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  • Bruce Shawkey's Rado History Article...

    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.

    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.

    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.
    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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...

    Last edited by Watch Carefully; 12-30-2017, 12:36 PM.

  • #2
    Part 2 of Bruce Shawkey's article...

    By his own admission, Luthi was not trained as a watchmaker. He was an academic, eventually earning a Philosophy Doctorate, or Ph.D. In fact, Rado still confers on him the honorary title of "Dr. Luthi." And, as history eventually proved, he was a rather savvy marketer as well. He was not one to be cooped up in a watch factory, and therefore he and his "Exacto" watches took their show on the road, so to speak. He went to countries where other manufacturers had little or no exposure--for example South America, Hong Kong and Japan. He enjoyed a relative degree of success, but soon ran into a problem with name "Exacto."

    As the official company history tells it, several countries restricted the registration of a brand name that describes a condition of quality, and so the company could not universally trademark the name all over the world. Now once again, I see what might be construed as a little "creative interpretation" of the facts. The fact is that the Harman Watch Co., of New York, already owned the U.S. rights to that trademark during this time. And I can't help but wonder whether someone pointed out to Luthi that someone else had claim to that name, at least in America. Eventually, if Luthi intended on bringing Exacto watches to the United States, a trademark lawsuit would have been likely. But regardless of whose "facts" are more accurate, Luthi went back to the drawing board in search of a new name.

    I have come across a photo of an Exacto from those early years. There is nothing unusual about the design. These are very rare watches, and I suspect some are laying about in dealers' junk boxes simply because their origin and scarcity are not known. If you find one, you will have quite a scarce watch. If you find one, do be sure to open it, however, to ensure that it is not a Harman Exacto. I have never seen an Exacto from the Schlup factory, but I suspect it would be signed either "Exacto" or "Schlup" on the movement and/or the inside case back.

    Ironically, Harman eventually lost the trademark rights to the "Exacto" name, and it was again picked up by Rado (if for no other reason than sentimentality I suppose). And as late as 1991, the name was owned by the Swatch Group, which by that time had become Rado's parent company.

    But I digress. Luthi was forced to come up with a new name. And so in 1957, he chose the name Rado. And what does the name mean? Now some have speculated that the name is perhaps an anagram for "Dora" (wife, mother, etc. of Mr. Luthi). But the truth is, it means absolutely nothing. Luthi chose the name, perhaps drawing consonants and vowels out of a box of Scrabble tiles until he had a name that sounded pleasing and was easy to remember. According to the company, it is simply a made-up name with a melodious sound.

    The first Rado watches were very standard in design and looked like the same watches produced by many other companies at that time--standard rounds, squares and rectangulars. In fact, I am told that the "rounds" bear a remarkable resemblance to the Exacto you see at left. Hmmm, now that got me to thinking. It said that the only people tighter with a buck than the Swiss are the Scots. So I believe it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Luthi, rather than junk all his newly made "Exacto" watches, instead ordered new dials for them and simply made a switch. This is based strictly on a hunch, but it was not unusual practice in those days by ANY watch manufacturer to simply order up a new batch of dials for an existing stock of finished watches to give them a "fresh look." Batches of NOS (new old stock) dials occasionally (though not often) come up for auction on eBay, and in fact a box of NOS Rado dials was recently auctioned. The switch would also be one possible explanation of why we don't see many Exacto watches come up for sale or auction. Of course, the company would never admit to a "retro-fitting," such as this, but it does cause the mind to wander in that direction!

    The first model to have a specific name was the Starliner. Now I don't have a shot of vintage Starliner, only a couple of more modern ones, which appear on the following page. The first ones did not year bear the floating anchor logo on the dial (as you see in the modern reproductions) but they were very similar in case design.

