The history of Polish space exploration isn’t exactly long. What it might lack in longevity, however, it certainly makes up for in pride, and the lone Polish cosmonaut Mirosław Hermaszewski is one of the most revered figures in Polish history. What’s more, the timepiece he carried, the super-advanced digital Unitra Warel, has become a Polish icon itself–one that G. Gerlach now pays tribute to with their new Kosmonauta.
Born on September 15, 1941 in the town of Lipniki in Nazi-occupied Poland, Mirosław Hermaszewski had a tragic childhood. 19 members of his family, including his father, fell victim to the Volhynian Massacres perpetrated against Poles by the partisan Ukrainian Insurgent Army before he was two years old. When the Soviet Union absorbed Hermaszewski’s hometown along with much of eastern Poland at the end of World War II, 4-year-old Mirosław and his mother were forced to move southwest to the town of Wołów. Upon finishing high school, he enlisted in the air force, and by 1965 had graduated from the elite Dęblin pilot’s training academy. Hermaszewski’s military career was admirable, if unspectacular, earning a reputation of dependability in his superiors for the next decade.
Where Hermaszewski’s story really begins, however, is in 1978. The Soviet Union was stagnating under Brezhnev, and unrest was beginning to build in the Soviet-aligned Warsaw Pact states, especially Poland. In an effort to regain the faith of their allies, the Soviets launched the Intercosmos program to send cosmonauts from other Eastern Bloc nations into orbit in Soyuz capsules. 500 Polish applicants were considered before Soviet command decided on Hermaszewski, who was promptly scheduled for spaceflight aboard Soyuz 30 alongside cosmonaut Pyotr Klimuk–coincidentally the first Belarusian in space.
The mission launched on June 27, 1978, and on the 29th docked with the Soviet space station Salyut 6. Hermaszewski and Klimuk had to share the tight quarters of Salyut 6 with the Russian crew of Soyuz 29, forcing the pair to perform much of their scientific mission from inside their Soyuz launch capsule. Despite this, Hermaszewski managed to make several breakthroughs on the effects of zero gravity on lung and heart capacity under stress, information that proved invaluable to future astronauts. In the course of the week-long mission, he also performed numerous chemical experiments, food tests, and an orbital photographic survey of Poland before returning to Earth on July 5th, landing in a Russian state farm and into the history books.
Every detail of Hermaszewski’s success is etched upon the Polish popular psyche–including his watch. For his trip on Soyuz 30, Hermaszewski was fitted with the very first Polish digital watch, the cutting-edge Unitra Warel. Built in Poland’s premier Unitra electronics factory using components developed in conjunction with Japanese tech giant Sanyo, the Unitra Warel was every bit as advanced as anything in the West. With a smooth lugless tonneau case and black crystal marked only with the Unitra U logo, the Warel was futuristic, sleek, and painfully late-70s cool. If the Cylons wore watches, they’d have worn Unitra Warels. So smooth was the Warel’s design that even timekeeping was an option–the display had to be manually activated by pressing the pusher at 2, bringing the current time blazing forward in bright crimson.
Now, nearly 40 years later, proudly-Polish watchmaker G. Gerlach is offering the Kosmonauta as a lightly modernized reissue of Hermaszewski’s piece. The Kosmonauta borrows the original case shape of the Warel and smooths it–instead of the original rounded hexagon, the case sides and crystal now form an even curve with a mix of polished and lightly brushed surfaces. The Kosmonauta features two manually-activated functions on the 2 o’clock pusher: press once for time, twice for date. Time-setting is similarly unchanged, and runs through the recessed crown at 4.
The materials here have definitely improved, however, with a sapphire crystal, knife-sharp edging, and 100-meters of water-resistance alongside an optional Darth Vader-esque PVD treatment. At a sporty 40mm, the size and heft should hit a sweet spot in wearability. One point of contention around the case might be the G. Gerlach etching at 6, which to my eye seems a bit oversized. The case back more than makes up for this minor gripe with one of the coolest features of the Kosmonauta–a deep, crisp case back etching of Mirosław Hermaszewski in his space suit (with prominent Polish markings) in front of the moon.
It’s a very cool addition, and one that’s just stylized enough to keep from looking too fiddly. Finishing off the design is a minimal, gently tapering 20mm bracelet that integrates wonderfully into the case. It really sets off the retro sci-fi vibe here, and the signed two-button clasp is a quality finishing touch.
Of course, one more major improvement can’t be overlooked. The quartz movement in the original Warel, while impressive for its day, would drain its battery within weeks of normal use. G. Gerlach’s own LED Module-001GG movement offers a far more modern 2-year battery life.
All in all, the G. Gerlach Kosmonauta is a real treat for anyone interested in space, 70’s design, or even those just looking for a fun new summer addition. At only $200 ($225 for the PVD), it’s a hard one to pass up.