Click here to return to the index of articles at WatchCarefully.com
Vintage Rado Automatic Watches (Part 1)

Originally published in International Wristwatch

Number 69, July 2003

In 2002 the Rado Watch Company, Ltd. of Switzerland celebrated the 40th anniversary of the introduction of their groundbreaking oval DiaStar ('The Original') scratch-resistant watch. Rado, who is best known today for their elegant dress watches and use of high-tech materials, is one of a select group of companies who have continuously produced automatic watches during the past four decades. The DiaStar is certainly Rado’s most recognizable automatic watch, however, the company produced literally dozens of different automatic models during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s many of which are stunning, some of which are remarkable and most of which can be found even today in good condition and at excellent prices.

Among the myriad watches created by Rado between the 1960 and the late ‘80s quite a few stand out. The Green Horse line of watches are noteworthy for their popularity and longevity; the Captain Cook for its rarity; and the Manhattan for its style and complex construction. Several other Rado automatic lines are noteworthy for their fascinating and modern designs; photos of a number of these watches are shown on the following pages. But before we explore variations of the aforementioned watches, let’s take a look at a feature that is shared by all Rado automatics and is found nowhere else.

The rotating logo on the dial of Rado automatic watches is an oft-overlooked feature (one of many) that helps set these watches apart from other automatics of the same era. A variation of Rado’s anchor emblem, the rotating logo is attached to the dial by means of a post, jutting from the rear of the anchor, that fits through a red bearing mounted on the dial. This construction mimics two elements of the watch’s automatic movement: a pinion seated in a ruby jewel and the swinging of the winding rotor. The logo swings freely and is not tied at all to the winding of the watch or its running. It is, however, a subtle and most interesting feature. The rotating version described here was first used in 1962; on some older products, the anchor symbol was simply printed. The anchor, representing the success of the automatic watches, is now an integral part of the Rado logo. (Author's note: Additional information from the original patent application is found here.)


Images from original Rado patent application Rado Green Horse day-date - Photo by Sam (OneSound) Rado New Green Horse Rado Green Horse (Photo courtesy Rado Watch Co. Seahorse logo on case back

Green Horse

Another common feature of most Rado automatics from the era is the use of the Seahorse motif. Rado water-resistant case backs of the era were engraved with a medallion picturing two or three seahorses with the words “Water-Sealed” beneath.

The Sea Horse theme was also used on bracelet clasps and in model names such as Purple Horse and Green Horse. These “Horse” models are legion and were made in many different variations (often in relatively small production runs of 5,000 pieces or fewer). Some models were only available regionally and their names may be specific to their target markets. A survey of auction websites and on-line vintage watch sellers (located mainly in Asia) will reveal a substantial number of Rado “Horses” with various dial styles and colors; case shapes and sizes; and movements. Some noteworthy models are powered by 30-jewel A. Schild movements with calendar, and are found with tonneau and round cases as large as 38mm in diameter.

The Green Horses (and similar lines) represent a good entry-level vintage watch value. Well-preserved pieces can often be found for prices starting under $100 and the combination of interesting design, reliable movements, and low production numbers make them fun to own and wear.

GREEN HORSE

Ref. 606.3252.4

Start of production: 1980

End of production: 1982

Quantity: ca 2,000 pieces

Ref. 11769

Start of production: 1965

End of production: 1967

Quantity: ca 5,000 pieces

Note, literally dozens of reference numbers exist for the models named Green Horse, Purple Horse, Golden Horse, etc. This information pertains to just a couple of representative models shown in this article.


Captain Cook


As mentioned before, Rado is known today for modern design, experimental case materials and elegant, dressy quartz watches. Sporty automatics make up a very small portion of their production, but some intriguing diver’s watches have come from Lengnau, including those named for the 18th Century explorer Captain James Cook. In 1962 Rado began production of a water-resistant watch with black rotating bezel and large, luminous hands. Emblazoned on the dial was the name Captain Cook. At a glance, the design offers little to set the watch apart from divers’ watches of other brands, but a few features make this a remarkable and hard-to-find piece. The fact that it is a divers’ watch made by Rado makes it unusual and, of course, it has the ubiquitous rotating anchor, but other facts make it notable.

Early Captain Cook - Photo by Brandon Sparks Movement of early Captain Cook - Photo by Brandon Sparks

The model shown above was made for only a short period. Production began in 1962 and ended in 1968, during which time only about 8,000 pieces were made. Eight thousand watches, made 40 years ago (before mechanical watches became something of an anachronism in the 1970s) and intended to be used underwater helps account for them being in short supply today. The second notable feature of this watch is its automatic movement, which is perhaps the finest offered by Rado at the time. A lovely automatic movement based on the A. Schild calibre 1700/01 powers the Captain Cook. The movement sports a gold-plated rotor and is adjusted and outfitted with thirty jewels.

