One of the best-selling watch brands in Europe, RADO has never quite taken hold in America; perhaps it’s the New World preference for chunkier sports watches or maybe it’s the brand’s dealer network here that favors department stores. When many people think of RADO, the image is of a sleek rectangular watch with an integrated bracelet, perhaps something one of the bad guys in Miami Vice would have worn. But like any stereotype, this narrow image overlooks a lot.
MORE TIME ON OUR HANDS: Chronograph Shootout | Bell & Ross BR 126 Sport | Maurice Lacroix Pontos S
RADO’s expertise is primarily in case materials and avant garde designs, and in fact RADO was one of the first watch companies to make use of ceramic for a virtually scratchproof case, decades before the ceramic boom we’re seeing nowadays. Beyond the shiny dress watches familiar to most, RADO’s DiaStar line was a watch design milestone, albeit one established in the 1970s, with its lug-less design and Darth Vader helmet aesthetics.
RADO’s history considered, it was a surprise when the brand unveiled its D-Star collection of dive watches, a departure from the brand’s typical design language that captures the retro appeal so popular in sports watches these days. If the best dive watches tell a story or transport us to a different place, then the D-Star 200 Chronograph ($4,300), with its cool steel case and shimmering blue dial, conjures images of perhaps a teak-decked yacht, the Mediterranean, a cocktail in hand and boat shoes on the feet. This is a watch that does retro right.
Frequency: 28,800vph (4Hz)
Power Reserve: 60 hours
Hours, minutes, seconds, date; Chronograph elapsed seconds and minutes
Material: Stainless steel with rotating bezel
Case Back: Sapphire see-through
Water Resistance: 20 ATM (200 meters)
Blue metallic with applied markers
Steel hands with luminescent paint
Steel bracelet with butterfly deployant clasp
While watches up through the 1960s were largely evolutionary in their aesthetics — round cases, long elegant lugs — the ‘70s brought radical new designs. Lugs disappeared, bracelets got integrated and cases got more angular and modern. Some of these watches were hideous or downright forgettable; if you don’t believe us, just select “1970-1983″ when filtering wristwatches on eBay. But the D-Star 200 manages to tiptoe through this minefield of design mistakes and capture the best of the ‘70s. This is a gorgeous timepiece. Everything is proportioned perfectly. The 44 x 48-millimeter case is restrained thanks to the lack of lugs. The rotating timing bezel is narrow and elegantly domed. The sunburst blue metallic dial and hands are nicely proportioned and balanced, with opposing twin sundials and a date at 6:00. Details on the chronograph buttons and signed crown add a level of refinement. This is a dive watch, but a decidedly dressy one.
It’s not only the beauty of the D-Star 200 that makes us prefer it topside to underwater. The watch isn’t terribly suited for rough, utilitarian use. The bezel is hard to grip and ratchets stiffly; the watch’s markings are all but impossible to read at most angles, and a luminous zero marker is lacking. The illegibility carries through to the lovely polished dial and hands, which when combined with the shimmering dial make readability an exercise of wrist contortion to catch the light just so. Things don’t get better in the dark, as the watch has minimal luminosity and then only on the tips of the hour and minute hands and markers. The bracelet lacks any fine adjustment or dive extension, and there are no other strap choices from RADO. Still, the D-Star doesn’t pretend to be a tool watch, and we applaud this honesty. So many dive watches purport to be built for Special Ops forces, with absurd depth ratings, locking bezels and helium release valves. The D-Star is a dress diver through and through.
The beauty of the D-Star Chronograph is more than skin deep, though. The build quality and finishing are excellent, from the polished steel case to the grooved push-pieces to the trademark RADO anchor logo on the dial, which rocks back and forth with the movement of your wrist, telling you that yes, this is an automatic watch. The sapphire caseback reveals the RC1 movement, drawn from parent company Swatch Group sibling ETA’s movement-building might. The bi-compax chronograph features a 30-minute totalizer and an impressive 60-hour power reserve. Movement finishing is typical for this price range, with some machine decoration and a nice anchor-shaped black winding rotor. Chronograph operation is predictable for a cam-actuated movement: slightly stiff with some sweep hand hesitation. We found timekeeping to be within acceptable range — not quite chronometer specification, but certainly fine for anything but navigating a ship.
It may take some time for RADO to shed its reputation for making only quirky dress watches, but the D-Star 200 Chronograph goes a long way towards that end. This is a sports watch for grownups, versatile, casual yet refined, all with a nod to the past that isn’t dated. Whether or not it signals a new direction for the brand is too early to tell, but for now, RADO has our attention.