    For the first five years, from 1957 to 1962, Rado enjoyed a modest success in South America and the Far East. It appears from historical literature provided by Rado that Luthi, in fact, developed quite a fondness for the various countries of Asia and an affinity with their culture. Photos show him being carted around Beijing on a bicycle-drawn rickshaw and so forth. That perhaps led Luthi to come up with Rado's next series of watches with the name "horse" in the model name. The horse is a sign of good luck in many Asian countries. Thus, the legendary "Horse" series of Rado watches was born. The Green Horse was first in 1958, was eventually followed by the Golden, the Silver, the Purple, and possibly others that I am missing. These early Rado "Horse" series had a pressure rating of 12 atmospheres, or 120 meters in depth. Pretty good in its day--good for shallow submersion, diving (non-tank) and most water sports. They also did not feature a conventional screw back, but rather a pressure-fitted back where notches in the back line up with notches in the case. It requires a mere quarter-turn to "unlock" these cases. This is a feature that many collectors and watch technicians do not understand and, as a result, they damage these cases by trying to twist off the back as if it were threaded.

    The "Horse" series did very well in Asia. In fact, to this day, most of the vintage Rado "Horse" watches you see on eBay are coming out of Asia--notably Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

    Around this time, Luthi also came up with the "Gazelle" series, playing on the symbolism of the gazelle as a sign of speed and awareness. In some cultures, it is a symbol of a new love or new challenge in life. Both present numerous gift-giving opportunities, if you view this as a marketer, which Luthi obviously did. Like the "Horse" series, the backs on many of these watches were fashioned in the manner described above. So we see Rado's Oz-like "forest" being populated with strange-colored animals, hence my choice of words ("Oh my!") for the title of this story.

    While the company was still years away from tackling the American market, Rado attempted to exploit other markets in addition to Asia and South America. We have evidence that Rado fulfilled military contracts in at least one country: Germany. An interesting piece came up for auction recently on eBay. It was a watch made for the German "Armed Forces Work" or WEHRMACHTSWERK, as it translates to in the German language. It was described on eBay as a World War II watch, but this is impossible since the brand name "Rado" was not trademarked until 1957. Just goes to show you can't believe everything your read on an eBay auction description. In any event, the company does not seem prone to bragging about its military contracts. (I have heard at least one report that in the 1980s, Rado contracted with the Libyan government to make a series of watches with the likeness of Muammar Qadhafi on the dial. The Colonel used to present the watches as "trophies" to soldiers he felt had exhibited exemplary performance. At least one of these watches has surfaced at gun/military show. The authenticity of such a piece is hard to prove because the company will neither confirm nor deny their manufacture.)

    Continued in Part 3...
    Last edited by Watch Carefully; 12-30-2017, 12:37 PM.


    • #3
      Part 3 of Bruce Shawkey's article...

      But getting back to the late 1950s, Luthi made an important decision, one that is not noted anywhere in the "official" company history. Early on, Luthi decided that the majority of his watches (certainly the sport models like the Horse and Gazelle series) would feature automatic movements. Schlup and Co., as far as I can tell, only made manual wind movements and parts. It was obviously more economical to use ebauches (unfinished movements) from other manufacturers and "finish them out" (polish the plates and stamp the Rado brand name on them) than to try and "tool up" for production at his own factory. Thus, the facility in Lengnau ceased being a manufacturing facility--at least for movements--and turned into more of a case-making and assembly plant. Also, somewhere during this time, probably the early 1960s. Luthi decided to add the trademark "floating anchor" logo to the dials of most of his watches--certainly all the sports models which comprised the bulk of his product line. We do not know exactly where Luthi got this idea, but certainly the anchor added another impression of strength to the watch. It is simply a small metal anchor attached by a pivot to a synthetic ruby jewel that is snap-fit into the dial. It is this floating feature that earns the disdain of some collectors who say it is nothing more than a gimmick. But regardless, the Starliner, and the Horse and Gazelle series were great successes. My own belief is that the countries where Rado was strong lacked choices when it came to "medium-quality" watches. And so Rado became the watch of choice in these countries, as other mid-priced manufacturers were busy courting the U.S. and European markets.

