What You Should Know Before Buying the Rado Captain Cook

What You Should Know Before Buying the Rado Captain Cook

Since it hit the market less than a decade ago, the Rado Captain Cook has rapidly built an avid following among watch enthusiasts while also casting a brighter spotlight on its parent brand, which had previously been known more for avant-garde, fashion-oriented timepieces than vintage-look, sport-focused ones. Eyeing one of these retro-stylish and accessibly priced divers as your next watch purchase? Here is what you need to know about the Rado Captain Cook collection.

The Brand Behind the Captain: Rado History

Rado was founded in 1917 by brothers Fritz, Ernst, and Werner Schlup, who converted their parents’ home in Lengnau, in the Swiss canton of Bern, into a watch factory. Originally dubbed Schlup & Co.,the family firm started out making movements but eventually found success as a watch producer in 1957 with the launch of the Rado brand (the name means “wheel” in Esperanto) and its first timepiece, the Rado Golden Horse, one of the first wristwatches marketed with an emphasis on its antimagnetic properties. The company followed it up in 1962 with the futuristic DiaStar model (below) — touted as “the world’s first scratch-proof watch” and recognized as the first commercially available “ceramic watch” — which was groundbreaking in its use of hardmetal and sapphire glass for increased scratch-resistance. 

Rado DiaStar Tribute Edition

The DiaStar ushered in Rado’s modern credo of exploring the most avant-garde, high-tech materials for ideal comfort and durability in its watches. In 1986, the same year it became part of what’s now known as the Swatch Group, Rado took that mission to a new level with the launch of the Ceramica, the first watch with a case and bracelet made of high-tech ceramic, a material that has been a calling card of the Rado collection ever since. Rado continues to produce many distinctive product families, the vast majority of which use ceramics and ceramic alloys in their construction, including the elegantly understated True Thinline and the boldly styled HyperChrome. However, the collection that has garnered the most attention from the enthusiasts community made its debut fairly recently, in 2017, though it traces its aesthetic roots way back to that seminal year of 1962, the same year as the DiaStar. 

Captain James Cook

The original Rado Captain Cook was a sporty divers’ watch, released in an era that saw both an explosion in the popularity of recreational diving and a slew of water-resistant wristwatches released to serve the growing masses of scuba enthusiasts — the most famous and influential being the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, released nearly a decade prior. Rado’s watch — which took its name from the 18th-century British explorer, cartographer and naval officer James Cook (above) — was notable for its beads-of-rice metal bracelet, its inward-sloping rotating dive-scale bezel, and its sealed caseback bearing an embossed pair of seahorses. Equipped with the self-winding A. Schild AS1701 caliber, the Captain Cook was made in very limited quantities, perhaps as low as 8,000 pieces, and failed to find much of an audience in an era that was fairly well saturated with purpose-built, affordable dive watches from better-known watch brands. The last of the original Captain Cook models rolled off the production line in 1968, and the design languished in Rado’s archives for nearly 50 years. 

Hyperchrome Captain Cook: A Vintage Diver Surfaces

Rado Captain Cook Automatic - steel blue dial

In 2017, in the throes of a full-on “retro revival” throughout the luxury watch industry, Rado made the decision to resurrect its nearly forgotten divers’ model from the 1960s and update it for today’s demanding audience. Initially positioned as part of Rado’s Hyperchrome family, the first modern generation of the Captain Cook consisted of two steel models at 37mm in diameter — just a smidgen bigger than the original’s 35.5mm dimensions — and one titanium version at a more contemporary-for-the-time 45mm. In most respects, the 21st-century Captain Cooks are faithful to their ancestors: large, arrow-shaped hands, blocky hour indexes, 3 o’clock date window, the hallmark inward-curving divers bezel, now with an insert made of high-tech ceramic, a box-shaped sapphire crystal, and the solid steel caseback stamped with three seahorses. Behind that caseback with its aquatic motif is an automatic movement from ETA (Rado now being part of the Swatch Group, also movement-maker ETA’s parent company), Caliber C07.611, which imparts an 80-hour power reserve that would have been unthinkable to buyers of the original 1960s models. 

