Monday, December 29, 2014

Rado Original Diastar Diver Automatic Model R12639023 - Not too big and can be used for active lifestyles as well as formal functions, A Review (updated with comments from a reader)

Rado..... This is one brand that has never been in my list of "must-have". However, from a technological point of view, I have been following this brand very closely. The way Rado has been able to use exotic materials for its watch designs intrigues me.

Of all the Rado designs available, I like the turtle-shaped watch casing the best. This style is under the Original Diastar line of watches. When I stumbled upon the Model R12639023, I was blown away. It has most of my favorite watch designs namely an internal bezel, sapphire crystal and (of course) the turtle-shaped watch casing. It is only at this point that I realised how difficult it was to source for this particular model.

Although Rado is part of the Swatch Group and has a formal presence in Kuala Lumpur with a few boutiques and a number of authorised dealers across the city, none carries the complete range of current models. After going to various Rado authorised dealers, it dawned on me this particular model is unique and not easily available. I was tempted to source it via the internet. As this would be my first Rado, I was hesitant to search the internet as I would prefer to review it physically first before making the plunge to buy. Moreover, if I do decide to get it from the internet, it would have to come from an internet merchant that I not had any experience with. It was only after I spoke to a resourceful salesman from AWG Fine Watches in Mid Valley that he was able to source one for me via the Swatch Group at a cost matching the internet price!

This is very interesting. It implies that we can bargain and get a price similar to what internet merchants are selling. The notion that brick-and-mortar shops cannot offer prices like internet merchants due to fixed costs is not necessarily true.

Anyway, to keep the story short, within a space of three days, I got a call from the salesman stating the watch has arrived at the shop and ready for pickup. To ensure that the deal does go through, a small deposit will be required to ensure commitment from the buyer. 

The watch box is huge. Protected by a white slip-on covering, Rado took the effort to make the covering presentable with the brand prominently printed at the centre.

The actual watch box is dark grey with the brand printed in silver at the centre. The box is well made and shows quality. This part of the watch box comes in two parts.

As shown below, after opening the lid, you will find a smaller watch box where the watch resides. Apart from this, the bigger box also consist of a compartment where a few items that come standard with the watch are kept.

A guarantee card, a manual as well as a Rado branded cleaning cloth. The guarantee runs for three years and is a global guarantee.

You would also note the thickness of the manual. In this case, this is a generic manual that covers a number of models. The amount of instruction specifically for this model is not that long. This indicates two things to me. The watch is not deemed unique or special enough in Rado's eyes to warrant a special booklet. From a price point, this model is deemed to be the lower end of the spectrum compared to the other models in the stable. Nevertheless, the package has been prepared well and does not give off a 'cheap' feeling at all.

This final box is the sturdiest of the lot. A hard box where the lid hinges at the back. Since all the accessories are kept in the previous box, only the watch is kept here.

The reveal. The watch rests on a black pillow in an all black surrounding. In the inner lid of the watch box, the brand is printed in silver. The dark background provides a very good contrast against the silver mirror-like metal of the watch.

The Rado Original was touted as the world’s first scratch-proof watch. To achieve this feat, the Rado Original uses a ‘high tech hard-metal’ bezel. Due to the design on the watch, the hard-metal bezel on the Rado Original covers half the watch case.

The material used for the hard-metal bezel is tungsten-carbide. This special alloy has a rating on the order of 1400-1700 Vickers on the Vickers hardness scale. It is highly polished. Side by side with the rest of the watch casing which is made out of stainless steel, you will notice a colour tone difference between the two materials. Tungsten-carbide is also heavier than steel, and the weight of the watch is obvious.

Unfortunately tungsten-carbide is brittle. This is the cost of having the hardness to be highly resistant to scratches. If it is struck hard enough it can break or shatter into multiple pieces. Nevertheless, the breaking point for the material would be some level that we would seldom experience anyway. Moreover, the fact that it is used on a 300 meter diver watch with the likelihood of contact with ship hulls, corals and other hard items are factors that Rado engineers must have anticipated when designing the watch.

From a divers' watch perspective, this particular model is on the low end of the size spectrum. The case measures just 38.6 mm in diameter without crown, 42.6 mm crown inclusive. The turtle shaped case in longer on the top-bottom alignment with a length of 46 mm. Despite incorporating an internal bezel as well as an automatic movement, the case thickness is just 12.6 mm.

Meanwhile, the lugs measures 24.2 mm. The unique measurement of the lugs is one clear sign that it would be difficult to substitute generic after-market straps for this watch. Nevertheless, from a design perspective, the lugs are pivoted to follow the contours of one's wrist. It sits much better on the wrist compared to many other watches.

The top of the watch is capped with a flat sapphire crystal flushed to the rim of the case. Based on other write-ups on the watch (see, the sapphire crystal does not have anti-reflective coating. I cannot find any formal document confirming this fact but based on what I can see, it appears true. It is not a major problem as the glass is flat and does not distort the reading of the dial even at high angles.

