The Rado Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph, an odyssey in design and timekeeping

More than a watch, the Rado Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph encapsulates the manufacture’s century-long pursuit of excellence, reminding us that in the world of watchmaking, the journey is as significant as, if not more than, the destination.

From the quaint Swiss village of Lengnau emerged a watchmaking marvel, one that would go on to etch its name in horological history. In 1917, while Europe was in turmoil from war, the modest Schlup & Co. brand quietly embarked on a journey. However, it was only in the early 1950s that Rado truly began its trailblazing journey under its now-iconic moniker. The pivotal moment can be traced back to 1957 when the Rado Golden Horse watch collection was unveiled. No ordinary run-of-the-mill timepiece, the extraordinary marvel broke barriers with water resistant capability that was radical for its day.

The 1960s was an exciting decade highlighted by technological advancements, the fervor of Moon landings and a burgeoning interest in the mystique of deep-sea explorations. As watchmakers raced to craft the perfect underwater companion, Rado made waves yet again in 1962 with the launch of Captain Cook. This was a watch that captured the zeitgeist of the times and was an ode to man’s insatiable desire to explore the unknown.

Rado Captain Cook (1962)
Rado Captain Cook (1962)

Nothing short of revolutionary, the Captain Cook quickly became a talking point among aficionados and the watch industry. From its distinctive concave inward-sloping dive bezel to the “beads of rice” bracelet and domed acrylic crystal glass with date magnifying sub-lens, every unique design element was a nod to the avant-garde design of its time. Punctuated with the iconic Rado logo on the crown, its sharp case flaunted a rather unconventional 35.5mm size. Powered by the A. Schild AS1701 automatic movement with a concealed gold-plated rotor, the cutting-edge timepiece was clearly a perfect blend of form and function.

Unfortunately, the journey of the original Captain Cook was short-lived. Its brilliant design was overshadowed by the industry’s constant innovations and consumers’ ever- changing needs, which led the watch to become a mere memory in the Rado archives. After an exclusive production run, speculated to be limited to just 8,000 pieces, it vanished from the market by 1968, awaiting a resurrection.

The New-Age Captain Cook

Nearly half a century later, Baselworld 2017 was abuzz as Rado made a surprise announcement of a vintage re-edition of the Captain Cook. For enthusiasts, it was a trip down memory lane, while for the newer generation, it was a study in classic design infused with modern sensibilities. Remaining true to its roots yet answering the needs of the modern wearer, two iterations were presented. Boasting a ceramic bezel, luminescent dial markings and luminous arrow-shaped hands, the new 37mm retro iteration was a nostalgic nod to the original, while the 45mm model catered to those with a preference for bolder timepieces. To honor the year of the original Captain Cook’s release, Rado limited the production of the former to 1,962 pieces.

However, the 2017 re-issued Captain Cook wasn’t just a blast from the past, it was also a step into the future. This reinvigoration kickstarted a series of tributes and innovations. Subsequent years witnessed the advent of newer models and re-editions, each drawing inspiration from the past while boldly embracing the future. The Captain Cook family grew, boasting varied designs and color palettes.

Baselworld 2018 saw the introduction of the Tradition Captain Cook MKII. Reminiscent of another model from the 1960s, the 37mm stainless steel edition with its “beads of rice” bracelet was a sight to behold. Then, in 2019, Rado had another ace up its sleeve in the Captain Cook Automatic. Offered in five colorways, the modern 42mm rendition epitomized the brand’s commitment to preserve its heritage while evolving with the times.

The Captain Cook story unfurled a new chapter in 2020 with a modern reinterpretation in on-trend bronze. Although the 1962 original was never cast in this material, the unexpected iteration evoked a deeper connection to the watch’s heritage. For a dash of fun, the swiveling anchor at 12 o’clock — a symbol of the Captain Cook collection — ensured the watch retained its retro personality. Not purely for nostalgia, this watch was an evolution.

Rado Captain Cook Bronze
Rado Captain Cook Bronze

It is also worth noting that the anchor isn’t only for aesthetics. Mounted on a lubricated ruby bearing in the original design, this pivoting motif served a functional purpose. If it remained stationary, it was an indication that the watch required servicing. This ingenious feature is a testament to Rado’s commitment to blending design and utility, a legacy that is carried through in today’s Captain Cook models.

