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Braille Watches

Throughout the years that it was in existence, the Soviet Union took pride in the ability to provide services to the disabled as well as to the workers. Braille watches are a great illustration of this ethos. Soviet watches for the blind and visually impaired date back to at least 1938 and were produced until and through the collapse of the USSR in 1991. 

The first braille timepieces were pocket watches. A full hunter case needed no modification for such a design, as it already included a spring-loaded cover which was activated by pressing down on the crown. However, unlike a typical pocket watch, there was no crystal inside; opening the cover provided direct access to the dial. The dials were stamped with protruding braille markings to allow the user to feel the indices, thereby assessing the time.


Soviet braille wristwatches were designed in much the same way, but in a more diminutive form. They were operated via a small button on the case or crown which released the spring-loaded bezel, lifting the entire crystal to expose the dial. The time could then be read with the fingers by feeling the hour and minute hands' position in relation to the braille.


There are a few other unique attributes which made these wristwatches well-suited for the blind. First, the most common movement utilized was an atypical Raketa caliber with no second hand, dubbed the 2601. (Presumably, the utility of a second hand was not great enough to outweigh the risk of damage to the fragile second pinion when touched.) The caliber 2601 shared many similarities with the famed caliber 2609, but the removal of the second hand allowed for the construction of a solid cannon pinion. A solid cannon pinion increased the structural integrity, meaning the user's fingers were less prone to unintentional damage. The hands were also thick and robust, able to stand up to regular and repeated contact with the fingers. 

The dials were unique due to the distinctive three-dimensional braille design and unusual printing method. The very first braille wristwatch dials were made from painted enamel – these had the benefit of standing up against oils from the hand, but they were fragile and easily broken. So the next generation of dials were made out of  metal, which was must more robust and didn't fracture the way enamel did. 


Typically, metal Soviet dials were covered in a thin, clear lacquer before any text, graphics, or numerals were printed. This lacquer provided better adhesion and greater clarity for subsequent printing, and also gave dials a reflective sheen and a highly polished appearance. Of course, such aesthetic attributes were not necessary on a watch intended for the blind, and furthermore, this lacquer was extremely delicate and not well-suited for a dial intended to be regularly and repeatedly touched. Therefore, a different dial material and printing technique was developed which proved far more resistant to human touch. 

Soviet braille watches were produced for over half a century by at least six factories and exported to countries all over the world. They were manufactured for men and women alike, in pocket- and wristwatch forms, using both mechanical and quartz calibers. The Vostok Watch Factory continues to produce braille watches today.


(Source: 1, 2)

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