Captain Cook Automatic

Rado Captain Cook Automatic Two-Tone green dial

Price: $2,150 - $2,600, Case Size: 37mm/42mm, Thickness: 11.1mm/12.3mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters/300 meters, Movement: Automatic ETA C07.611

The Rado Captain Cook was an unqualified hit for the avant-garde Swiss watchmaker and has since proven to be both a flagship (nautical pun intended) of its portfolio and the progenitor of an entire collection in its own right, separate from the Hyperchrome family in which it debuted as of 2019. The original three-hand-date Captain Cook Automatic is now available in either a vintage-appropriate 37mm case diameter or a slightly upsized 42mm; a larger 44mm case size has apparently been discontinued. Most Captain Cook Automatics are in steel cases, some with a two-tone execution that employs gold PVD and/or ceramic details (as above). Below, we spotlight some highlights and milestones from the modern Captain Cook collection, including the first models with cases made of pioneering materials like bronze and high-tech ceramic, the first skeleton movements, and the first complicated models in the collection, including a chronograph and world timer. 

Captain Cook Burgundy Bronze 

Rado Captain Cook Burgundy Bronze

Price: $2,850, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 12.5mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 300 meters, Movement: Automatic ETA C07.611

Rado unveiled the first Captain Cook Automatics in bronze cases in 2020, bestowing them with handsome blue, gray, and green dials, and followed those up shortly thereafter with this notable version, the Captain Cook Burgundy Bronze. The watch’s 42-mm brushed bronze case is paired with a sunburst burgundy dial and a matching dive-scale bezel insert made of ceramic. (Rado also makes a smaller version, at 37mm, and had previously made a larger one, at 45mm; this model is the happy medium). The hands and markers are in a yellow-gold color that matches the case’s bronze tone, and at 12 o’clock sits the similarly hued anchor logo on a ruby background that swings subtly with the motions of the wearer’s wrist. The caseback is made of solid titanium rather than the traditional steel, and shields the movement, a self-winding ETA C07.611, from up to 300 meters of water pressure. Bronze, as many aficionados likely now know, is a metal historically used in shipbuilding as well as in the construction of equipment like divers’ helmets, making it very on-theme for a dive watch named after a historical sailor. 

Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic

Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic

Price: $3,700 - $4,100, Case: 43mm, Thickness: 14.6mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water-Resistance: 300m, Movement: Automatic Rado R734 (ETA Powermatic 80 base)

Considering its history, it was probably inevitable that Rado would eventually create a version of the Captain Cook with not only the bezel but the entire case made fully from its own “high-tech” ceramic. Making its debut in 2021, the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic is the first watch in the vintage-inspired collection to feature a 43mm case made from a monobloc of Rado’s own specially developed ceramic material, known for a high degree of scratch-resistance and hypoallergenic properties. The model featured here uses black high-tech ceramic for both the case and bracelet, as well as the dive-scale insert of the unidirectional bezel, which is made from stainless steel. The case uses panes of black-tinted sapphire for the crystal in front and for the exhibition window in the back, both offering views of the movement inside, Rado Caliber R734, which is a skeletonized version of the Powermatic 80 mechanism found in previous Captain Cook models. The movement also incorporates a Nivarox hairspring that helps protect its inner workings from magnetic fields. The clear dial’s wide arrow hands and indexes are filled with white Super-LumiNova, and the Rado rotating anchor symbol occupies its familiar spot at 12 o’clock.

Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic Diver

Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic Diver

Price: $3,700, Case Size: 43mm, Case Thickness: 14.6mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 300 meters, Movement: Automatic Rado Caliber R763

The Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic Diver, launched in 2022, differs from the other High-Tech Ceramic models in its use of a solid dial rather than a sapphire one with an openwork design. This model’s olive-colored case and bracelet are formed entirely from a monobloc of the hallmark material, along with the dive-scale insert of the unidirectional bezel, which is made from stainless steel. The matte, olive green dial seamlessly continues the monochromatic aesthetic, with the hallmark handset of the Captain Cook family (wide arrow-tipped hour hand and thin minute hand) and a date window with a red numeral, a callback to the 1960s versions.. The hands and indexes are filled with white Super-LumiNova, and the Rado rotating anchor symbol occupies its familiar spot at 12 o’clock. The exhibition caseback offers a view of the movement inside, Rado Caliber R763, a variant of the Powermatic 80 mechanism found throughout the collection. The matte-finished bracelet attaches with a fold-over clasp.

