Vintage Rado Watches (Part II)
Rarities of Bold Style
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Originally published in International Watch
Following the 40th anniversary of Rado's iconic DiaStar scratch-proof watch from 1962, iW ran my first article on vintage Rado automatic watches. The intent was to expose collectors to the variety of Rado models and highlight some attributes for which Rado watches stand apart from myriad other vintage pieces in the same price classes. This next installment continues that theme--that watches from a brand with a rich history of design and innovation can be found even today in good condition and at good prices--and adds a few twists.
The Rado models previously profiled included some of the most famous: the Manhattan, which heralded Rado's 1965 foray into the US market; the Captain Cook, a line of diver's watches introduced in the early 1960s; and some of the “Horse” models, which include such varieties as the Green Horse, Golden Horse and Purple Horse. In this installment, the focus is on some uncommon pieces that are noteworthy--for reasons of design, construction, rarity or some combination of these attributes--yet seem to fly under the radar of the average watch aficionado.
Early day-date model with uncommon movement
Opening this printed exhibit of Rado watches, just as the previous installment, with a Green Horse seems natural as there were several varieties produced. The legacy of the Rado horses is still strong and even today one of the earliest Rado automatic models, 1958's "Golden Horse," is being commemorated with three limited-production versions available only in Japan, where it was the brand’s first success in that market. The models exhibited here are variations of the Green Horse Daymaster (Ref. 11706).
1962 was a milestone year in Rado history. During that year the young brand introduced their iconic scratch-proof DiaStar model and the trademark emblem found on nearly every automatic Rado watch since: the rotating anchor logo (for more on this see iW’s July 2003 Rado article). Also in 1962, Rado began offering watches with day and date displays. Such models were dubbed "Daymaster" and eventually included references within the Green Horse, Golden Horse, and Starliner model lines, among others. Day-date Rados were an integral part of marketing campaigns in the 1960s; one magazine ad from 1969 touted six distinct day-date models including the DiaStar, Manhattan & Voyager but also more obscure models such as the Marco Polo. By that time Rado was proud of their day-date watches but earlier in the sixties the Daymaster models were less prevalent and not as widely offered across the brand’s product line.
The two silver-dial Green Horse Daymaster models shown here are among the earliest styles, yet they exhibit minor differences--often a recurring event when examining Rado models from the same nominal line--that suggest they were produced in different runs. The case back engraving, rotor decoration, and dial markers are noticeably different. The watch that is presumably the earlier of the two models features more sedate markers (flamboyant markers are often associated with Rado watches from the late 1960s into the 1970s) and, though the movement is the same Felsa caliber 4009, is the only model of the three examined here with a rotor actually marked "Daymaster." A 2003 exchange of messages with the PR department at Rado headquarters indicated that only 500 Ref. 11706 Daymasters were produced, beginning in 1962. More recent research suggests that later production runs of a version powered by an A. Schild movement pushed the total to 5000 units made by the time production ceased in 1968. Such limited production and their age make the Felsa 4009 day-date watches desirable among the regular production models of Rado.
Made from 1962-1968
Est. 500 units produced with Felsa Cal. 4009
(+ approx. 4500 more with 25-jewel A. Schild movements)
30 jewels, day/date automatic
Original price: CHF 150
A cursory perusal of the breadth of Rado models produced in the 1960s and until the 1970s shows that the brand focused on innovation in design and materials, but less on movement production. This may appear to be unexpected, considering the Rado brand grew from the Schlup company’s movement production successes, yet it makes sense under closer scrutiny. Beginning early in the 1960s, Rado made some decisions that would help them weather the storm that threatened to swamp Swiss and American producers of mechanical watches in the 1970s. By focusing their attention, and the reputation of the brand, toward specific markets, they were able to build strength worldwide. By striving to become a benchmark for design and materials innovation, they positioned themselves to be able to adapt to the changing trends in movement production. For example, though the original 1962 DiaStar watches were powered by automatic movements, as electric and electronic movements--including tuning-fork, quartz, and LCD—became available, Rado was able to incorporate this new technology with their already futuristic styling and perpetuate the DiaStar line’s reputation for being “cutting edge.” As recently as the late 1990s, Rado was still updating the DiaStar’s power plants, as is made evident by the Accustar model’s ETA auto-quartz movement.
During the aforementioned period of uncertainty for mechanical watch producers, there was still important progress being made, including the development of reliable automatic chronographs and alarms. Rado was quick to include such benchmark creations as the Valjoux 7750 chronograph and AS 5008 alarm movements into their product line.
Rado's first automatic chronograph model
When discussing the historical importance of specific vintage Rado watches, there are several attributes that must be considered. An obvious attribute that contributes to rarity is the number of examples of a certain model that were produced. However, a low production total may indicate that the model was a failure on the market. Although this can make a model historically interesting and desirable for collectors it can also be a source of embarrassment for the brand. The latter is certainly not the case for two of the magnificent Rado models featured here.
