In the first part of our series, we shed some light on Rado’s storied history and how they have evolved over the years. With constant innovation, the brand has risen steadily and has seen its popularity increase around the world. As a part of the Swatch Group, Rado also has access to the latest watchmaking technology and engineering experts. This cumulates in the reimagined Captain Cook dive watch made of high-tech ceramic material – the watch that we are taking a closer look at today.
For those that missed our previous article, you may want to read it here before enjoying the rest of this review. I promise it is well worth your time as we delve into some lesser-known facts about the brand and its founding. Done? Excellent. Now let’s get into the watch.
Table of Contents
What is High-Tech Ceramic?
We’ve all come to know the famous Rado Captain Cook dive watch. Named after legendary British explorer, James Cook, the Rado Captain Cook was first launched in 1962. Today’s Captain Cook diver has all the modern goodies that you’d expect from a large Swiss brand, but it still retains the same form factor – a classic case design in stainless steel and, of course, an elegant beads of rice bracelet. This Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic throws most of the classic Captain Cook design cues out the window, reinventing the lineage while still retaining the essence of Captain Cook watches from its archives.
As the name suggests, the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic is made of high-tech ceramic. This proprietary material goes through several transformative treatments to take it from organic powder to complex products with unique visual and tactile properties. The high-tech ceramic material is essentially an ultrafine powder made of zirconium oxide, a compound often used in medicine and space technology. Pigments are added to the powder to set its color (black, white, green, grey, blue, etc.). Zirconium oxide has an extreme melting point of 2,715°C, making it impossible to cast. Therefore, the powder is injected into a precision mold and then sintered at 1,450°C. The material is shrunk by 23 percent, making it fully dense. At the final stage of manufacturing, diamond is also utilized to shape the material. This results in a revolutionary scratch-free ceramic that is light and smooth to the touch.
To achieve a polished look, the pieces of high-tech ceramic are polished for days. It is evident that the whole process of creating the material is very tedious and a lot harder than making watch cases out of the run-of-the-mill stainless steel. That is why many watchmakers tend to shy away from ceramic or offer the material for only one or two watches in their collection. The opposite can be said of Rado, Master of Materials. A quick look at their catalog reveals at least 177 watches made of the same modern material! To be honest, that is of little surprise as Rado has been exploring ceramic for over 35 years. Their cumulated know-how and experience are evident in all of Rado’s high-tech ceramic products, in particular the unique monobloc cases and high-tech ceramic bracelets – both details that can be found on the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic.
Rado’s high-tech ceramic is ten times harder (yet 2.5 times lighter) than gold, hypoallergenic, and adaptive to the temperature of the wearer’s skin. The quest for innovation and constant development at Rado has brought the world many new substances, many of which are now used in the regular production of Rado’s uniquely recognizable and exquisite watches.
The Watch Itself
Let’s get some dimensions out of the way. The Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic comes in at 43mm in diameter, 50mm lug-to-lug, and has a thickness of 14.6mm. To be honest, when reading this set of dimensions on paper, it scared me a little. I’ve always shied away from watches that have a lug-to-lug of 50mm and above as I find them to be too big for my liking. After putting the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic on my wrist, my worries dissipated as the watch surprisingly wears quite well on my 7-inch wrist, thanks to the gentle curve of the case, which allows it to sit beautifully on my wrist without any gaps.
The Captain Cook is usually in either a 37mm or 42mm case size. The high-tech ceramic Captain Cook is in a new 43mm case, not without reason, as Rado explains that the increase in size is inherent to the material: “To achieve such of construction in ceramic and being able to pass all the shock resistance tests to 5000G the ceramic needed to be rethought. The challenge was to keep the DNA of the original piece. We cannot really compare the production of a stainless steel watch case VS a ceramic watch case. The ceramic chimney to set the bezel on it needs a bigger volume. This part is more exposed to shocks.”
With a ceramic case, maintaining the diving capability of the Captain Cook also presented its own set of unique challenges. To maintain the 300m water resistance rating, the crown tube had to first be mounted with an O-ring, and only then could the crown be screwed on the tube. The pressed-on case back that gives the watch its water-resistance also takes some additional space in the thickness of a ceramic case. That said, the slight increase in size and thickness is barely noticeable, as the all-black construction of the timepiece helps it to appear smaller.
The watch is affixed with a stainless steel 120-click coin edge dive time bezel. The polished stainless steel bezel provides a nice contrast to the darker tones of the matte ceramic case. The different materials also allow the watch to stand out further, catching the light at different angles. The bezel is completed by a black ceramic bezel insert with 15-minute markings.
