still very basic and on a way even has some "soviet touch", Tribute 1984 already has some more modern design, while Tribute ver.2 and Etude are far from soviet designs. I don't owe any Green Ray or Tribute 1984 watch so I am not able to show this development, but feel free to check it by yourself on Molnija's web page www.molnija.shop
Green Ray and Tribute ver.1 are part of "Molnija" branded watches while Tribute ver.2 and Etude are "arrow" branded.
The most noticable changes are seen in the dials. While Green Ray only has very basic white one, Tribute ver.1 introduced also black, blue, gey ray-shaped dial, whereas Tribute ver.2 and Etude added also guilloche dials. So Tribute ver.2 and Etude offers vast combinations of dial types, colours, hands, numbers.
Namely, Tribute ver.2 and Etude also introduced dials with Roman numbers. By my opinion in Etude versions those Roman numbers are way too big and I don't like the final look of those watches (and that's why I don't have version with the roman numbers), whereas on Tribute ver.2 roman dial is very clean and nice. To finalize dial description, Etude additionally upgraded dial with 3D touch, edge of the dial is uplifted and minute marks are raised. On all four collections on the dial it is proudly stated that watch uses 3603 movement.
All four collections have stainless steel case and sapphire glass. This year Molnija added to the Tribute ver.2 and Etude collection also - as limited edition - watches with sapphire glass backplate, what intrigued me to buy Etude with glass backplate. That glass backplate addition is nice and gives us the opportunity to see the old movement in new and fresh style. Anti shock protection can also be spotted at once (see left picture above the balance wheel).
I don't know if standard watches with steel backplate have the movements with the same final touch since I did not open my Tribute watch just for that.
It has to be pointed out that all four collections are big watches! Green Ray and both Tributes are 44mm while Etude is 46mm. First three have 22mm lug and Etude 24mm. Thickness is 14mm, so for non-chrono watches this are big watches. And they are also big on the wrist. Certainly not recommended for a wrist smaller than 19mm! Partially the reason for that maybe lies in the fact that movement itself is quite big but still - Ural was much smaller with the same diameter of the movement. And if you check the entire Molnija collection, you can notice that ALL their watches are big, almost none smaller than 44mm. The smallest is Pearl line with 41mm, but that is lady's collection :)
What I really like is how good the colours of the dial and colours of the leather straps are matched. For example on my blue Etude the strap is dark blue with light blue lines and exactly those two colours can be got through the different reflection of the light on the blue dial. Brown Tribute strap fits perfectly to brown dial colour. I found the same matching also on my Chameleon watch. So I am sure that is not just coincidence. Leather straps use pin buckle which is signed with the same logo as used on watch (so either Molnija or arrows).
I have no complaints about the straps, on all my watches straps are of good quality and they give nice feeling on the wrist.
The main flaw of those watches is the movement itself. If you are not familiar with this movement you might be surprised how stiff and loud the winding is. Also the watch itself runs quite loud. One can easily hear watch ticking while wearing it on it's wrist. My personal feeling is that Tribute ver.2 is louder than Etude, maybe that is just my personal feeling or maybe this is really the case due to thicker, bigger and better sound protection case of Etude compared to Tribute. This loudness is not a real minus for me since I personally like the sound of stated ticking particularly due to the slow ticking (beat is just 18.000 A/h) which gives very archaic sound of the watch.
Movement is also not very accurate - of course from today's perspective. Consecutive wearing (winding it every morning) without taking the watch off the wrist even during the night resulted in +40 sec/daily for both my watches during the first week of wearing.
I usually also always comment the price. I must congratulate Molnija that prices of their watches, having in mind stainless steel cases and sapphire glass in general are not so high as some other russian competitors watches tend to be lately. Standard prices are around 25.000 RUB (cca. 275 EUR), bottom glass versions 30.000 RUB (330 EUR). But on their shop you can often find some discount (10%-15%, some models occasionally even more). With free DHL express worldwide even with the customs and taxes Molnija's watches are affordable. Molnija values 3603 watches simillar to Miyota 8215, so higher than Ronda and a bit lower than Hyron with Sellita. Maybe the glass versions are too expensive compared to standard ones and compared to Hyron. But all in all, reasonable prices.
For the end, maybe a hint to Molnija - consider a reiisue of Ural with new 3608 movement! That would really be a real tribute to ČČZ! Molnija has a room for a new, smaller collection and Ural in 40mm-42mm would be a great choice in this respect.