Rado Watches: Green Horses and Purple Gazelles, oh my!
By Bruce Shawkey (adapted from Bruce's newsletter and the NAWCC Bulletin)


Many of my article ideas come from fellow collectors, and members our chapter. Many is the [letter] that has begun by someone asking me, "Why don't you do an article on .." (and put any brand or type of watch you want in where the dots are). And so it was with Rado. No problem I thought. I'll just look in the usual references and find what other people have written about the company and its watches, and I'll expand upon that. The problem was, there was virtually nothing to be found. Other brands, like Rolex and Hamilton, have a veritable mountain of resource material to mine. But Rado is one of those many brands for which research material is almost nonexistent. So then, I contacted the company itself. Now the company, as many of you probably know, is owned the Swatch Group. But Rado still maintains a facility in Lengnau, Switzerland, where the company was born. I contacted a public relations person there who was friendly, but who sadly announced there was little that remained of their historical records. This is a tragedy that is played out frequently in this business, especially when a new owner comes in and cleans house, literally! Often the first thing to go are those "messy, dusty boxes of records" taking up space where the new president wants to install his new private bathroom and/or workout room!

So I began talking with collectors and dealers about Rado. And the reason why [there is a] lack of information about Rado became clear rather quickly. Rado is one of those brands that many collectors and dealers don't really take seriously. In fact, some collectors make fun of Rado watches, using phrases like "gimmicky," "flash over substance," "clownish," and so forth. But there are brave few collectors out there who appreciate and collect Rado watches and see them as something different: Quality-built watches wrapped in rather unique packages. Packages meaning cases that are non-traditional in design and/or composed of unusual materials such as ceramic and lanthanum, which is a mineral crystal mined in Western Australia, Central Africa and Brazil.
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In fact, the Rado "DiaStar," which in 1962 was the first Rado to utilize an unusual case material -- tungsten steel -- has developed a strong cult following. Less than a year ago, you could pick up these vintage DiaStars for $50 and even less at mart shows. Now, it's not unusual to see these early 1960s vintage DiaStars going for $200 and more at shows and online venues such as eBay. More if they have the original bracelets.
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So let's take a look at Rado, and perhaps we will end up with a better appreciation of this company and its watches. One of the reasons the story of Rado is a short one is because the company is relatively young. It was born in 1957 when a man by the name of Paul Luthi assumed control of a watch company called Schlup and Co. Luthi, who was born in 1919, is still alive today at age 84 as I write this article. Now how many watch companies are out there of which we can say the founder is still alive? Not many. That puts into perspective just how relatively young this watch company is.
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Schlup and Co. was founded in 1917 by three Schlup brothers, Fritz, Ernst and Werner, in their home town of Lengnau, Switzerland. Not much is known about the brothers or their family. It does not appear that they came from a family of watchmakers, but rather developed an interest in watchmaking on their own. They started the business in their parents home, where it remained until 1948 when they built a modern three-story structure on the same site. The structure is seen in the photo below, and the original "factory" is seen in the inset. This picture was probably taken shortly after the company was renamed Rado in 1957, as you can still see they acknowledge the family name by the words "Schlup and Co." in small letters on the company's headquarters. This building still stands today, though it has undergone modernization and expansion.
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Now, who is this Mr. Luthi? Well, he joined the firm in 1947 at the relatively young age of 28. He climbed the ranks the old-fashioned way, by marrying one of the Schlup sisters. Which is not to say he wasn't talented in his own right, but marrying into the family certainly didn't hinder his advancement, either! He gradually took managerial control of the firm by the mid 1950s, and in 1957, at the age of 38, took complete control and came up with a new name for the company, which today we know as Rado.
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Now the literature from Rado would have you believe that the company has been in business since 1917. While this isn't patently false, it is at least what I like to call a "creative interpretation" of the facts. Girard Perregaux, for example, does the same thing by claiming they have been in business since 1791. The fact is, the firm of Girard-Perregaux came into existence in 1856. In the year 1906, they purchased the firm of J.F. Bautte, which had been in business since 1791. In an instant, Girard-Perregaux claimed to absorb an additional 65 year's worth of history by sheer acquisition! In similar fashion, Rado was not really "born" in 1917; it was created in 1957 through the acquisition of a virtually anonymous company that had been in business since 1917. The makeup and "character," if you will, of Rado from that point on is so radically different from that of Schlup and Co. that any comparisons border on the absurd.
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Schlup & Co. produced watch movements and parts for other companies who then assembled them into "private label" watches for independent jewelers and department stores. They were "ghost" manufacturers in the truest sense of that term. They didn't even stamp their movements or movement parts in any way. No list of parts or movements exists for "Schlup and Co." that I am aware of.
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Now this was not as unusual as you might think. Certainly there were other companies that did the same thing The Swiss watch industry had undergone a tremendous downsizing from about the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. Small firms were either absorbed by larger companies, or went out of business entirely. A watch manufacturer did anything it could to survive, and if one of these tactics was making anonymous parts and movements for others to put their name on, then so be it.

In fact the Schlup brothers were very successful at it, eventually razing their parents home and erecting a three-story modern watch factory in its place. But it would not last long after that. Soon after the second World War, competition for raw parts and movements threatened to squeeze out more small firms. The biggest threat came from Ebauches S.A. Founded in 1926, they had grown to become Switzerland's largest consortium and exporter of raw movements. So under the direction of the up-and-coming Mr. Luthi, Schlup and Co. decided to produce finished watches. Several names were chosen, but in 1954, Luthi decided on the name "Exacto."

To be continued in Part 2...