“High-tech materials” is a bit of a buzzphrase in the watch industry. To many, it’s a marketing gimmick, while to others (myself included), it’s a fascinating look into the future of watchmaking. Materials like ceramic may seem new and high-tech, but some brands have dabbled in the dark arts of ceramic watchmaking for decades. The most famous? Rado. The Swiss brand has used ceramic in its watchmaking since 1986! That’s some pub quiz knowledge for you right there.

This groundbreaking material, which had never been used in watchmaking in this way before, conquered the hearts — and wrists —  of watch enthusiasts around the world with its scratch-resistant, lightweight and skin-friendly qualities. Its glossy appearance and smooth surface also made it a design element as modern as it is inspiring. Thirty-five years on from introducing ceramic watches to the world, Rado has had a great year with some fantastic releases. Some of these may have slipped under your radar, so I wanted to take a look at some of the Swiss brand’s best releases of 2021!

Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic

Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic

I’ll be honest — 2021 has kind of been the year of Captain Cook for Rado, in my opinion. The historical collection has been the focus of some genuine modernization regarding materials. This year, Rado brought the Captain Cook collection into the ceramic fold with the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic. The 43mm case is by no means small, but it doesn’t wear like a typical steel watch of this size. And that’s because of the ceramic case that adapts almost immediately to your body temperature.

The High-Tech Ceramic Captain Cook marvelously blends the classic silhouette with a modern appearance thanks to the ceramic case. Even the straps further this modern evolution. A choice of rubber strap with a pin buckle or a matching ceramic bracelet means that all bases are covered. My choice is the ceramic bracelet. Similar to the case, the ceramic bracelet adapts to your body temperature for a comfortable wearing experience. No more rude awakenings from an ice-cold metal bracelet.

Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic

The smoky sapphire dial is the final visual cue that this ain’t no classic timepiece. It reveals the open-worked caliber R734 (ETA base) inside, but in a harmonious way, and not too obviously so. It’s a modern movement that offers 80 hours of power reserve, an anti-magnetic Nivachron hairspring, and five-position adjustment for better accuracy. For those of us who don’t like skeletonized dials and watch movements, the Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic offers a nice compromise.

Find out more about the Rado Captain Cook High Tech Ceramic collection here.

Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic

Rado Captain Cook Plasma High-Tech Ceramic

Looking at the spec sheet alone, this watch is actually the same as the High-Tech Ceramic Captain Cook. So why is it on this list? Am I just wasting your time making you read about essentially the same watch twice? Well, no, I do not believe so. Rado’s ceramic watches offer colors to suit every mood, as long as that mood is color itself. But what about people who want that classic metal look but all the benefits of ceramic material? Well, up until 1998, you’d have been out of luck. However, Rado came up with a solution to that very issue — Plasma High-Tech Ceramic.

Plasma High-Tech Ceramic is forged in an oven where gases, activated at 20,000°C, transform regular white ceramic into what you see here. It’s modern-day alchemy. The resulting material has a wondrous metallic luster, with zero change to its essential properties. The lightness, hardness, and comfort remain unaffected, solving the color issues without creating new problems. It’s a job well done, you could say.

Thanks to the metallic hues imbued by the Plasma treatment, at first glance, one could mistake this watch for a steel Captain Cook. With its blue ceramic bezel and blue chapter ring, the Plasma High-Tech Ceramic Captain Cook gives collectors a more classic Captain Cook look, with the modern enhancements of ceramic technology. I don’t know about you, but I’m pleasantly surprised just how well the Captain Cook silhouette has taken to its High-Tech Ceramic makeover.

Find out more about the Rado Captain Cook Plasma High Tech Ceramic watch here.

Rado Captain Cook × Marina Hoermanseder

Rado Captain Cook × Marina Hoermanseder

It’s fair to say that the new High-Tech Ceramic Captain Cook watches are not the most unisex of choices. They’re big, they’re bold, and they demand to be seen. I don’t doubt that some women will enjoy that and rock those watches just as well as, if not better than some men. Still, the Captain Cook silhouette is a classic staple of the Rado collection. In the interest of versatility, where is the option for those looking for something a little more traditionally feminine in design? Until this year, there was nothing, but the designers at Rado worked with renowned French-Austrian designer, Marina Hoermanseder, to reinterpret the classic timepiece for women.

The new Rado Captain Cook reverts to the original 37mm case size, with a height of just 11mm. Rado uses stainless steel for the case but treats it with a rose gold-colored PVD coating and a polished finish. It’s all the allure of gold, without the associated price tag. The unidirectional rotating bezel echoes the case and features a white High-Tech Ceramic insert with rose gold-colored numerals and markers. The matching white dial features diamond hour markers in the non-cardinal positions, adding a nice sparkle to the flat white background. The hands and hour markers feature the same rose gold PVD coating as the case and bezel to tie everything together.

Rado Captain Cook × Marina Hoermanseder

Rado provides three straps utilizing the EasyClip system, presented in a dusty powder pink case. There’s a pink leather strap with rose gold-colored PVD rivets and buckle, a black strap with rose gold PVD rivets and buckle; and a double-wrap pink leather NATO strap with Marina’s trademark rose gold-colored PVD buckle. As the straps might suggest, this watch is not designed to be taken diving, despite its Captain Cook divers’ watch heritage. As a result, the water resistance drops from 300m to 100m, but I can’t see many people having an issue with that.

Find out more about the Rado Captain Cook Marina Hoermanseder here.

Rado True Square Tej Chauhan

Last but not least is possibly my favorite of Rado’s releases in 2021. I have a bit of a thing for yellow watches. It’s kind of my color. So when I first clapped my eyes on this sweet little thing, I was intrigued. It was nice to have a bit of reprieve from all that Captain Cook goodness. Sometimes the world needs a non-dive watch, ya know? This particular True Square was a collaboration with award-winning British industrial designer Tej Chauhan. It’s bright, bold, totally unabashed, and proud of what it is.

Tej Chauhan gave the True Square a proper makeover and really made it his own. As you’d expect from an industrial designer, every element of this watch feels purposeful and thought out. The 38mm case wears a little more prominently on the wrist thanks to the bezel-less design of True Square. Chauhan chose a matching yellow leather strap instead of a High-Tech Ceramic bracelet — a wise choice to offer an alternative texture to the satin ceramic.

I love how the radial dial pattern meets the minute markers, which reach the edge of the case, marrying the square case shape with the round dial. The flash of blue for the markers between 9 and 12 o’clock is excellent, even if it is a little random. I do not doubt that there was a thought process that led to that decision for Tej, but it’s almost more intriguing by not knowing. Finally, the quirky font of the date wheel stands out in orange text and feels so out of place that it almost feels oddly natural too. The True Square Tej Chauhan is an absolute oddball, but it’s a bright spot in what was otherwise another bleak year. Watch collecting needs to be fun; otherwise, what’s the point? Rado certainly makes a concerted effort to remind us of that fact with this watch.

Find out more about the Rado True Square Tej Chauhan here.

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