As little as ten years ago, you knew what you were getting with modern Rado. Between the sleek, minimal designs and the cutting-edge, high-tech ceramic that the Swiss watchmaker’s now synonymous with, they were closer to space age than your usual, more classical take on horology.
It’s the kind of futurist’s ideal that’s still very much a part of what they’re doing in the sinuous case shape of the True Thinline or the gargantuan sports watches of the HyperChrome – a name that itself sounds ripped from sci-fi pulp novels. Both models lean on ceramic heavily, both are uniquely eye-catching and instantly identifiable as Rado.
They’re also seven seas away from the brand’s most successful piece in years, the Captain Cook. The Captain Cook first made its way into Rado’s catalogue in 1962, at the fishtail end of the golden age of underwater exploration. While Rolex, Blancpain and Doxa were already more entrenched in the diving world than the Mariana, Rado nonetheless manage to make their deep-dweller stand out with an incredible dial and bezel combination. It became an instant classic and, despite hanging around for just six years, original Captain Cooks still command serious money.
Then, after a nearly 50-year hiatus, Rado brought it back in 2017. It didn’t just make a splash; you could argue that the reintroduced, uncompromisingly retro Captain Cook of four years ago is largely to thank for the tsunami of historic timepieces dusted off from archives and brought back to life. Needless to say, it did pretty well for itself.
Since then there have been a few versions of the Captain Cook, with case sizes ranging from the original 36mm version to larger models in steel of course, but also bronze and a fair few dial colours to compliment those vintage good looks. The only problem, like with many a re-issue, is where do you go from there? How do you bring together an icon defined by late 50s utilitarianism with the kind of cutting-edge materials and streamlined, semi-futuristic designs that are fully the province of modern Rado? Simple, really: the Captain Cook High Tech Ceramic.
Ceramic and retro don’t generally go hand-in-hand, and the material’s natural, ultra-hard sheen makes for a drastically different feel to the bones of the Captain Cook. It looks and feels smoother, sleeker and dramatically more modern, like decking out a vintage Riva in carbon fibre and chrome. It turns charmingly retro into downright cool, on the surface or 300m down.
Going beyond looks though and the monoblock ceramic case is arguably perfect for a watch designed for adverse elements. It’s not particularly lightweight, which isn’t really an issue in the depths, but it is super hard and immune to corrosion, both elements that hammer home the new watch’s position as a serious diver. If ceramic like this was around in the early 60s, we’d probably see at least a few vintage tool watches in the same vein.
The Captain Cook High Tech Ceramic feels a lot more serious too. I loved the diminutive size of that first re-released version but here the 43mm fits the bolder, performance theme perfectly. Paired with Rado’s own R734 calibre with its impressive 80-hour power reserve and an antimagnetic Nivachron™ balance spring, it’s as solid as bedrock, even when near a magnet or two.
Looks wise, the line between past and present is a little more obvious. While the case proportions and that iconic bezel and crown are all present and correct, the dial has been given a smoked sapphire overhaul, a semi-openwork look at the movement underneath that’s normally reserved for skeleton watches. If one were to overanalyse, you could say that it’s a visual representation of the dichotomies inherent in updating an archival design with cutting-edge watchmaking. Or you could just say that it looks cool and move on. Which it does.
The new Captain Cook comes in three different flavours. You have a black ceramic case with steel elements, black ceramic with rose gold elements and a version in what Rado call Plasma High-Tech Ceramic. This is basically ceramic on steroids, fired at 20,000°C and cools to a unique metallic, gunmetal colour. Here that gunmetal is paired with blue ceramic for what is at once the most traditional looking and the most advanced of the three.
Indeed, while I’d say the black ceramic case is the standout, it’s the Plasma that best bridges the gap between Rado’s retro design heritage and their modern exploration of technology and new materials. It looks like a nice, modern diver by way of retro inspiration, but includes the mastery of modern materials that’s specific to Rado.
If you’re a fan of the original Captain Cooks, don’t fret. The new ceramic versions don’t mean that Rado is giving up on their archives. It just means that now there is a clear, succinct link between the watchmaker’s vintage past and their ceramic-clad future.
Price & Specs:
Model: Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic
Reference: R32127162 (black ceramic case, rose gold PVD bezel, black ceramic bracelet)
R32127152 (black ceramic case, black ceramic bracelet)
R32127156 (black ceramic case, rubber strap)
R32128202 (plasma and blue ceramic, matt ceramic bracelet)
Case/Dial: 43mm diameter x 14.6mm height, ceramic case, black tinted sapphire crystal dial
Water resistance: 300m (30 bar)
Movement: In-house Rado calibre R734, automatic, 25 jewels
Power reserve: 80h
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds,
Strap: Matt ceramic bracelet or black rubber
Price/availability: £3,440 (black ceramic/rose gold PVD), £3,345 (black ceramic/black ceramic bracelet), £3,065 (black ceramic/black rubber strap) and £3,530 (plasma and blue ceramic/matt ceramic bracelet)
More details at Rado.