Most of us associate Rado with design-oriented watches and innovative materials, especially high-tech ceramic. Minimalist lines, sleek profiles and silky smooth ceramic cases and bracelets have defined much of the brand’s portfolio since the 1990s. And then, during Baselworld 2017, Rado surprised us with a very convincing reinterpretation of a 1962 Captain Cook model complete with 300m diving credentials. Not only was the Captain Cook a vintage-inspired watch, but it was also a dive watch, two genres that not many of us would have anticipated from Rado. Reaching back even further into the brand’s somewhat sketchy past, another golden oldie materialised with the resuscitation of a 1957 dress watch known as the Golden Horse. Resurfacing in 2019 with accurate vintage details but a contemporary automatic movement, there are now four models in the Golden Horse 1957 Limited Edition collection and we got our hands on three of them.
From Schlup & Co. to Rado
The brand we know today as Rado started life in 1917 as the Schlup & Co. watchmaking workshop of Lengnau run by three brothers. Expanding from its humble beginnings to become an important supplier of watch movements during WWII, Schlup & Co. began selling watches under the Rado brand name in the late 1950s. In 1957, forty years after its foundation, the Golden Horse collection made its debut as an elegant yet water-resistant model and appeared with a variety of functions, bold colour dials and steel or gold-plated cases.
The original Golden Horse had a 37mm diameter, a surprisingly large case for its day and was made from steel, a bold decision in an age when gold was the norm for men’s wristwatches. According to Hakim El Kadiri, vice president of Rado, the presence of a ‘novel’ animal (seahorse) and the gold-plated cases of the Golden Horse might have been targeted to the Chinese market. Be that as it may, the 2019 limited editions of the Golden Horse are intended to be “true to the original“, from the case size to the fumé dial, from the golden seahorses on the dial to the date window with red numerals, and other period-correct details.
All three models have a case diameter of 37mm (36.5mm to be precise) and a height of 10.8mm. A small case size by today’s standards but in tune with the vintage vocation of the Golden Horse. The height is slim enough to pass as a dress watch, especially in the case of the red dial with its retro black faux-crocodile leather strap. Although it might be on the small side for some men, the 44mm lug-to-lug measurement makes the watch larger than its measurements would indicate. For those of you with larger wrists, the steel bracelet has infinitely more wrist presence than the black strap. The bracelet, with its vintage beads-of-rice links, is supple yet sturdy and denotes the excellent craftsmanship employed in its execution.
The shiny bright reflections of the case and bracelet are produced by the polished finishings throughout (save the brushed casebands, the centre of the caseback and the reverse side of the bracelet). The watch is water-resistant to 50 metres, more than enough for everyday wear and tear.
Another surprising detail, which many of us associate with top-tier brands like Moser, is the fact that the original 1957 Golden Horse models displayed fumé or gradient dials. Available in green, blue, red and black (not photographed), the centre of the dial is lighter and becomes progressively darker (almost black) when it reaches the periphery. Although the dial is not a pie-pan dial like those featured on some early models, it is curved and protected by a thick box-shaped sapphire crystal to recreate the sensation of the original acrylic glass.
In deference to the original, the same indices, hands and framed date window at 3 o’clock are respected. The sharply faceted and applied indices and the dauphine hands are brightly polished and stand out for miles, without a trace of lume. Two golden seahorses, positioned face to face, are placed just above 6 o’clock along with the inscription Golden Horse, in the same font as the original. The brand’s signature anchor first appeared in 1962 and is now featured on all automatic watches. Placed just below 12 o’clock, the anchor swings back and forth around a central pivot animating the watch.
Although date windows generate controversy, I have to admit that I like the date window here. Positioned at 3 o’clock and suitably framed, this date window is not shy and even replicates the red numerals of the original. It’s not hiding or lurking in some stealth position, it’s a functional date window and has no qualms about its utility.
While the casing, bracelet and dials stick to the original 1957 design details of the Golden Horse, the movement is a contemporary ETA C07.611 automatic with a robust 80-hour power reserve, in essence, an upgraded ETA 2824-2. The trade-off for the upgrade in power reserve involved reducing the traditional 28,800vph frequency to 21,600vph making the watch tick less often. The closed caseback harks back to the original and is decorated with three seahorses and three stars.
In the vast sea of vintage re-enactments, the Golden Horse is the real deal. Modern tweaks like the sapphire crystal and the ETA automatic movement with its 80-hour power reserve position it as an ideal everyday watch. Although the red dial model with the black leather strap might be the dressier of the lot, the stainless steel bracelet is a joy to wear.
Availability and price
The three models of the Rado Golden Horse Automatic featured in this article are all limited editions of 1,957 pieces. The models on the stainless steel bracelet retail for EUR 1,840, the model on the embossed black leather strap for EUR 1,740. For more information, please visit rado.com