      As successful as he was, however, Luthi was still looking for a "breakthrough watch," to borrow a term from Hollywood. Something to put the company on the worldwide map, so to speak. The idea came from Rado's then-creative designer, Herr [Marc] Lederrey. Rado's customers tended to be hard on watches. While America's workforce was already changing from blue- to white-collar, much of the work force in the rest of the world still consisted of laborers. Gold-filled watches did not wear well, and solid gold wore even worse. Even stainless steel was not impervious to the harsh treatment. And so Rado came up with the idea of making a watch case that was scratchproof, or at least extremely scratch resistant. Rado came up with the idea of starting with steel and adding additional alloys--either tungsten or titanium-carbide. The material was then formed into a saucer-shape, thereby lessening the chances for chipping along sharp edges. The resulting watch was called the DiaStar. Luthi explains the name choice this way: "Dia" from diamond, and "Star" as in heavenly body." The watch was introduced in 1962. It took a while for the model to catch on, but when it did, it caught on in a big way. It was a big seller not only on Rado's "home turf" but it also caught the attention of the American market as well.

      The DiaStar is noteworthy for several reasons. It became Rado's most popular model and still being sold today. It is not scratch PROOF, as the company claims, but it is very scratch resistant. If you are familiar with the Moh's hardness scale, you know that it goes from 1 to 10, with 1 being talc and 10 being diamond. This alloy had a hardness of approximately 8. Normal stainless steel has a hardness of between 4.5 to 5.5 depending on the metals that are mixed with the iron.

      Now I am not going into a big technical digression into the various ways that hardness of a given material is determined. There are many methods, and it is a very complicated science. But it's important that you know that the Moh's scale is not a proportional scale, that is each increment in hardness does NOT represent an equal amount of hardness increase over the previous number. Neither is it a perfect logarithmic scale, where each increment in hardness represents an equal exponential increase in hardness. The fact is that the Moh's scale is somewhat arbitrary. For example, diamond (rated 10 on the Moh's scale) is 40 times harder than sapphire, which is a 9. And certainly the Mohs scale is out of date, and applies primarily to minerals and not metals. But we use the Moh's scale because it is familiar. So anyway, what I am getting at is that Rado's new alloy, with a hardness of 8, is not merely twice as hard as stainless, but MANY times harder than stainless steel. By how much, I do not know because I am not a mineralogist and do not have easy access to a thorough explanation of the Mohs scale

      The cases are pressed into blanks under a pressure of 1,000 bar, equivalent to 14,500 pounds per square inch. They are further compressed into their final form in a furnace at a temperature of 1,450C, which is roughly 2,640 degrees Fahrenheit. My point in going into all this detail is that I don't believe the majority of collectors realizes what a dramatic innovation this was, nor do they give Rado the proper amount of "credit due" for it. I like to put this into perspective this way: The creation of this alloy was to case innovation what the invention of the Accutron was to movement innovation. It was nothing short of a paradigm shift - a momentous event which, in my opinion, the company has not equaled since. It also introduced the saucer-shaped case which, for better or worse, was eventually copied by just about every other watch manufacturer. (Most would say "for worse" because it resulted in heavy, clunky styles that the disdain of many collectors who favor the sleeker, more elegant round shapes.)

      Now, having heaped all that praise upon the DiaStar, let me present the flip side. The watch is NOT impervious to damage. As everyone knows, you can damage a diamond, which is the hardest substance known. I have seen older specimens of these models that have been very scratched and beaten up. But it does take a lot to scratch them. But they do have a weakness, my friends: They are extremely susceptible to fingerprints. Fingerprints show on this surface, and they remain. And when Rado introduced the Ceramic DiaStar in 1989 (I'll get to that watch in a moment), is fingerprint problem did not improve. Soon after the introduction of the DiaStar, Rado even began including polishing cloths with the watches so owners could wipe them off at the end of each day - not a very practical feature of this material. But then that is way things go with most things in life. If you push one feature to an extreme, usually some other weakness emerges.

