Soviet Chunky Becomes Chichi for Watch Buyers

From Reuters

In an era of high-tech electronic gadgets, the Soviet Union’s old-fashioned mechanical watches are conquering fashion-crazy Italy.

Genuine Soviet-made watches are selling in classy Italian jewelry shops as fast as the Soviets can produce them, and the United States and the rest of Europe are the Soviets’ next targets.

Less than five months after the first Cyrillic-inscribed “Made in the USSR” timepieces crossed the border, the Soviet watch industry has received the highest of accolades--thousands of fakes are appearing on the streets.

The Soviet Union has long been the world’s third-largest producer of clocks and watches after Switzerland and the Far East, but until last fall exports were confined to selling parts and movements to Western makers.

The chunky 1950s-style wrist-watches, including five models previously made exclusively for the Red Army, are the most successful Soviet consumer products to reach the West under Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s new era of reform.


Displayed in high-class Italian shops next to gold Rolexes and diamond-studded bracelets, the utilitarian Paketa and Red Army Boctok watches have become a sought-after status symbol.

“We have convinced jewelers who sell watches worth (thousands of dollars) to display side by side these simple Soviet products which cost as little as ($75),” said Orazio Occhipinti, who last fall clinched the European distribution contract for Paketa.

Occhipinti said his entire stock of 40,000 Paketa watches was sold out in the two months before Christmas, and he has no doubt that the 150,000 more he plans to import to Italy in 1989 will get a similar reception.

“They are an anti-status status symbol. . . . The Russians seem a bit astonished. They can’t quite understand why they’re in such demand,” Occhipinti said.