Raketa is Russian for “space rocket”, and the company adopted the name in 1961 in honour of Yuri Gagarin’s epic flight. But the origins of the brand go back much further, to 1721 when Peter the Great founded the “Imperial Peterhof Factory” in St. Petersburg, dedicated to carvings made in semi-precious stones. In fact this year, Raketa is celebrating its 300th anniversary. At the height of its success in the 1950s and ‘60s, Raketa was making almost 5 million watches per year. The brand survived the turbulent collapse of the Soviet Union, and so when Englishman David Henderson-Stewart moved to Russia and visited the factory, he was impressed by its expertise and potential. We spoke to David, now CEO of Raketa, during Geneva Watch Days in August 2021.
“I took over the factory a decade ago and we have had some crazy years. We modernized the plant, a task that was simplified by the staff’s remarkable skill. It is a factory that still uses old-style machines, and 90% of components are made in-house, including the balance springs. Virtually the only thing that we don’t make is the sapphire watchglass. All our watches have a powerful and immediately recognizable identity, and a distinctive sound, an acoustic signature that descends from the movement’s original engineering. They have an interesting price: our average retail price is €1,400 inclusive of VAT”.
Every watch is delivered in a box that includes the photo of one of the employees, and an invitation to visit the factory in St. Petersburg. The details of these pieces are deliciously idiosyncratic: attractive crowns with a red cabochon, movement screws that are red instead of the conventional blue, and the hand-cut “Onega waves” instead of the Swiss Côtes de Genève.
Raketa Russian Code 0275, counter-clockwise best seller
Today, Raketa’s best seller is “Russian Code 0275”, a time-only watch in which the hands run counter-clockwise. “This can be justified by the fact that the planets go around the sun counter-clockwise”, says David. “and the only reason why clocks and watches go clockwise is because that’s the way the shadow of a sundial moves in the northern hemisphere”. To make the counter-clockwise movement, the barrel and escapement had to be re-engineered, and even the winding system is reversed, so you turn the crown anti-clockwise to wind the watch. The second hand has a circular tip, which revolves around the globe shown on the dial and mirrors the counter-clockwise movement of the moon around the earth. Raketa Russian Code 0275 costs €1,380 inclusive of tax.
Raketa Leopard 24, twenty-four hour display
Another characteristic of many Raketa watches is the 24-hour dial. This was typical of watches made for the USSR armed forces in the post-WW2 period. It is a feature of the Leopard 24 watch that incorporates metal from the Russian Akula-class Leopard submarine. Logically, the dial has “0” at the top, and this is something that Raketa uses on other watches as well, 0 at the top of the dial instead of 12. “The Russians are very practical”, says David, “our watches are robust and reliable. We have no ambition to make tourbillons”. The Leopard 24 costs €1,550 inclusive of tax.
Raketa Avant-garde, art in motion
Raketa Avant-Garde is a watch that celebrates Russia’s traditions in modern art. The distinctive dial has the zero at 12 o’clock, a normal seconds hand with a triangular red tip, an hour hand in the shape of a large asymmetric triangle, and a circular minutes hand with a small red indicator on its circumference. Like other Raketa watches, it is powered by an automatic movement designed and made at the Raketa factory. This piece costs €1,150 inclusive of tax.