Since the time it was established as a watch company in Lengnau, Rado has charted a slightly different path to its competitors. The brand realized early on that it would be an uphill task taking on the established brands when it came to movements and complications, so it chose to focus on case design and the use of innovative materials to set itself apart from its competitors.  

Why is it important for Rado to be associated with the world of design?

Breschan has been with Rado since 2011

MB: When you work with designers in the watch industry, they are well aware of the constraints of production so they might limit themselves when it comes to creativity. The six designers we chose to work with on the Rado True project have come with a completely fresh approach, they each have a specialty in their domain and they brought this to the watchmaking.

All the watches in this line are under $2,000. We didn’t communicate this rule to the designers but we told our R&D team that whatever ideas these designers come up with, the R&D team needed to find innovative ways and technological solutions of bringing these ideas to reality.

Is it easy to work with industrial designers, they aren’t well versed with the ways of the watch industry?

Rado True Shadow designed by Kunihiko Morinaga

If you give a designer the opportunity to create a watch, immediately they will think about geometry. So we took an existing case (Rado True) thus giving them a limited canvas to work with. We chose designers who had nothing to do with the watch industry but they all had a specialty in their domain. Take the example of Japanese fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga, who is best known for his work with photochromatic fabrics.

With the True Shadow, Morinaga brought the spirit of his colour-changing fashion collection to watchmaking. When exposed to sunlight, the dial of the True Shadow goes dark. But as the sun goes down, the dial gradually fades into grey and ultimately becomes transparent – allowing you to see the pulsating Swiss movement that lies inside. We had to develop a photochromatic glass to help him execute his vision of the Shadow.

What has Rado learnt from these collaborations?

Rado True Blaze designed by Sam Amoia

When interior designer Sam Amoia wanted to use diamond powder to create that sparkly textured dial on the Rado True Blaze, we knew that going ahead with his plan would mean the watch would end up costing $40,000. This isn’t the price category we operate in, so we developed a new technology called galvanic growth, which enabled us to reproduce this diamond effect on the Blaze’s dial. We were able to sell the watch now for $2,000.

Galvanic growth is a bit like 3D printing, where we grow the material on a plane surface to give it a textured feel. We learnt to come up with innovations like this thanks to these collaborations.

It’s an attitude. I want everyone at Rado to realize that innovation will keep us alive. We must challenge ourselves every day in order to stay innovative.

The second bit is that we need to be totally open to bringing new technologies and ideas to the watch industry.

For example, we were the first to introduce monobloc ceramic construction in the watch industry with the Hyperchrome range. It’s a technology that’s come from the aerospace sector and high performance racing. In the past, Rado used a central steel piece a ceramic skin was built around it. With monobloc construction, the product was a lot more shock-resistant and lighter. This also helped us create geometries and shapes that we were not able to create before. Like the ultra-slim Rado Thinline.

What are the key areas of growth for Rado?

Rado Captain Cook reissue

The watch industry as a whole is showing strong growth again. Rado is doing well in India and the Middle East, and even in a difficult market like Saudi. This is largely down to the fact that the novelties are extremely well appreciated, the new face of the brand has been received well. Rado is one of the brands that has shown growth in the industry.

We plan to expand our vintage watch line. Rado has a real history with vintage watches and today there is a trend for vintage. When Rado does a vintage revival, it creates one model true to the original but also creates a modern reinterpretation that links the revival to innovation just like we did with the Captain Cook in 2017. We will present a new vintage watch at Baselworld 2018.

Where does Rado slot itself in the industry?

Rado has experimented with colors in ceramic cases

Within the Swatch Group, we are very disciplined when it comes to positioning. Rado operates in the $800-3000 price category and there’s no reason to go above our price point because we have Omega there, no reason to go lower because we have Tissot. So we stay within our price segment and try to be the best within this category. If you look at what’s going on now, many high-end brands are using ceramic because they now realize that this is a noble material. However, just because they use it doesn’t mean we can push our prices higher.

Rado was a pioneer in the use of ceramic. Now others are in the game as well. How do you plan to stay ahead of the competition?

One big challenge for us is to make ceramic less fragile. At the moment, ceramic has one shortcoming – it is superlight and scratch-resistant, but it is fragile. So we are working on ways to improve ceramic’s elasticity so that it becomes a stronger material.

Rado has been a pioneer with case design and construction

Another aspect is the use of colors in ceramic. There is no problem adding colors to ceramic, but it is a challenge to keep the same color tone from one production load to another. Very few brands have made ceramic bracelets like us because it’s very difficult to produce the same tone of ceramic on the each bracelet link. The shade can’t change with every production load.

This is an abridged version of the interview that was published in the Winter 2017 print issue.