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Molnija / Молния

In the early 1940s, as the German forces closed in on Moscow during World War II, over 1500 Soviet factories were evacuated to safety in the eastern part of Russia. One such factory, the First State Watch Factory, was evacuated to Zlatoust, a city east of the Ural mountains some 1600 kilometers from Moscow. 


After the war, it was decided that a watch factory should remain in the region. More than 100 factory laborers and over 30 engineers/technical workers were transferred from the Zlatoust Watch Factory to Chelyabinsk, Russia, along with some heavy machinery and equipment. The first phase of the factory development was completed in late 1947, and on November 17, 1947, the Chelyabinsk Watch Factory was complete. This factory would go on to specialize in the manufacture of pocket watches, primarily marketed under the Molnija brand (Молния, meaning "lightning").


Molnija pocket watches were powered by a movement caliber dubbed "ЧК-6". These were based originally on Swiss movement designs, namely the Cortébert caliber 620. The first Molnija pocket watches were actually manufactured at the Second Moscow Watch Factory in Q2-1947. (In the Soviet Union, the concept of manufacturer competition did not exist, thus factories readily shared ideas, concepts, parts, and technology.) These watches were clearly based on the design of Salut pocket watches, also produced at the Second Moscow Watch Factory. But before the end of the decade, ЧК-6 manufacturing was being transferred to Chelyabinsk Watch Factory. The first known Chelyabinsk-produced Molnija dates from Q4-1949. Production at the Second Moscow Watch Factory continued for several years, but by the early 1950s, Chelyabinsk had assumed all ЧК-6 caliber production. 


In the early 1960s, when most of the Soviet watch factories were undergoing reorganization and rebranding, Chelyabinsk followed suit. A new factory logo was developed, and a fresh name was assigned to the plant: Molnija Watch Factory. The movements changed as well. Early versions of the caliber ЧК-6 were ornately decorated with Geneva stripes and polished surfaces, but after the factory renaming, all bridge decorations were discontinued, contributing to an overall cheaper and lower-quality appearance. At this time, the movement caliber was also renamed from ЧК-6 to 3602 (or, in the case of a shock-protected balance, 3603).


For over 60 years, Molnija Watch Factory produced a wide array of pocket watches, including special product for miners, railway workers, and the blind. In addition, the factory was also responsible for producing table clocks, taximeters, and aircraft clocks. In 2007, on its 50th anniversary, the factory ceased production of consumer products. In 2015, after an eight-year pause, the factory reopened. In 2016, all equipment and tooling was reinstated to allow the production of the Soviet-designed caliber 3603.


Today, the Molnija Watch Factory produces watches manufactured with Chinese and Japanese components, as well as watches powered by their in-house caliber 3603 movement — a caliber which has remained practically unchanged since its inception in the Soviet era. 

(Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

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