As if the revolutionary material choice here isn’t enough, Rado goes one step further by having an attractive black-tinted sapphire dial. The dial choice here allows one to admire the movement within, which is decorated by fine perlage finishing on the main plate. And it is a gorgeous view, with the applied indices adding an extra element of sophistication to the dial. I used to find watches with translucent dials gimmicky and would actively shun them. However, I now have a newfound appreciation for such dials when they’re done as tastefully as this Rado. There’s just something about being able to subtly view the movement when looking at the time. It gives the watch an avant-garde look, elevating the elegance and class of the timepiece and, in doing so, the wearer.
The classic Rado movable anchor logo is still present on the dial, a hallmark of the Rado brand that can be found on all of their automatic watches. The movable anchor is fun to play with occasionally and is another aspect of the watch that – I’m sure watch collectors will agree – I like to fiddle with, alongside turning the ceramic bezel and winding the watch. Hands up if you’re also guilty of turning the bezel on your dive watch for no particular reason, from time to time, throughout the day. Protecting the dial is a beautiful chevé boxed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating applied on the underside. With all the other modern elements on show here, the boxed crystal is a welcomed addition to the watch, retaining a bit of the vintage charm from the stainless steel models.
The Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic draws its strength from the caliber R734. It is based on the ETA C07.611 movement and is made exclusively for Rado – thanks to its ties with the Swatch Group and ETA. Aside from the 80 hours of power reserve that we have come to expect from Swatch Group branded movements, the main upgrade in the caliber R734 would be the Nivachron™ mainspring which grants the movement enhanced resistance to magnetic fields, essentially making it anti-magnetic.
From the Display Case to On the Wrist
Watches may look great in the display case, and then when you try it on the wrist, the watch you’ve been eyeing suddenly doesn’t feel that great anymore. We’ve all had this feeling – so how does the Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic feel on the wrist? Let’s find out.
As I mentioned earlier, contrary to the case dimensions on paper, the watch wears surprisingly well on my wrist and does not protrude or have any unsightly gaps. Thanks to its case construction, the curved lugs sit nicely on my wrist, with no overhang. With its monobloc case construction, the caseback also does not protrude like other dive watches rated to 300m of water resistance. Overall, the watch wears smaller than its case diameter might suggest – wearing more like a 41/42mm dive watch. With the watch entirely made of ceramic, it is also rather lightweight for its size compared to stainless steel divers of the same dimensions. This helps make the watch wear better and adds to the timepiece wearing and feeling smaller on the wrist than its on-paper dimension.
The choice of materials here also offers another great advantage. With its scratch-resistant properties, the high-tech ceramic case and bracelet will remain scratch-free no matter what you throw at them. This benefit offered me complete peace of mind. I was not afraid of scratching the watch throughout the entire time I spent with it, knowing that the ceramic case would not be corrupted by my daily activities. If you’re someone like me who worries about scratching your watch when you go about your daily routine (mine includes desk-diving and the gym), the Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic Black will ensure that you have nothing to worry about.
The dial here also adds a different edge than your typical dive watch. To be honest, I used to steer well clear of skeleton or see-through dials like the sapphire dial here. I thought they were gimmicky and only for people new to watch collecting or people that know nothing about watches. Turns out I was such a snob. After seeing this translucent sapphire dial in person, I was blown away by how good it looks. I would often “check the time” just to look at the balance wheel spinning away tirelessly. The perlage finishing on the mainplate also adds an extra dimension, ensuring that the movement still looks good under the black translucent dial.
I am a sucker for even the minutest detail. As a result, I am quite particular about how a dive bezel should feel when I turn it. If the bezel is too smooth, it would be easily turned by even gentle knocks against it with my bag. Too stiff, and it’ll be a nightmare to use (although it would give me massive forearm gains). Therefore, I am pleased to report that the bezel of the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic is flawless. The 120-click bezel rotates smoothly with zero back play. It is just the right level of stiffness, and you can feel each click profoundly as you turn it. I found myself playing with the bezel far more often than I normally do, and I am sure that is because of how well-constructed it feels.
