For most, the name Rado conjures up visions of sleek, indestructible ceramic watches and decidedly avant-garde design language, which should come as no surprise, given that Rado is best known for their pioneering work with ceramics. From the original Integral, which made its debut in 1986, to the iconic Ceramica that followed, Rado’s reputation has been built on its innovative use of materials. But even so, the brand does have a storied, if somewhat brief, tradition beneath the waves.
Dive into the Past
The Captain Cook made its debut back in 1962, at a time when the public was still newly fascinated with the undiscovered world of the briny deep. With echoes of Jacques Cousteau’s groundbreaking documentary Le Monde du Silence reverberating culturally, the television show Sea Hunt airing in millions of homes, and sport diving coming into its own, dive watches were all the rage. In light of this, it should come as no surprise that Rado wanted in on the action. However, as a relative latecomer to the dive watch genre, which got its start in the early to mid-’50s with the likes of Blancpain and Rolex, it had to work harder to separate itself from the pack. And it did with a forward-looking case and bezel design that was at once unique and immediately recognisable, as well as practical in use and highly legible. Indeed, to these eyes, the design serves as well today as it did back then, without looking overtly retro for the sake of being retro.
A big part of what made the Captain Cook so unique was its inward-sloping bezel, which, when coupled with its box acrylic crystal, gave an impression of substance that belied its modest 35.5mm case size. And, of course, the looks were backed up with real diving chops — the Captain Cook was rated to a depth of 220m, which was a big deal in an era when 100m was considered a feat unto itself.
To this day, vintage Captain Cooks remain rare in the vintage marketplace by dint of their low production numbers — approximately 8,000 were made in total — and the fact that many were used exactly the way that Rado envisioned.
Smooth Sailing Ahead
Alas, the Captain Cook was only produced for six years, and in 1968 it sailed off into the sunset — until 2017 when Rado reintroduced the collection with a remarkably faithful homage to the original.
Clocking in at a mere 37mm in diameter, the new Captain Cook was larger than the original, but otherwise, it was a dead-ringer. (Indeed, at the time, Rado referred to it as a “vintage replica”.) All of the key details were present and accounted for, though in many cases, updated with today’s technology. For instance, the delightful box acrylic crystal was replaced with sapphire, while — perhaps most notably, given the brand — the concave bezel was now rendered in ceramic. And for those who wanted to make a more contemporary statement, the Captain Cook HyperChrome — released simultaneously — was rendered entirely in hardened titanium and measured a robust 45mm in diameter.
[It should be noted here that here at Revolution, we were so impressed with the reincarnated Captain Cook that we partnered with Rado not just once, but twice with our “Ghost Captain” limited editions in 37mm and 42mm, respectively.]
Initially, these watches were considered outliers in Rado’s portfolio, but it didn’t take long for their combination of style, provenance, and relative affordability to catch on with collectors. Traditionally a cult favourite due to its limited production, the new Captain Cook introduced an entirely new generation of dive watch aficionados to Rado’s underdog diver, and their success in doing so led to the creation of an entire collection. Today, that collection has something for pretty much everyone.
The 37mm homage is still part of Rado’s catalogue, but the go-to size is now a more modern 42mm, which can be had in either stainless steel or bronze (the 45mm titanium version has since been discontinued). And while the steel versions may be the closest in spirit to the original, the bronze models are the ones that have taken centre stage of late. Of course, bronze is nothing new in the dive watch genre these days, what with everyone and their grandmother having since jumped on the bandwagon — but few, if any of the current crop of bronze divers wear their duds as convincingly as the Captain Cook, and certainly not at this price point. Interestingly, unlike most manufactures, Rado chose a bronze/aluminium alloy similar to the one used by Tudor, which mitigates some of the trademark ageing that comes part and parcel with the material (patina lovers, take note). Even better, the Captain Cook Bronze is available in not one, but three dial colours — green, blue and brown — with matching ceramic bezels and leather straps.
Should stainless steel be your material of choice, however, you can choose from black, blue, green, grey or brown dials.
Regardless of case material, however, all 42mm Captain Cook models adhere to the same vintage-inspired design, which is reflected in such details as the red-printed date wheel, an available period-correct beads-of-rice bracelet option, and the whimsical pivoting anchor — a feature of all Rado automatics — that sits proudly on the dial. What’s more, Rado has implemented their EasyClip system here, which makes swapping out metal bracelets, leather and NATO textile straps, sans tools a breeze. Water resistance has been upgraded to 300m.
Under the hood, one could be excused for expecting to find the legendary workhorse ETA calibre 2824, which has been the movement of choice for countless tool watches owing to its sturdy construction and ease of service. Instead, however, Rado has seen fit to go with the capable RADO Caliber 763 (ETA calibre C07.611). What separates this movement from the standard fare that you would expect to find at this level is its impressive 80-hour power reserve, which ETA accomplished by reducing the beat rate from 28,800vph to 21,600vph, among other things. The hat trick here, however, is that in doing so, they still managed to keep the accuracy consistent, even at lower power levels, thanks to new manufacturing processes and materials.
Setting a Course Toward the Future
After having been dormant for decades, it is a true testament to the vision of the designers of the original Captain Cook that it resonates as strongly as it does today. Unlike other brands, which have strained and diluted their past catalogues to create timepieces that are the barest echos of what came before, Rado has remained utterly faithful to their roots, and in doing so, has breathed new life into a piece from their past and created a collection that will tae them well into the future.
And, speaking of that future, a quick look into our crystal ball hints at new dial/bezel colours, and possibly even a full ceramic version… Only time will tell. For now, the course has been set, and clear skies are ahead.
RADO Caliber 763 (ETA calibre C07.611)
42mm bronze, high-tech ceramic
Leather strap with easy clip system with optional metal bracelet, and NATO straps.
CHF 2,600 | USD 2,600
Captain Cook Automatic Bronze, Blue Ref. R32504205 | 01.763.0504.3.120; Green Ref. R32504315 | 01.763.0504.3.131; Brown Ref. R32504306 | 01.763.0504.3.230