Super Ceramics, Rado Pushes the Limits of Exotic Yet Affordable Materials
At Baselworld 2018, the Swiss brand introduced a variety of affordable, yet hard-wearing materials. Here’s a rundown.
As we sift through all the 2018 novelties presented at SIHH and Baselworld, it has been delightful to see how many brands have been playing around with alternatives to stainless steel and precious metals. From titanium to carbon fiber to ceramic, manufacturers are experimenting with of-the-moment materials to create timepieces that stand out for their looks, lightweight, and long-lasting finishes.
When it comes to innovation, Swiss manufacture Rado has a long history of Avant-Garde design and materials. And at Baselworld 2018, they built on that tradition by adding extensions that mix retro aesthetics with modern design and advances in colors and finishes.
Rado has been around since 1917, but its heyday began in the swinging sixties when it introduced what it called the world's first scratchproof watch, the DiaStar. In 1986, it added scratch-resistant high-tech ceramic to the bracelet of the Rado Integral (a timepiece that pretty much summed up the stark 1980s aesthetic).
The Sintra, launched in 1993, was the first Rado watch made of cermet, a titanium-based ceramic combined with metal. In 1998 the Ceramica was the first Rado watch chosen to feature patented plasma high-tech ceramic, a fascinating color and material combination that exudes a metallic glow without the use of any metal at all.
This all matters because ceramic is one of the hardest class of materials in the world. While lighter and more scratch resistant than metal, this makes a fussy one to work with. Ceramic is first pressed into the desired shape then baked at an extremely high temperature. After the ceramic is finished cooling, it is milled into the desired shape and polished. Color is created during this heating and cooling process.
Thin True Line
Because Rado tinkering with ceramic timepieces for decades, it has figured out how to work the science of ceramics and how to create a consistent color and finishes all while advancing design-wise. The True Thinline Nature Collection of 39mm watches is a celebration of these skills.
Available with earthy brown, leafy green and deep-sea blue, these timepieces also have complex dials that complement the ceramic bracelets. For example, the sparkly brown model boasts a metalized, galvanic growth coating, which reflects and refracts light. Green sports an applied leaf motif. And blue has a painted Mother of Pearl dial that shimmers in the light just like the ocean.
Each of the True Thinline trios is powered by an ETA 282.002 boosted 13 jewel quartz movement for accuracy. All are available for $2,100 each.
Automatic For The People
Rado’s most buzzworthy 2018 launch comes from its HyperChrome collection. The Automatic Chronograph Limited Edition was introduced just before Baselworld 2018. This watch takes advantage of the trend for bronze watches by mixing the ancient metal with high-tech ceramics.
Even the finish is futuristic. The case and bezel are made from matte brown, hypoallergenic scratch-proof ceramic. For contrast, the side inserts and pushers are made of bronze. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of materials -- one that will look fresh forever and the other which will take on a unique patina as it ages.
The movement inside the 45-mm timepiece is the classic 12 1/2 ETA 2894-2 with a 42-hour power reserve. The Automatic Chronograph is limited to 999 pieces, priced at $4,950 and hits stores in June.
For a more formal ceramic watch, the new 43 mm Rado DiaMaster models showcase Rado’s most advanced plasma ceramic cases. These highly polished monoblocs look like rose gold but are actually ceramic mixed with a metal alloy which provides much less weight. Giving the watches a beautiful warm tone and retaining the scratch resistance so many have come to know Rado for.
Visually, the most distinctive feature is the forward design of the multi-level dial with offset display of the hours, minutes, seconds and date. Each circle overlaps and connects but in an intuitive and easy-to-read way.
Available in both black and white, both versions have brushed sunray dial finishes. The white model is also set with two diamonds on a translucent smoked sapphire crystal. Each is powered by an ETA 2899-S2 automatic movement with a 42- hour power reserve. Again, pricing is quite reasonable for such an elegant watch: $2,950 for the black version and $3,150 for the white.
Last year at Baselworld, Rado made news with its vintage-inspired Captain Cook dive watch. For 2018, Rado is digging even deeper into its archives with the Tradition 1965 XL. With its 44-mm squared case, deep blue dial and modernist markers, this bold timepiece is based on a model from 1965, which itself took its geometric design from the jazziness of the Manhattan skyline (which was also one of the first water-resistant square watches).
The Tradition 1965 XL new take on the original’s angular aesthetic while updating it with more modern materials. Rado is not only renowned for working ceramics but also non-traditional metals and the 1965 XL’s case is crafted from PVD coated titanium, a material that is almost 40 percent lighter than stainless steel.
The Tradition 1965 XL also includes other unique elements. For example, Rado’s famous rotating red anchor (which indicates an automatic movement), pivots according to the orientation of the timepiece. It also has a cushion-shaped case back set on a supple leather strap for extra comfort.
The Tradition 1965 XL is priced $2,350 for the XL is limited to 1,965 pieces. Two smaller, 35mm x 35mm stainless steel versions will also be available. One has a silver dial with cognac leather strap and costs $1,950. And there will also be 65 pieces of a diamond-studded version, is limited to just 65 pieces and priced at $7,650.
For decades, Rado has also been ahead of the curve by experimenting with design and non-traditional materials. So, it makes sense that even its 1960s references still feel fresh. That and their affordability makes these timepieces a good investment in the future.
(Photography by Liam O’Donnell)