NEXT-CASE SCENARIO. Without Rado, the history of ceramic watches might have never progressed as it did. Matthias Breschan, the CEO, paints a picture of the next generation of high-end ceramics
Rado has over the years been a dark horse in the horology industry. Founded in 1917 by three brothers, namely Fritz, Ernst and Werner Schulp in Lengnau, Switzerland, the company only began selling watches under the Rado name in 1957. Five years later, it introduced the world’s first scratchproof timepiece, the DiaStar watch—a monumental creation that shook up the industry. And to this very day, watch cases are where where Rado sheds its blood, sweat and tears to constantly innovate and continuously pave the way toward a new generation of advanced ceramics.
This might sound a little cliché if one to bring up the subject a decade ago. Rado was known for sleek rectangular ceramic watches with little variation in design. But it has grown by leaps and bounds now, and the influence of this growth was quite obvious at Baselworld 2015, where ceramic watches became part of almost every brand’s collections. Moreover, Rado has come to master both monobloc construction and plasma high-tech ceramic technology. The anchor-logoed watchmaker now offers a wide range of enticing ceramic timepieces in a variety of shapes and colors, literally like no other. It is not hard to imagine that the day Rado stops innovating will be the end of the dream for the ultimate ceramic watch.
DA MAN Caliber: Hi Matthias, nice to have you with us. From the 2015 novelties, Rado is introducing a new kind of case material with the HyperChrome Si3N4 watch. Where is Rado going with this new creation?
Matthias Breschan: First of all, it is called silicon nitride, and it is a ceramic. I would dare even say that it is the next generation of ceramics. The material is 30-percent lighter than the traditional zirconium ceramic, and, surprisingly, it is a little bit elastic. This tackles the disadvantage of regular ceramic—a very hard element but quite easy to break. So, the elastic property of Si3N4 would lower the risk of the ceramic to break.
DA MAN Caliber: What about the color variety of the Si3N4?
Matthias Breschan: That’s exactly the challenge today. We can’t have different colors from the one we’ve shown yet. But we had a similar issue with regular ceramics before that we finally managed to resolve. If you look at our current offerings, we have a large variety of ceramic colors: white, black or slate-colored with the plasma technology. We can otherwise add some metallic alloy to the zirconium ceramic to achieve rose gold- or yellow gold-tinged ceramics. So, you can say that the Si3N4 is the first step of the new generation of ceramics, yet we’re far from finished.
DA MAN Caliber: At the same time, the HyperChrome collection has grown larger and larger.
Matthias Breschan: Yes, the design of HyperChrome today with round cases actually resembles watches we did in the 1970s called the horse collection. It was already a best-selling item in the past, but at that time it was technically impossible for Rado to do it in ceramic. The ceramic technology on watches consisted of coating the steel construction. Three years ago, however, we adopted a new technology called monobloc construction. This allowed us to create watches entirely made of ceramic in a single mold. As a result, we produced very light creations with shapes and thin proportions, as much as we had desired. We also knew that, despite our very strong traditional clientele, we needed new styles, shapes and lines in order to attract a younger clientele. This is where the current HyperChrome selections come into play. So, the HyperChrome was historically a top-selling line, and it remains so to this very day. And Rado is selling almost equally 50-50 to both men and women. It’s rare in this industry to have that, and it’s something we’d like to keep for the long run.
DA MAN Caliber: There is also a strong association with tennis for the HyperChrome. Why tennis?
Matthias Breschan: Tennis is perfect for Rado, because tennis is one of very few sports where the number of men and women participate is almost equal. Of course, there is a big aspect of elegance and a mindset that an athlete in this field has to develop a very strong individual strategy. Product materials, too, play a determining role. Thus, tennis as a sport wholly fits the brand’s values. The choice for the ambassador is also spot-on. Tennis player Andy Murray is a fighter. He always tries to adapt his game, improve his skill, and surprise the adversaries. These qualities are synonymous to Rado.
DA MAN Caliber: But it seems that Rado also taps other types of ambassadors for different countries.
Matthias Breschan: Yes, it’s true. In India, Bollywood has a big following. That’s why we have actor Hrithik Roshan. In China, we have actress Tang Wei for Rado. And globally, it is back to tennis for Rado.
DA MAN Caliber: In Asia, Rado is still strongly known for classic-looking timepieces. Do you perceive this as an advantage?
Matthias Breschan: Yes, definitely. The majority of our clientele appreciate classic-looking watches, especially with the gifting tradition as in many Asian countries. When you present a gift to somebody, you want to offer something that’s long lasting in both value and condition. Rado watches are known to be not only scratchproof but also remaining the same over many years.
DA MAN Caliber: With so much innovation on ceramic, how is the patent issue going? Especially considering that there are an increasing number of other brands releasing ceramic watches.
Matthias Breschan: Rado is, by far, the leader in this category. You’re right, it wasn’t easy for us a few years back when many fashion watches began crafting ceramic watches and sold them at a very low price point. It was very complicated for us to explain to the consumers that there was a huge technological difference between the high-end and low-end ceramics. Today it is exactly the opposite. There are a lot of high-end brands employing ceramic materials for their watches. This consequently educates the market, and people now understand how valuable and noble ceramic is, not to mention comfortable. It is scratch-resistant, and the temperature adapts to the temperature of the skin. So, the appreciation for ceramic watches has totally changed for the better. Now we have also the high-tech plasma ceramic. To enlarge the variety of ceramic shades, we can add in some metal; this is called cermet (ceramic metal). However, the presence of metal in the ceramic makes the watch not 100-percent hypoallergenic. Our patented high-tech plasma ceramic technology completely resolves the issue. What we do is that we put ceramic pieces in a plasma oven and bake it up to 2,000 degrees. What we’re doing basically is transforming the material in a molecular level. It’s not just the surface of the material, but also in the inside. That normal white ceramic color changes into a beautiful slate or platinum shade. With no metal in the ceramic, it is then 100-percent hypoallergenic.
DA MAN Caliber: On a separate note, you’ve been the CEO of Rado since 2011. What has changed within the company so far?
Matthias Breschan: I think we are able to reposition the brand in all segments. On the high-end, we have the HyperChrome; for the mid-range is the DiaMaster; for the entry-level collections, there are the Centrix and the Coupole lines. So now, we have a very strong comprehensive product portfolio that allows us to keep our loyal traditional clientele and also address the younger clientele. My personal challenge now is that I need to make sure that we don’t just leave it there. We need to continue to innovate, to take risk, and try things out. The day you stop innovating [is] the day you start killing a brand.
This article first appeared in DA MAN Caliber 2015. Click here to get a copy of our back issues.