Captain Cook High Tech Ceramic Limited Edition

Price: $4,800, Case Size: 43mm, Thickness: 14.6mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Rado Caliber R808 (Powermatic 80 base)

For the skeletonized Captain Cook High Tech Ceramic Limited Edition released in 2022, Rado crafted both the bezel and crown of the 43mm case in high-tech ceramic for the first time. Another first for the model, which is limited to 1,962 editions in honor of the year of the first Captain Cook watch, is the “fingerprint-proofing” of the ceramic bezel in addition to the material’s usual scratch-proofing. The matte-black color scheme features high-contrast golden accents on the indexes, hands, and bezel markers. The smoked sapphire crystal covers the skeletonized dial with its front view of the movement, automatic Caliber R808, derived from the base Powermatic 80 and equipped with an antimagnetic Nivachron hairspring. The matte-black high-tech ceramic bracelet matches the case and fastens to the wrist with a titanium triple-fold clasp with ceramic push-buttons.

Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph

Rado Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph

Price: $4,750, Case Size: 43mm, Thickness: 14.8mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 300 meters, Movement: Automatic Caliber R801 (ETA A31.211 base)

The rapidly expanding Captain Cook fleet welcomed its first chronograph models in 2022. The classic dive-watch elements are still present in the well-received line extension, which includes this model with a navy blue dial, a matching blue ceramic bezel insert, and a 43mm case made of nautically inspired bronze. For actual sailing enthusiasts who wear the model, the chronograph function of the watch’s movement, the ETA-based Rado Caliber R801, can be pressed into service to help in the timing of a regatta race. The self-winding movement holds a power reserve of nearly 60 hours, not as long as the Powermatic 80 in the non-chronograph models, but still quite respectable. The bronze case has a box-shaped sapphire crystal over the bicompax dial — with parallel counters at 3 and 9 o’clock and the telltale red-numeral date window at 6 o’clock — and fastens to a blue NATO strap with golden stripes that echo the case and the bronze-colored elements on the dial and bezel.

Captain Cook Over-Pole Limited Edition

Rado Captain Cook Over-Pole

Price: $2,500, Case Size: 37mm, Thickness: 10.3mm, Lug-to-Lug: 43.1mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Manually wound Rado R862 (ETA 2804-2 base)

Joining the Chronograph models in the more complicated end of the Captain Cook pool, the Over-Pole, a handsome world-time model in a very wearable 37mm steel case, debuted in 2022. Like the base model, it is a modern reworking of a model released by Rado in the 1960s. Surrounding the gradient dial with its emblematic hands, hour markers, ruby anchor emblem, and red-type date window, is a large, rotating bezel (inward-sloping, as on the dive-scale versions) with a laser-engraved city ring on a ceramic insert. The 24 cities inscribed on the bezel, which has an easy-to-grip serrated edge, can be aligned with the 24-hour numerals that accompany the 12 applied markers, to read world times outside the wearer’s home time zone. Rado has opted for a manually winding movement inside: the ETA-based Caliber R862, which is showcased behind a sapphire caseback and delivers an 80-hour power reserve. Unlike most of the other Captain Cook models, the Over-Pole is a limited edition — of 1,962 pieces, a fairly obvious reference to the original watch’s launch year. It remains to be seen if Rado issues non-limited versions of the world timer, but more expansion of the collection in the coming years is surely an inevitability.

Captain Cook x Cameron Norrie Limited Edition

Price: $2,700, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 12.3mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Rado Caliber R763 (Powermatic 80 base)

Rado has been a sponsor of tennis events since 1985 and in 2023 the brand teamed up with South African-born, British player Cameron Norrie, winner of five ATP Tour singles titles, to create this limited edition with a green gradient dial (reminiscent of a tennis ball), with bright yellow dots on the minutes scale at the traditional tennis scoring increments of 15, 30, and 40. The 42mm case is in polished stainless steel, highlighted by the dark green high-tech ceramic insert in the rotating dive-scale bezel. The watch is mounted on a steel bracelet and comes with two additional bracelet options, a black leather strap and a green-and-white-striped textile NATO strap. The automatic movement delivers an 80-hour power reserve. A special certificate is included with each watch, confirming its limited edition number out of 823 pieces — a number chosen to pay tribute to Norrie’s August 23 birthday.


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