Of course, the watch is not all a bed of roses. I’m not sure if it’s the same across all the high-tech ceramic Captain Cook watches. However, the crown action isn’t the smoothest with the particular watch that I handled. Unscrewing the watch to set the time is ok, but when it comes to screwing the crown down, I found it a bit difficult to thread the crown properly back into place. I had to exert slightly more pressure than I would with other watches to catch the thread and screw the crown back down. It is not a big issue, nor is it a dealbreaker, but as someone who is a sucker for details, I had to point it out. I’m also guessing that this could be due to the ceramic case construction. As we know, it is hard to have a threaded crown for a ceramic timepiece. It is likely that to maintain the 300m of water resistance, Rado had to make the crown a bit more difficult to screw down due to the nature of the case material.
I also found that my fingerprints were often visible on the case and bracelet – the polished center links of the bracelet certainly do not help as well. With a matte-finished case, the effect is reduced but is certainly still noticeable, especially after a whole day of wear. The fingerprints are more visible here than on a brushed stainless steel case, so this slight downside could also be material-related. However, a quick clean with a microfibre cloth removes all the prints, making the watch look as good as new.
Although the ceramic material does show more fingerprints and makes the crown harder to screw down, I would still take ceramic over stainless steel any day. The added benefits of ceramic far outweigh these little negatives of the material.
What’s Out There on the Market?
There is no doubt that Rado is the true OG of ceramic watches. But what’s out there in the watchmaking world that comes close to this Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic? The watch that comes to mind would be the Tudor Black Bay Ceramic, released in 2021. So how does the Black Bay Ceramic stack up against the Captain Cook?
Firstly, let’s talk about price. The Tudor Black Bay Ceramic retails for SGD6,660, while the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic has a price tag of SGD5,390. Is the Tudor an SGD1,300 better watch? Well, yes and no. Hear me out.
The Tudor Black Bay Ceramic obviously has the better brand name, thanks to its relationship with Rolex. The Black Bay also has a METAS-certified movement, so Tudor wins in that aspect too. But the watch is not readily available at authorized dealers and boutiques, and you’d have to be placed on a lengthy waitlist. If you’re like me and are not prepared to wait that long, you’ll have to turn to other watches. That’s when the Rado starts to slowly emerge as the better option.
At a lower retail price, the Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic does not feel like a cheaper alternative to the Black Bay Ceramic in any way – meaning, you will not be “settling” for the Rado just because you’re unable to lay your hands on the Tudor. As mentioned earlier, Rado is the brand that introduced ceramic to the watchmaking world and has constantly produced high-end ceramic watches for generations. Their expertise in the material has led them to create some of the most iconic ceramic watches in history.
The translucent sapphire dial of the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic is also more unique and stands out more in comparison to the Black Bay’s muted dial. The sapphire dial is sure to get more compliments on the wrist than the Black Bay, especially from people that do not know much about watches or who do not really care about the brand name. The Rado also has 300m of water resistance compared to the Black Bay’s 200m. The Captain Cook also comes on a solid ceramic bracelet whilst the Tudor Black Bay Ceramic is paired with a rubber strap. When you look at the retail prices, it is obvious that the Rado Captain Cook offers superior value for money – you don’t even get a ceramic bracelet with the Tudor even though it is higher priced! Not only does it offer a better bang for the buck – but it is also, in my opinion, that the Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic looks better than the Tudor Black Bay Ceramic – thanks to its mixed finishing on the bracelet, the glossy ceramic bezel insert and of course the aforementioned sapphire dial.
Some might argue that with all that said, the Tudor Black Bay Ceramic is still the better option because, well, Tudor and METAS. I have no issues with such an argument. After all, this is all part of the beauty of our shared passion for watches. We all have different opinions and will naturally prefer different watches altogether. If everyone liked the same kind of watches, then a lot of the watch brands would be out of business by now (*coughs* Hublot).
When I was first tasked to review this Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After spending some time with the watch, I’ve come to enjoy the uniqueness of the timepiece and embrace the watch wholeheartedly – flaws (as mentioned above) and all. Sure, I still wished that the case diameter was slightly smaller, but I understand it was necessary to have a bigger case because of the ceramic material. I also wished that female end-links were present instead of male end-links. But then again, the bracelet still fits great on my wrist.
The Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic is a win in my books from the Master of Materials. Considering what’s on offer, it is very value for money and is a stunning watch overall. If you’re looking at your collection and are getting bored of all your stainless steel watches, this Rado Captain Cook would be a great addition. On the other hand, if you just want a tough-as-nails watch that still exudes charming good looks, you can’t go wrong with this Captain Cook too. I think it is safe to say that Rado has truly mastered ceramic, and with technology becoming more advanced year after year, I am excited to see what the future holds for Rado and its line of iconic ceramic watches.
Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.