      The DiaStars became very popular and, like the "Horses," Rado came up with a whole slew of them, and usually assigned them numbers to differentiate them. The DiaStar 1 is the first, the classic saucer or oval shape. Then came number 2, which was a round shape. The number 10 was the first square shape, and so forth. I believe they went as high as "48" and possibly higher. But the number 1 was the most popular and remains so to this day. The company claims that by 1987, they had sold 1.5 million oval-shape DiaStars.

      Continued in Part 4...
      Last edited by Watch Carefully; 12-30-2017, 12:39 PM.


      • #4
        Part 4 of Bruce Shawkey's article...

        Rado had finally captured the attention of the American market. So in 1966, Rado introduced the "Manhattan." It was a symbolic event designed to underscore the fact that Rado had finally "arrived" and was a force to be reckoned with. I mean, what name could possibly be more in-your-face American than Manhattan? It was a rectangular watch, wider than it is tall. Some say "Manhattan" on the dial; some do not, and the ones that are signed Manhattan on the dial are considered more desirable. These models are also becoming extremely collectable.

        In 1967, Rado introduced the Captain Cook, which was the company's first serious diver's model. Most of their sport watches prior to this were water resistant, but this was the first model designed to go deeper. It was first introduced as a man's watch, but eventually made in a woman's model as well. Another diver's model was subsequently introduced with a bright orange dial in an attempt to capitalize on the success of the Doxa SUB 300T, introduced in 1967. I don't have a photo of the Rado model, unfortunately, but it doesn't much matter because the most conspicuous feature of this watch, the orange dial, wouldn't be evident in a black-and-white newsletter anyway!

        In 1968, Rado joined the ASUAG consortium of watch manufacturers. By doing this, Luthi set the stage for the eventual acquisition of Rado by The Swatch Group. It was based on economics, the theory being that a group of watch manufacturers could benefit from "economies of scale" and have a better chance of surviving than if they remained on their own. It was a good decision at the time, even though this marked the end of Rado as a family-run business. Still, ASUAG allowed Rado enough autonomy to keep their brand distinct. They continued on their original course, offering watches with new designs and new case materials rather than copying the watches of others.

        In the early 1970s, Rado came out with what I personally think was their most unusual watch, which they called the Planning. Why they didn't name it the Planner, I don't know. Maybe that name was already trademarked. But anyway, the Planning, which you see below, has an extra flap attached to the bezel containing a rotating ring that contains a perpetual calendar. By means of rotating a chapter ring, you can see any given month at a glance. I have only seen one of these offered for sale in 14 years. The one you see sold for $250 in July of 2000 off the Finer Times website. Lee Davies, a Rado collector and dealer from Balmorhea, Texas, tells of another Planning that was offered on eBay a while back. The seller said Rado made it for the CIA. I personally find this another load of eBay seller horse crap. What self-respecting spy would wear a watch like this that would make him stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd? I'm certain Rado made this for some market niche, but probably not the CIA! Regardless, it obviously didn't sell very well as evidenced by how few of these crop up. It's a very rare watch.

        In 1972, Rado introduced the DiaStar 24 ES, which had a tuning fork movement based on the Bulova Accutron. A quartz DiaStar, the model 48, followed in 1974. The quartz revolution put a serious damper on Rado's production of traditional watches until the renaissance of mechanical watches occurred in the mid 1980s. But by 1983, ASUAG and SSIH merged and formed SMH, and thus put Rado under the umbrella of the world's largest watch consortium. And, of course as most know, SMH eventually changed its name in 1998 to The Swatch Group.

        I should preface this final section of our story with a little disclaimer. What I am about to say is based partly on fact, but partly on opinion of Rado since they became part of SMH. I'm sure there are many out there who will disagree with my assessment - certainly I expect the PR folks at Rado to fire off a little missive when they read this.

