Rado And The Politics Of High-Tech CeramicsWritten by Alvin Wong
As explained by CEO Matthias Breschan.
Just because you were there first doesn’t make you the best. In Rado’s case, though, the brand’s pioneering status in the field of ceramic watches has been enhanced by its constant evolution and experimentation in the field of ceramic technology, ensuring its trailblazing reputation was no flash in the pan.
Rado’s journey in high-tech ceramics started in 1986 with the Integral, the world’s first wristwatch with a bracelet made of the said material. The breakthrough practically defined the brand’s DNA since. After the Integral, many other brands from across the price spectrum have come to adopt ceramic as a choice material for constructing their cases, bezels and bracelets. In fact, despite being first to the game with ceramic watches, Rado shine was somewhat stolen during the early 2000s, when brands from the likes of Chanel and Panerai started offering their own ceramic watches in arguably more stylish and sexier guises.
Rado HyperChrome from 2015
But Rado kept plugging away, hedging its beliefs in the properties of high-tech ceramic (hypoallergenic, lightweight, scratch- and tarnish-resistant), and investing in new technologies, production methods and alchemy that allowed it to make ceramic watches that are more robust, and in various shapes and shades – innovations that put the brand light years ahead of its competitors.
These feats in material technology are made possible through close work with the Swatch Group’s in-house R&D divisions – Asulab, which concerns with developing technically innovative watches, sub-systems and components; and CDNP (Centre of Development for New Products), which looks into aesthetic and large-scale manufacturing issues.
Rado HyperChrome Ultra Light weighing 56g from 2016
And where Rado appeared to have lost ground during the early noughties when competitors first began to offer ceramic watches, the tide looks to now turn in its favour, as the aforementioned developments enable Rado to offer more dynamic creations.
“A lot of brands make up stories about their past, the kinds of watches they produce. But our work is real and authentic. It is what we do and our work with ceramic makes us credible,” says CEO Matthias Breschan.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE HOUSING
“Although Rado is a 'young’ brand, we have managed to stay focused with our position. Instead of competing with hundreds of other Swiss brands to come up with more or unique functions, Rado has always concentrated on developing the perfect housing for the watch. In the beginning we worked with hard metals like everyone else, but soon found a niche with high-tech ceramic. And in doing so, we have become a leader in the field of developing and innovating with materials.”
Rado DiaMaster Ceramos from 2018
BUT WHO’S DADDY?
“The problem was, right after Rado, the brands that incorporated ceramic in watches were fashion brands. That wasn't good for us because people didn't understand how fashion brands were able to offer ceramic watches for a few hundred dollars, when Rado's cost a few thousand.
Rado Golden Horse (left) and Captain Cook
However, as with most things, there are differences in quality, and it is not easy to explain these differences. For example, low quality white ceramic will turn yellow over only weeks of exposure to UV light. Rado's offerings will never lose their lustre even after decades. These days, there are more high-end brands adopting the use of high-tech ceramic and that is good for us. Because the consumer now understands how noble the material is and can be.”
INNOVATION FROM A TO Z
“Besides developing and experimenting with high-tech ceramic, we also innovated in terms of its production, such as finding ways to create smooth curves and add colours.
Rado ceramic links on zirconium oxide feedstock
There are two big changes with regards to the production of high-tech ceramic. One is the development of monobloc construction and the increase of colour palette. Today, Rado is capable of making high-tech ceramic cases in any shape or geometry, and in a variety of different colours. Not many know this, it is a challenge for most brands to do ceramic bracelets. Each bracelet has almost 30 links and you need for it to be uniform, especially for coloured ceramic.”
KNOWING THAT THERE’S ALWAYS MORE TO DO
“High-tech ceramic may sound niche but to us, its potential for development is limitless. Take the Le Corbusier collection, we decided to challenge ourselves with the creating watches in the same shades as the ones listed in Le Corbusier's colour theory.
Making coloured high-tech ceramic is highly complex. The Le Corbusier foundation told us that we had to match the colours 100 per cent, and I would say it took about three years for the project to come to fruition.
Rado Le Corbusier collection
At the same time, we are also constantly working on new-generation ceramics. Two years ago, we launched the Si3N4, a lighter and more shock resistant ceramic; as well as developed the material in a way that can also be used in movement components. You can always go further with ceramics.”
Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.