Today's post is a guest contribution by "DC guy," a denizen of the Affordable Watches and Russian Watches forums on watchuseek.com.
This is a review of the Vostok Amphibia SE 420361B, available exclusively from Meranom, an authorized dealer in Chistopol City, Russia. It's fitting that my first post is about an Amphibia, as it was the Time Bum's review of his "Scuba Dude" Amphibia that originally led me to this blog. That article did a good job summarizing the interesting history and innovation behind this line of Russian diving watches, so I won't retread that ground here.
I was amused to read that the Time Bum spent more money modding his Scuba Dude than on the watch itself. That shows what an exceptional value an Amphibia represents. But the urge to mod is evidence that these budget watches leave much to be desired in terms of material quality and finish. Nearly everyone tosses the tinfoil-like OEM bracelet in favor of nylon, rubber, or leather. Many also swap the chromed bezel for a stainless steel one.
Enter Meranom and their Special Edition (SE) Amphibias. Introduced in 2013, this ever-expanding series of souped-up Vostoks finally brings these watches out of the post-Soviet era and up to modern standards of look and feel. Not content to simply right the wrongs in the bracelet and bezel, Meranom has taken the Amphibia to the next level with new/revived dial designs, case styles, and even movements.
When first released in August 2015, the Amphibia SE 420361B immediately sold out. One look at its iridescent blue dial, and it's easy to see why. The watch is just now becoming available again, along with its color variant cousins. I ordered mine last month after incredulously spotting the words "In stock" during a Google search.
The watch features a "sandwich" dial consisting of two layers: a lower one coated with luminous paint; and an upper one with cut-out indices that cast shadows in the light and let the lume glow through in the dark. The upper layer features a radial sunburst in a brilliant shade of blue that makes my 2008 Scuba Dude look dim (see photo). The hour indices at 3, 6, 9, and 12 are triangles while the others are slits. This layout is actually based on a Soviet heritage dial though the sandwich format adds a new twist.
There's no whimsical frogman, captain's wheel, or other graphic on the dial; just a clean, centered "Boctok" logo for a professional look. Below that are four lines of text ("31 Jewels / Automatic / 200 M / Made in Russia"), which is a lot, but since it's in Cyrillic, I feel it adds to the cool factor of the watch.
Minute and hour hands are lumed swords with polished steel borders. The lumed seconds hand is the same as in other Amphibias, but painted white instead of red.
For some of you, I'm sure my earlier mention of a sandwich layer consisting of pure lume sent tingles into your nether regions. Sorry to disappoint, but I find the lume on this watch to be on par with all my other Vostok watches ... that is, barely visible and basically useless.
When you finally tear your eyes from the dial, Meranom's other customizations become apparent. First, there is the stainless steel bezel providing a 12-hour chapter ring in matching metallic blue. Unlike many Vostok bezels (e.g., the weird colored dots and dashes on the Scuba Dude), this one looks thoroughly modern and attractive while still avoiding the Submariner copycat look. It also has a much-improved grip edge compared to the fine-toothed original.
For those who SCUBA dive, I'm afraid you won't be using this bezel for timing, as the numbers don't work for that. There isn't even a marker to set a countdown. But for the rest of us, I like how this bezel serves an actual, everyday purpose and doesn't scream, "Look at me, I'm wearing a diving watch, even though we're nowhere near the ocean." This is a diver you can wear to the office without any hesitation, and I do.
As a bonus, you can use the bezel as a poor man's GMT complication when traveling to other time zones. Just set the main hands to local time, then rotate the bezel to the hour offset of your home time.
Minor nitpick: maybe it's just my watch, but the bezel is super loose -- even more than my Scuba Dude's -- and when rotated, it occasionally pops as if the tension wire is misinstalled. Probably an easy fix, but I haven't bothered to try.
Moving on to the case, Meranom has applied a handsome brushed finish to the normally over-shiny steel case. Toning down the bling gives this watch a much more refined look. You still catch nice glints from the polished edges of the hands, bezel, and crown. The brushing extends to the case back, which has a nice engraving of the Scuba Dude, in case you missed him.
The solid stainless steel crown is an upgrade from the smooth, hollow original. Its well-defined ridges and edges make it more pleasant to look at and operate (even though it's still "wobbly" by design). Mine is unsigned, but I have seen other SE's with the Vostok "B" on the crown.
The many combined upgrades to the Vostok 420 case make it hard to believe it's the same one found on the classic Scuba Dude. Another factor at play here is the Meranom SE bracelet. While its end links are 18mm to fit into the lugs, the rest of the bracelet is wider (maybe 21mm at the widest). Since most of us are used to seeing the 420 case worn on an 18mm strap (with a gap between it and the case), the wider bracelet and end links give the whole package a bigger, better presence.
The solid stainless steel bracelet is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have only ever worn Amphibias on straps. The brushed finish matches that of the case and is satiny smooth to the touch, even at the joints. The bracelet has six removable links; I managed to fit it to my tiny 6" wrist by removing just four. At first, I thought the links were held together by screws(!), but they are just split pins that you can pop out with a thumbtack. The double locking, double push button safety clasp has three micro-adjustment holes and is signed with the Vostok logo. Although I am a leather strap guy, I find this to be a very comfortable bracelet.
A word about the movement... as the Time Bum lamented, the Vostok 2416B movement in the classic Scuba Dude has a date complication with no real quick set function, which is an annoyance for those of us who rotate our watches. The SE 420361B uses the 2415, which is the same automatic, hand winding, bulletproof movement, sans date. I much prefer it, even though I still catch myself checking my watch for the date.
Overall, I find the appearance of this watch appropriate for both dressy and casual occasions. The bracelet goes with black or brown shoes. The water and shock resistance make the watch safe for swimming, sports, or household chores. The bezel makes it useful for travel. At 39mm wide, the case size is sensible for a wide range of wrists, including small ones like mine. Had this watch existed a year ago, it may very well have become my "One Watch" and saved me a bunch of money! (Well, we can dream.)
The Amphibia SE 420361B is currently priced at $152 at meranom.com. For $134, you can also get the charcoal (SE 120359NB) or golden (SE 120360NK) variants in the larger Vostok 120 case with plain steel bezel and a nylon strap.
Pro: Beautifully executed dial, case finish, and bracelet.
Con: Disappointing lume for a sandwich dial.Sum: Finally, an Amphibia you can fully enjoy straight out of the box. You'll pay a lot more for it, but the price is reasonable compared to other divers at this level. And you won't
need to shell out for a replacement band.