Published on November 27, 2007
The Swiss watchmaker Rado celebrated its five decades of innovation last month in Tokyo with a retrospective of its futuristic designs.
Since 1957, the odd man out among watchmakers has pioneered the use of unconventional precious materials like diamonds, ceramics, lanthanum, and sapphire crystal in its timepieces. Along the way, it claims to have come up with the world's first scratchproof watch.
The Ceramica by Rado - the first watch that's entirely ceramic - reflects the core philosophy of a brand that refuses to accept the word "impossible" and never stands still, stresses Roland Streule, president of the company for the past three decades.
He reveals that when the brand - now part of the Swatch group - was first launched, most of its competitors predicted a quick demise amid the pressure of competition from the grand old European watchmakers. But when its distinctive styles found favour among more adventurous customers, it ticked on to a place as one of the most famous brands in the business.
"Our design philosophy is less concerned with past trends than with the future. We want to create totally new things which still appeal to the consumer. That balance between beauty and the push for innovation is difficult," he notes. "But I think we're finding success."
To mark its 50th anniversary, Rado has collaborated with London designer Jasper Morrison to create the Ceramica Chronograph Limited Edition, which harks back to the classic black and gold models of the last decade, but spices things up with five separate gold tinges - from white to pink - each available in a limited edition of 10 watches.
Rado's familiar three dials, set into the black square face randomly, have been redesigned and highlighted in gold. The pushers for the different functions barely emerge from the sleek black profile of each watch. As for the much-vaunted ceramic body, its matt appearance and dense colour offer a striking contrast to the sparkle of gold and crystal up top.
"Our vision is simply to carry on what we're doing," says Nadja Zerunian, creative director. "The only limit is our own imaginations. And that's the powerful force behind the brand."
While in the past it was the shapes, this time it's the choice of material that has given Rado's new design its distinctive quality. "Ceramica" might be scratchproof but the first thing you notice is the weight - or lack of it. "For us comfort is the cherry on the cake of good design," says Zerunian. "With this watch you can find yourself accidentally wearing it to bed it's so light. You just don't feel it."
She admits that unleashing the imagination can be frustrating when the real world moves so slowly. "For example, I might have to wait up to three years for some part of the mechanism to arrive. Coming from a fashion background where everything moves fast, I'm not used to it - I get impatient. I'll think something is beautiful in September, but it'll be stale by January. But the technical side of things is at the core of any Rado watch, so trend-conscious types like me have to accept that the new innovation with materials can be a slow, painstaking process."
"I think what's important is not to follow fashion but to lead the way through timeless designs. Look at any Rado watch and you'll see it's very innovative for the time of its design. For instance, here we've taken the original iconic '90s looks of the Ceramica and added functions, chronographs and a few other things to give it more relevance today."
And Zerunian is confident that Rado's reputation for pushing the boundaries of watch design will easily last another five decades.