The first is Rado’s first automatic chronograph (Ref. 674.0900.4). This bold watch, housing a complicated movement—including day of week, date, 12-hour chronograph and automatic winding--is rather a departure from previous Rado production. It is not known how many hand-wound chronographs Rado made prior to the 1974 introduction of this particular model, but they seem to have been made in very small lots and are quite rare. Indeed, mechanical chronographs of any kind represent a very small percentage of the millions of watches Rado has produced in the past several decades. Even today, after a decade of strong interest in mechanical chronographs, the Rado line-up includes some automatic DiaStar chronographs available outside the US market only, and the newly introduced DiaStar Rattrapante, the brand’s first split-seconds chronograph.
Only 1500 of the Valjoux 7750 automatic Rado were produced, between 1974 and 1980. (The Valjoux 7750 itself was introduced in 1973.) Three dial variations were offered, and each featured the bold styling for which Rado was known, but also included other features that differentiated this watch from similar models offered by other companies at the time such as Mido and Longines. A subtle difference, but one that represents Rado’s desire to produce quality pieces is the use of the 25-jewel variation of Cal. 7750 over the more common 17-jewel variant. A more obvious, and eye-catching element of the Rado automatic chronograph is the interpretation of their famous emblem. In place of a constant-seconds hand at 9:00 on the dial, Rado installed an anchor-shaped hand which, though it isn’t particularly helpful in reading the seconds of the minute, is a clever variation of their aforementioned whimsical spinning logo.
Made from 1974-1980
1,500 units produced
Valjoux Cal. 7750
25 jewels, day/date automatic chronograph
Three dial variations (blue, silver, grey)
Original price: CHF 625
Another of Rado’s first complicated automatics
Contemporary to their first automatic chronograph was Rado’s first automatic alarm watch. Collectors of vintage Rado watches will likely be very familiar with the fine 21-jewel hand-wound alarm models of the early days of the brand. These are lovely watches powered by a robust A. Schild movement, and are sought-after by devotees of the brand. Production totals of the early alarm models are unknown, but the availability of these watches on the market suggests that their availability was limited compared to that of other models made at the same time. Similarly, Rado’s first automatic alarm watch (Ref. 680.7000.4), made beginning in 1973, must rank among the smallest production runs of its era. Production of the automatic alarm began the same year that its power plant, the famous AS 5008, was introduced. Only 1000 Rado automatic alarms were created in a few short batches with, just as the chronograph, three dial variations.
When compared with the hundreds of thousands of automatic date and day-date watches made by Rado in the 1970s and 1980s, the existence of 2500 complicated mechanical watches seems quite out of character. But upon examination, these watches clearly embody the brand’s spirit of innovation.
Made from 1973 to 1975 with a white or grey dial;
from 1974 to 1980 with a blue dial.
1,000 units produced
Rado Cal. 680 (A. Schild Cal. 5008, 13 ¼’’’, Day-Date, 4 hands)
Original price: CHF 495
Quite a number of Rado watches were made in both men's and ladies' sizes, though there were some ladies-only models, such as the Princess, and men's-size-only models including the President. Included here are some examples of distinctive Rado design scaled down for smaller wrists. The DiaStar 55, shown at left and above ,with men's model DiaStar 8, features the scratch-proof tungsten-carbide bezel, steel bracelet (provided by Novavit S. A.), and gilt automatic movement similar to the well known men's DiaStar models (aka "The Original" DiaStar) with which Rado set a benchmark for both design and durability. Many variations of the DiaStar theme were produced for ladies and men, including a broad array of shapes and colors, quartz models and even some men's non-quartz electric watches. The standard men’s DiaStars of yore are of a size that is fashionable for the ladies of today. The legacy of this important model continues to be strong as it is still produced in numerous variants by Rado (and still imitated by watch producers worldwide).
Alongside the equally important Manhattan model for men--arguably the most recognizable and collectible 1960s Rado--Rado offered ladies a choice of a smaller automatic or a rather tiny hand-wound model. The latter, known as the Mini Manhattan (Ref. 5468), is shown here with a full-size men's model described in the first installment of this series. This diminutive watch is powered by the hand-wound A. Schild caliber 1677, measuring only 12 mm x 15 mm. Even in such a small package, the Mini Manhattan retains the angular styling and distinctive applied markers associated with the more familiar men’s version.
Rado’s dainty watches of the 1960s and 1970s were not always hand-wound. The Princess (Ref 7040) was a small watch powered by a then-newly introduced automatic movement. Produced around 1971, the elegant model shown features the 17.2 mm ETA caliber 2651 with quick-set calendar and a frequency of 21,600 vph. As with the chronograph and Daymaster models described above, Rado was clearly as intent on using the most up-to-date movements available as they were in advancing the technology of case materials and design.
In the next installments of my look into the variety of vintage Rado watches, we’ll explore some more unusual pieces—including early Rado chronometers, odd case materials and exotic dials.
Text & images © C. Bradley Jacobs and WatchCarefully.com, unless otherwise noted.