        My point is, if you are interested in finding out more about the post-1983 Rado, you should visit their website, You should visit discussion forums like, and and see what other people have to say about the modern Rado, and then decide for yourself.

        My own opinion is that after 1983, the focus of Rado shifted from innovation to selling quantities of watches. In other words, it became a numbers game rather than watchmaker's art. Still, Rado had a few tricks up its sleeve. I think the most striking watch that Rado produced after surrendering their independence was a model of the DiaStar they called the Ceramica. Introduced in 1989, the Ceramic featured a case and bracelet made of shiny black ceramic. It was very thin, and it looked like one continuous band of shiny black glass. Certainly, the company introduced new models, and continues to do so to this day. In addition to the Ceramica, Rado has claimed other technological and/or stylistic "breakthroughs" such as the:
        * DiaStar Anatom, 1987, anatomically shaped to fit the curvature of the wrist;
        * La Coupole, 1988, round, but with a dome-shaped sapphire crystal with covers (and thus protects) the whole watch surface from rim to rim;
        * Carpe Diem - introduced in the 1990s, exact date unknown. Combines art in the form of a multi-colored dial, with timekeeping.

        But is this really innovation? Seems to me this has all been done before. Gruen had the "anatomical thing" covered in 1935 with the introduction of the Curvex. And my apologies to Rado, but the Carpe Diem, in my opinion, looks like one of those inexpensive Hong Kong watches you find at carnival fairs (it retails for $1,400).

        And the others, while very nice looking watches, are just variations on a theme. The inescapable truth is that when watchmaking becomes a "numbers game," innovation tends to get tossed out the window or, at the very least, is put on the back burner.

        [As of 2004], the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Rado's parent company, The Swatch Group, is Nicolas G. Hayek. He has been alternately praised and vilified in the horological press for what he has done to the Swiss watch industry under the auspices of The Swatch Group, which is the world's largest producer of watches. His fans say he saved the Swiss watch industry from extinction. His detractors criticize him for over-saturating the market and debasing not only Rado, but the other numerous former great watch brands which have been absorbed into The Swatch Group: brands like Omega, Longines, Tissot, Mido and Hamilton. Rado is no exception. Every year, new models are announced that differ little from previous models, all in an attempt to create the illusion that there is something "new." Meanwhile, last year's models are wholesaled out to jobbers and inventory liquidators who then peddle them on eBay and discount stores. Distinctions become blurred as the differences between last year's models and this year's become smaller and smaller. Consider this: Every year watch manufacturers all over the world produce approximately 456 million watches. That's roughly four times the estimated annual market demand. Now The Swatch Group is responsible for producing about 25% of that annual production, and every year it has to increase the number of watches it produces to preserve that market share. So the question is whether Rado, under intense pressure from its parent company to produce more and more watches, will remain a distinct brand in the public's mind, or simply blend into the landscape and become a generic "watch" in the public's mind. Vintage Rado watches, in my opinion, were great watches and remain vastly underrated by the collecting world. But how will they be remembered in generations to come? As the old saying goes, only time will tell.

        Copyright notice and invitation to submit revisions:

        The above article is copyright by Bruce Shawkey and is intended for educations purposes of individual readers. Reprinting of this article in any form, whether print or electronic, is not permitted without first obtaining permission by the author at Also, I welcome any comments, further information you may have, or correction of any errors (with supporting documentation/references) by contacting me at the email address previously referenced.

        Equation Of Time would like to thank Mr. Shawkey for permission to reprint his article and photos, and for his participation in our new forum. Some edits (including the insertion of new images) have been made by the forum moderator--any errors introduced are purely the fault of the moderator and will be corrected upon request.
        Last edited by Watch Carefully; 12-30-2017, 12:40 PM.


        • #5
          Rado update from Bruce Shawkey

          Hello all,
          I just acquired this page containing Bruce's update on Rado model names & the direct-read Rado watch of the 1930s:

          The reference number list Bruce mentions can be found here:

          I'll be working to convert it to searchable text for my own records.