Living up to its moniker, “Master of Materials,” Rado embraced innovation once more in 2021 by integrating its signature high-tech ceramic into the Captain Cook design in a larger 43mm case. A total of four Captain Cook high-tech ceramic models were launched, three of which featured matte black ceramic cases and bracelets, and black ceramic inserts in a steel bezel, with one option on a rubber strap.

Go for Gold

This year, the all-new Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph adds another chapter to Rado’s storied journey. A testament to Rado’s century-old legacy and its relentless pursuit of innovation, the timepiece bridges the past and future, and appeals to both vintage aficionados and modern connoisseurs.

Rado Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph
Rado Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph

Delving into the heart of the Rado Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph is a journey into watchmaking artistry. While the exterior speaks of timeless design, the interior houses the Rado caliber R801 with a commendable 59-hour power reserve — an automatic movement fortified with an antimagnetic Nivachron hairspring that can be admired through an exhibition caseback.

A stroke of brilliance birthed from the collaborative genius of the Swatch Group and Audemars Piguet in 2018, this formidable nonmagnetic alloy with a titanium base is the answer to the challenges of today’s tech-infused age. This may sound like technical jargon to the uninitiated, but in the luxury watchmaking realm, it’s akin to introducing a state- of-the-art feature in a supercar. Our everyday surroundings are inundated by magnetic fields emitted by electronic devices, such as our indispensable smartphones, laptops and even innocuous vacuum cleaners. When exposed to these invisible foes of precise timekeeping, traditional watches risk magnetization, which critically hampers their accuracy.

The Nivachron hairspring is a leap forward in combating this challenge. Its introduction into the movement provides resistance against these ubiquitous magnetic fields, which guarantees that the Captain Cook always remains resilient and precise in its timekeeping. But the alloy’s prowess doesn’t stop there. Its additional characteristics of shock resistance and a decreased sensitivity to temperature variations further bolster the timepiece’s performance in diverse environments, such as low water temperatures encountered in a technical dive.

But don’t mistake this watch to be all about technical advancements. The design narrative is equally compelling. The Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph is definitely a head turner in the diver category. Its robust 43mm polished stainless steel case, with gold PVD-coated accents on the bezel, dial, crown and pushers, exudes a blend of robust masculinity and rugged elegance, while the box-shaped sapphire crystal with antireflective coating on both sides offers both durability and unmatched clarity.

One can’t help but be enamored by the dial. Transitioning from rich greens to an abyss-like black, the gradient is not only reminiscent of vast, enigmatic ocean depths, it also feels like an ode to it. For Rado devotees who appreciate the finer horological details, the watch’s hands bearing the signature style of the 1960s era are a hat tip to the past. Amplified with white Super-LumiNova, the meticulously crafted gold- colored indexes aren’t just markers of time, but beacons that guide one through the hours, just as stars guide sailors through the night.

Ensuring its dive watch pedigree, the new model offers water resistance of up to 300m, making it a suitable companion for both underwater adventures and upscale soirées. Integral to the Captain Cook is its chronograph function. Beyond its obvious utility, the chronograph becomes a conduit to capture and cherish moments. Whether it’s the climax of an underwater adventure, the thrill of a race, or the serenity of a pause, it allows one to engage with time in an interactive, tangible manner.

Ever the meticulous maestro, Rado sweetens the deal by covering you for every sartorial choice. The Captain Cook’s versatility is further exemplified in its two additional strap options that are presented in a beautiful box with the watch. While the stainless steel bracelet provides a classic and sturdy feel, the gold PVD treatment elevates its visual appeal. If you’re after an elegant look to complete a suit, opt for the sophisticated green leather strap boasting polished yellow gold-colored PVD accents. Finally, a sportier green textile NATO-style strap caters to more casual occasions.

Given the Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph’s impeccable blend of vintage aesthetics, modern watchmaking techniques, and a history that is intrinsically intertwined with Rado’s journey, its price point offers significant value. As intrepid deep-sea explorers chart new territories underwater, this timepiece is an invitation to its wearer to embark on his own personal odysseys.

Tech Specs

Rado Captain Cook Automatic Chronograph Ref R32151318

Movement: Self-winding caliber R801; 59-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph and date
Case: 43mm; stainless steel with gold PVD- coated accents on bezel; water resistant to 300m
Dial: Green to black gradient; Super-LumiNova filled yellow gold-colored applied indexes
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet with gold PVD coating; additional green leather with polished yellow gold-colored PVD; additional green NATO- style fabric
Price: USD 4,200

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