August 19, 2019
by Ariel Adams
Swiss Rado describes the purpose of the largest and most modern-looking of the Captain Cook watches it produces today as “reimagined retro timepieces for a contemporary folk hero look.” This is a complicated timepiece to review because it signals something different from a brand collectors tend to know for other trademark aesthetics, and because the context around the reason for the product existing (taking into consideration its companion products) is difficult to summarize. Suffice it to say that Rado — as an established and well-diversified brand — is currently in a fascinating transformational shift and in the process of trying new things. The Hyperchrome collection Captain Cook Automatic 45mm is a product of the brand’s interest in its past, as well as its future. How is that possible?
It is possible because the Rado Captain Cook Automatic 45mm is meant to be a modern-day version of a classic Rado idea… while at the same time, Rado also sells a more authentic homage watch product to the original 1962-era Rado Captain Cook models. That means consumers (right now, at least) can opt for a 37mm-wide retro-inspired Captain Cook watch (in steel), then they were offered a still retro-looking but larger 42mm-wide Captain Cook, also in steel, and finally this 45mm-wide, much more modern-looking Captain Cook in titanium with a 45mm-wide case.
Rado has always been a brand about modern design, but it has been nearly impossible for historic watchmakers to ignore the palatable appeal for vintage-inspired, well, everything, these days. As a brand with a lot of interesting historical watches, Rado did the work of asking, “What can return from yesterday that will look fresh today?” One answer to that question is the Captain Cook Automatic 45mm, which is Rado’s most modern-looking dive watch that they have ever come up with.
The Captain Cook Automatic 45mm is a highly original watch and, in person, there is nothing else out on the market (unless you look to other Rado products) that looks anything like it. This is actually the second review of the Captain Cook model that we’ve published on aBlogtoWatch. Our first review was of a different version of this Rado Hyperchrome Captain Cook Automatic timepiece in blue on a matching strap and is published here. Now I add my thoughts about this quirky but cool item from the larger Swatch Group empire of companies.
While I personally appreciate the aesthetics and wearability of the 37mm- and 42mm-wide Captain Cook models, what I fail to see is how they are modern-day Rados. Rado, to me, is a company all about modern design and modern materials. Innovation in ceramics and other contemporary watch-case materials have been a cornerstone of the Rado brand since the 1980s. So, while the brand’s steel dive watches are perfectly competent products, they fail to excite me, as a collector, as “modern dive watches from Rado.” The 45mm-wide titanium Captain Cook is much more “that” product.
Produced in scratch-resistant titanium, and dazzling the wearer with dial materials and finishes you just don’t see from smaller brands with less industrial capacity, the Captain Cook 45mm titanium has a lot of good traits. Where is staggers a bit is in the large size of the case and the design, which leaves a lot of timepiece traditionalists cold. That means that, despite their efforts, the 45mm Captain Cook “Modern” isn’t ready for universal appeal, making it an excellent watch for a niche audience.
Who is that niche audience? Mainly wristwatch enthusiasts with large to extra-large wrists and hands. The main problem for many wearers of the 45mm-wide version of the Rado Captain Cook will be the timepiece’s size. The case is 45mm-wide, nearly 14mm-thick, and it has a nearly 57mm lug-to-lug distance. Combine that with the cartoon-style plumpness of the main dial elements and you have a large timepiece that, on top of that, looks like a large timepiece, visually. I am at the point where I like a lot of what Rado offers in the Captain Cook titanium, but I’d love to see it in a 42-43mm-wide size. Is Rado ready to add a fourth flavor to the Captain Cook Automatic collection?
The 42mm addition to the collection, after the 37mm and 45mm Captain Cook product releases, shows that Rado needs more variety to appeal to more customers. That said, the 42mm-wide Captain Cook is not a smaller modern Captain Cook, but a larger vintage-style one in steel. Nothing wrong with that product, but I am of the belief that the way forward for a brand like Rado is with modern design — not designs that can’t break from molds of the past.
Where Rado really gets the Captain Cook right is in taking an effective retro dial design and rendering it in modern materials for a lot of modern taste preferences. Available with a black or blue dial to match the hardened titanium case, this watch is very compelling on paper. What makes the watch strange, as I said are the proportions and overall plumpness of the watch that doesn’t always seem necessary. For example, as a 200-meter water-resistant watch it doesn’t need to be nearly 14mm-thick. Yet, that is part of the dial’s charm — being so deep with a downward-sloping glossy ceramic bezel insert that visually merges into the silver-toned sloped chapter ring around the main dial.
Note the signature “floating” Rado anchor, which is a brand design detail many people miss. Basically, the polished silver-toned anchor against the red circle background spins freely with gravity like a small automatic rotor. It doesn’t wind anything, but it is one of those fun visual examples that the watch contains and the automatic movement is a design quirk I, personally, love about the brand.
As a diver-style watch, the Captain Cook 45mm is capable. The 200 meters of water resistance combines with the extremely good legibility (in the dark with lume glowing included) makes for a nice companion while doing sports. The case is also remarkably comfortable. even though it tends to look awkward on smaller wrists. Rado wants the Captain Cook Titanium to have a bit more of an eye-catching look to it, so the dial elements are polished and glossy (as opposed to matte). Despite that, the dial is legible. How is that possible? Rado pulled a card from the Omega playbook (both brands are part of the Swatch Group) and designed the dial of the Captain Cook 45mm to be finished similar to how the glossy-dial Seamaster Planet Ocean models look. Of course, these are different watches, but if you know the Planet Ocean (most of them) you can attest to the fact that, while it has a domed crystal, it does get some glare and, further, has polished dial elements, but it still remains very legible (despite being challenging to photograph sometimes).
In some ways, the Captain Cook can be thought of as an accessible Planet Ocean. The more I wear the watch, the more I feel that theme is what Rado was going for. At less than half the cost of most Omega Planet Ocean products, there is certainly a market for such a theme. On the bracelet (as opposed to the available fabric strap) Rado opts for a polished center link, resulting in a more “lifestyle” (as opposed to tool watch) look. It is a Rado after all…