Men's Captain Cook day-date - Photo courtesy Rado Watch Co. Captain Cook movement (men's model) Ladies' Captain Cook automatic - Photo courtesy Rado Watch Co.
Rado revised the Captain Cook in both men's and ladies'; versions later in the 1960s, changing the shape to a tonneau and using an internal rotating bezel adjustable by a second crown at 4:00. A 25-jewel automatic movement powers this iteration. These watches are also difficult to find today but were made in much higher quantities and seem to come on the market more frequently than the earliest model. A newer model has helped carry on the spirit of Captain Cook in the Rado collection. In 1998, Rado issued a DiaStar diver’s model, which utilizes a similar rotating inner bezel, in a limited series of 5000 pieces. The current line-up of Rado's The Original (Diastar) includes a pair of colorful diver models (see www.Rado.com).

CAPTAIN COOK

Ref. 11683

Start of production: 1962

End of production: 1968

Quantity: ca 8,000 pieces

Dial versions: black only

Ref. 770

Start of production: 1962

End of production: 1968

Quantity: ca 3,000 pieces

Ref. 727

Start of production: 1966

End of production: 1972

Quantity: ca 15,000 pieces

Ref. 11773 (new Ref. 589.3004.4)

Start of production: 1965

End of production: 1972

Quantity: ca 50,000 pieces

Ref. 11868 (new Ref. 999.3004.4)

Start of production: 1967

End of production: 1972

Quantity: ca 5,000 pieces


Manhattan


Perhaps the most distinctive of vintage Rado automatics is the Manhattan line, the focus of a cult following among Rado aficionados. Of the brand’s radical and funky designs, this is the most distinctive and perhaps the most often copied, a recent example being the rectangular models of the Seiko S-Wave collection that was available at the time of this article's publication. Some vintage Seiko models are also almost exact copies of the original Manhattan line that pushed the envelope of design…it is easy to see why it was so often copied.

Two case styles were offered in the men’s Manhattan watches. With large rectangular shapes, wide dials, and unconventional hour markers, the Manhattan line: the original model with squared edges, and the more rounded second model (often referred to as the New Manhattan). Both are large, imposing watches with the larger measuring a massive 37 mm wide and 40.5 mm lug-to-lug. The thickness of the watch is more than 12 mm at its center.

The visual impact of this watch notwithstanding, the true innovation exhibited by this watch is its construction. Appearing at a glance to simply be a square bezel and crystal with a snap-on back, disassembling the watch reveals a design that may be unique in the genre and is watertight, Rado claimed, to a pressure of 22 ATM (a depth of 220 meters or 726 feet). Such protection is accomplished with a crystal-and-gasket system and a very tight and massive snap-on back that completely envelops the movement (see photos). The acrylic crystal, far from being just a protective cover for the dial, is actually integral to the seal of the watch. Though some later versions of the Manhattan employed a standard snap-on back, the original models all utilized this innovative design and, for this reason, often have very well-preserved movements.

Rado Manhattan - Photo by Sam (OneSound) Rado New Manhattan Rado New Manhattan - Photo by Sam (OneSound) Crystal, dial and case back assembly Crystal, dial and case back assembly Crystal, dial and case back assembly Original images from Rado patent application

MANHATTAN Ref. 11815 (new reference: 625.3011.4)

Start of production: 1965

End of production: 1973

Quantity: ca 50,000 pieces

Dial versions: white, light grey, dark grey, black, blue and red

Special dials: with blue and green plots

Bracelet: ref. 00571

Price: CHF 340.- in 1970

Comments: super-waterproof (22 atmospheres)

MANHATTAN de LUXE SS Ref. 11914 (new reference: 625.3025.4)

Start of production: 1970

End of production: 1978

Quantity: ca 40,000 pieces

Dial versions: 6 different white, 5 different black versions, blue

Bracelet: ref. 00571

Price: CHF 340.- in 1970

Comment: succession-model to above watch (11815)

Price comparison ca. 1970 US$

Rado Manhattan: $116 (43,800 Yen in 1972)

Omega Speedmaster Professional: $185

Images from 1972 Rado Catalogue 1960s advertisement Images from 1972 Rado Catalogue Manhattan and Mini Manhattan1970s Rado ad for New ManhattanManhattans with simili stone markers- Photo Courtesy Woodlands1The three sizes of Rado's Manhattan line



This noteworthy brand, most often recognized as a current leader in design, a pioneer in the use of ultra-hard case materials and a sponsor of professional sporting events, has been on the cutting edge of design for more than four decades. The Rado watches shown here, as well as others featuring radical case and dial designs--Starliner, DiaMaster, NCC models—can be found at prices that are attractive both to the collector and the person seeking an extraordinary and reliable watch for daily wear.

Rado Purple Gazelle - Photo by Sam (OneSound) Rado Green Horse - Photo by Sam (OneSound) Rado NCC 404 Rado NCC 444 (ladies' model)

The next installment of this article will be available February 2008 in iW magazine and at WatchCarefully.com

Author's note: If you have a vintage Rado watch and want to learn more about it, I may be able to provide information. E-mail me or post at the Rado Forum with the model name, reference number, movement number and, if possible, photos or link to images, and I'll let you know if info is available from my notes or from records given to me by Rado.

Text and images © C. Bradley Jacobs and WatchCarefully.com unless otherwise indicated.


For more articles, visit:
Click here to return to the index of articles at WatchCarefully.com