This year at Baselworld 2017, the vintage reissue/vintage inspired craze hit its nadir, with most watches landing in the decent yet forgettable category. However, two standout vintage reissues were the first Seiko Diver Prospex watches and this, the Rado Captain Cook. A “vintage replica” of a watch from the 1960s, the Captain Cook stays true to the original 37mm watch but also introduced the size I opted for – a 45mm wide on the fabric strap. While I initially found the 37mm and 45mm sizing to be a little odd, I am actually glad Rado avoided the predictable Goldilocks “just right” sizing by offering it in something like 40 or 42mm and offered the original vintage size and a size that really appeals to those with bigger wrists.
Note that the technical name here involves the “HyperChrome” designation from Rado. I don’t see any need to call it the Rado HyperChrome Captain Cook watch, but I think this naming decision was made to ensure that people are aware that the new “vintage replica” watches are done partly in ceramic. Of course, the watch is named after the legendary British Explorer Captain James Cook who met an…unfortunate end that reminds me of a story I’d hear on the tv show Parks & Recreation when they discuss their many murals.
The 45mm Captain Cook watches have a ceramic bezel and a case done in hardened titanium which, according to Rado, offers scratch resistance over standard titanium. So, while not a full ceramic case, you still get a scratch resistant case that’s also very lightweight. In fact, the weight kind of took me off guard at first since you really do expect it to be heavier by looking at it. Again, on my wrist the 45mm size is not an issue at all and I found it to be appropriately sized for my 7.5 inch wrist.
While it’s inspired by a vintage diver, there really isn’t much going on here that would make one think that Rado really intends this to be a watch that one dives with. And that’s fine with me. I like great dive watches but I do not dive. At all. It’s great to know that the Captain Cook can survive some spills (it’s rated at 200m water resistance) but I think Rado smartly understood that style over real, serious diver substance would be the appeal. This is even more clear when you consider that the smaller 37mm is rated to 100m of water resistance.
It’s not easy to gain a unique “aesthetic signature” these days, especially with the number of vintage-inspired peers the Captain Cook has. However, the sloped bezel, big legible hour and minute hands, along with the rotating Rado anchor logo at 12 o’clock all mesh together for a distinctive style that doesn’t at all feel derivative or contrived.
One major gripe I want to get out of the way before I go on to the dial design and movement has to do with the fabric strap. Considering it’s the only one out of the three options (the other two being bracelet and leather strap), I was really disappointed at just how tough and stubborn the parts of the strap around the lug areas are. It got a little softer after I bowed it back and forth, but it honestly took several days of doing this. Even then, that area of the strap felt too far off my skin and at points it even made clasping the buckle on a more snug fit tough as it would quite literally snap open due to how taut it was.
It’s an easy enough fix for Rado to handle as well as one that will considerably improve the wearability of the piece. All this being said, the otherwise quality fabric strap with touches of leather remains my first choice over the leather strap and bracelet.
Ican’t find much to complain about when it comes to the dial and case design here, as I think Rado has knocked it out of the park. Large, legible hands are easy to read and the anti-reflective coating makes it so glare was never really an issue in the weeks I wore this watch. The date window, while often a “controversial” design choice is one that I’d rather have than not have here. The background of the date disc matches the dial color, but even more importantly, my biggest gripe with date windows is having to reset the date if I put the watch down for a couple of days and it doesn’t get wound.
With the 80 hour power reserve here, that issue didn’t come up once. My personal Rolex Explorer II ref. 216570 is the watch I wear the most these days when I’m not trying out a review piece and the caliber 3187 movement that powers it gets a 48 hour power reserve. I was distinctly annoyed with having to reset the date so often when it was in rotation with 3 other watches this past month. Obviously, there are many pros that come with certain in-house movements, but as for a practical everyday wear option, I was very happy with the Rado Captain Cook.
I can see the sloped bezel being a feature that turns some people off in theory, but I think it looks so good and it feels very solid with each turn of the 120 clicks. Ceramic is the hot material these days, but I am glad the Captain Cook actually retains a look that’s more akin to glossy than the shiny ceramic I’ve seen in so many other watches. Maybe it’s the way the blue of the bezel matches up with the blue on the dial, but the part of my brain that finds solace in aesthetic cohesion is happy every time I looked down at my wrist. I guess a good way of simplifying this sentiment is to put it this way: if you like how this watch looks in photos, you won’t be disappointed when you try it on the wrist. That is far from true for many, if not most, wristwatches.
Turning the Captain Cook over, you’ll see the seahorse and star pattern reminiscent of and inspired by the original Captain Cook watches from the 1960s. I understand the original Captain Cook watches had a “kissing seahorse” motif on the caseback that continued on the bracelet clasp. I suppose Rado rightfully realized the seahorses on the clasp for a reissue would seem a bit odd to modern watch buyers, but I even found them to be random on the caseback. But, at least they’re engraved well and look high quality. Otherwise, I could take it or leave it.
Of course, behind the caseback is housed the ETA C07.611, which is a more recent Swatch movement that is going to be a mainstay and you’ll also recognize it from its other iterations like the Tissot Powermatic 80. Yes, the movement frequency went down from 4Hz to 3Hz in order to draw less power from the balance wheel, meaning the seconds hand could have swept in a more “buttery smooth” way but it wasn’t jittery in any way. In fact, I’d rate the seconds hand movement as…smooth. More importantly, the lower movement frequency will inevitably lead to an inaccuracy of a second or two a day, which is something I did observe. To be honest, when I remove myself from the siloed thinking of being so engrossed in the watch world, I can’t imagine a consumer preferring those seconds of accuracy over such a leap in power reserve.
The Rado Captain Cook is, hands down, one of my favorite releases of this past year. It’s not that it does anything groundbreaking or anything that hasn’t been done before, but rather, it shows that the brand knows what consumers expect in design, materials, performance, and history and successfully created a product with that in mind. In a way, it’s a similar outcome that Tudor initially had with its Heritage Black Bay. I just didn’t expect it from Rado, and that’s not me putting them down. I love it when I see the unexpected, because it truly happens so rarely and with the Captain Cook, Rado has knocked it out of the park. What do I want now? Well, I want to see what Rado shows us next year because expectations are going to be high. Price for this 45mm model on the fabric strap is $2,400 and is available on their site. rado.com
>Model: Captain Cook
>Price: $2,400 USD
>Size: 45mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes, seriously considering purchasing one.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone who loves the style of a vintage watch but prefers modern materials and movements.
>Best characteristic of watch: The near-flawless design execution of the case and dial.
>Worst characteristic of watch: There are issues with the toughness of the strap that are really hard to ignore.