Rado: Innovation in Materials

When you stop and think about it, most watches are pretty much the same. Sure, they look different, wildly so, but in the end, they are variations on a theme. Cases change shape, dials change color and markers and hands differ, but they all use 1+ hands to tell the time through a set of agreed upon on intervals displayed in one way or another (well, non-digital at least). These days, what sets a brand apart from the pack can be a great aesthetic, sheer attitude or technological innovation. In regards to the latter, in the high-end you find exceptional artistry and novelty in movements, while in the more accessible price spectrum you find creativity in use of and development of case materials.


Rado, a Swatch Group brand, has made a name for themselves with their pursuit for ever lighter and more durable materials to create their clean, minimal and modern watches. At the forefront of their catalog is high-tech ceramic. A fascinating material, it’s five times harder than steel, 18 times harder than 18k gold, and far lighter than both. It’s hypoallergenic and temperature neutral, making it very comfortable as well as durable.



While not the only brand to feature the material, Rado’s mastery of finishing the material and breadth of forms makes them stand out. Most ceramic cases out there actually feature a metal core. The zirconium oxide is formed around steel or titanium, which adds weight. Rado’s cases are “monobloc”, meaning they are one-piece and ceramic all the way through. The process starts by mixing high purity zirconium oxide powder with pigments and a binding agent, which aids in the moulding process. The mix is then injected under great pressure into a mold. The binding agent is chemically removed, and the material is “sintered” at 1450 Celsius, shrinking it by 23%. From here, the cases are reworked with a diamond wheel, before getting either matte or high polished finish. The high-gloss polish actually takes several days of work to get just right.


Rado’s ceramic cases currently come in a range of colors: black, white, cool grey, chocolate brown, blue, green and plasma. The latter color is worthy of special attention as it’s not created through pigments, rather through a process call carburizing. This patented process takes finished white ceramic cases and turns them into a signature, dark liquid metal color by placing them in a plasma oven with gases that get activated by 20,000 Celsius discharges. This changes the surface of the cases to a unique metallic glaze that in fact contains no metals at all.


Ceramics aren’t the only material in Rado’s arsenal. In 2016, Rado introduced a new hardened titanium. Another material watch-fans are very familiar with, this cool grey metal is very light, strong, corrosion resistant as well as hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, it’s not very hard, quickly receiving scratches and abrasions through use, especially when compared to ceramic. Rado’s solution is a process called gaseous interstitial hardening. Through placing the metal in an environment with unique gasses heated to 500 Celsius, the titanium is altered to a depth of 50 microns, increasing the hardness from 350 vickers to 1000. This now is on par with their ceramic, which is 1250 vickers.


Perhaps no watches in Rado’s line better show of their materials than their HyperChrome Ultra Light XL limited edition automatics. Two of their most exotic designs, one hyper minimal, playing off of zen gardens, the other very technical, speaking to air vents of sports cars. Both are studies in grey, with a swath of tones that accentuate the mix of materials. The cases are primarily high-tech ceramic, but also feature hardened titanium inserts and titanium crowns, as well as some anodized aluminum, reducing weight further. Both available for $2,850 in limited editions of 500.

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