The watch comes with two complications. The quickset date complication is located in a small trapezoidal shape window at 3 o'clock with a black-on-white date wheel while the internal rotating bezel is located at the chapter ring. The moving chapter ring has Arabic numbering as well as primary (every 5th minute) and secondary (every minute except for the 5th and 10th minute) markers. Only the primary markers are covered with luminous paint. The first 15 minutes of the chapter ring is coloured red (at 0 minutes) that tones out to yellow (at 15 minutes). Another section of the chapter ring is also coloured. From 30 to 45 minutes the chapter ring is coloured blue (at 30 minutes) that tones out to white (at 45 minutes). The rest of the chapter ring is coloured black. The warning colours for the first 15 minutes is normally understood by most people indicating the amount of air left in the diving tanks. However, having another colour zone is definitely not common. I know most diving tanks have capacity of between 45 to 30 minutes but the purpose of putting cooler colours at this interval remains a mystery to me. As this is a countdown counter, my only primary focus would be on the danger zone not the maximum zone. As a diver, despite knowing how much air is available in the tank, for safety reasons (everyone breath at a difference rate and air volume), I usually deduct 15 minutes to give me ample breathable buffer on any dive. Honestly, I could not find any logical reason to put the 'blue' zone on the chapter ring. It is better to be safe than sorry.

The dial itself is black. On the dial, there are two scales. The outermost is a white ring with primary (every 5 minutes - except for the 3 o'clock position) and secondary (every minute) markers. The primary markers are coloured red and is luminous.  At 6 o'clock, in small print is the words "SWISS 002".

The second scale has Arabic numerals from 1 to 12. Although painted white, it is not with luminous paint. Also in white paint (not luminous) are the words "AUTOMATIC" and "300 m". The Rado brand is made out of a cut piece and stuck on the dial to give a 3-dimensional effect.

The three hands of the watch are thin. The seconds hand is painted red (not luminous) whereas the hours and minutes hands have small white (luminous) strip on them.

The most unique but practically irrelevant design feature on the dial (I don't even classify this as a complication) is the classic floating anchor symbol located at 6 o'clock. It is just an anchor on the end of a pin in a circular window with a red background that rotates freely in any direction. It is not connected to any part of the movement. Not at all appreciative to have on a practical diving watch but for desk-top divers, it is something cute. Personally, I would prefer if it is a power reserved indicator.

A comment from one of the readers frank regarding the floating anchor:...The mechanism is mounted on the dial in a jeweled pinion similar to those used in the movement and lubricated with the same oil. When the anchor no longer rotates freely, it means the oil is getting thick and the watch needs servicing. Consider it a sort of analogue service computer...I honestly didn't think of that.

In the photos above and below, you can see three distinct metals used on the watch. The bottom half of the case is stainless steel, with the hard-metal tungsten-carbide alloy bezel is attached to the top half. Although both parts of the case are fully polished, you can still see the colour difference of the two metals. My only comment on this is where the two metals meet. It is not seamless. This is because the hard-metal portion is actually pressed onto the stainless steel bottom instead of welded together.

The bracelet is a solid link stainless steel oyster-style with half-round links. The outer links are polished whereas the center links are brushed. The semi-integrated end links are solid. The bracelet measures 24.2 mm at the case and tapers to 17.8 mm at the clasp. As highlighted earlier, it could be extremely difficult to find a generic after-market strap for this watch if you want to replace the bracelet. As I was made to understand, Rado does have a rubber strap for this model.

The third material used in this watch is titanium and is used specifically for the clasp. Rado makes an additional effort of printing the word "TITANIUM" on the bridge as confirmation of the metal's origin. The surface has a brushed dull look to it.

As you can see from the photo above, there is a third fold on the left. This is the divers' extension provided specifically for this model.

The clasp has a push-button closure (on both sides of the clasp) that opens to one side like a standard deployant. The divers' extension which is about half the size of the main bridge is extended by pulling on a small hook (the small tab just on the left of the hole on the left bridge). This effectively makes it a butterfly-style clasp arrangement. Unfortunately, this means the clasp is not able to incorporate the addition of micro-adjustment points. Some of you may find this slightly irritating. It is either just tight or just loose.  

Below you can see the divers' extension being deployed. It gives an additional inch to the bracelet.

One mystery (from a practical point of view) is the use of titanium for the clasp. Titanium is much lighter than hard-metal and stainless steel. To balance the weighty case, an equally weighty bracelet should be used to counteract the imbalance. Using titanium makes the imbalance even worst.

Titanium is usually the preferred material for dive watches as the metal is more inert to salt water compared to stainless steel. Instead of just the clasp, the whole bracelet should have made out of titanium. Making only a part of the bracelet in titanium does not make practical sense.

The only reason Rado chose titanium is to prove that they can utilise any material of their choosing to make a watch. By incorporating three different materials shows their capability as manufacturer.

This watch comes with the Rado 658 series movement. This movement is a reworked ETA 2824-2 automatic movement. With 25 jewels and operating at 28,800 beats per hour, it has a power reserve of approximately 40 hours. It is hackable and can rewind manually. Time keeping is precise and I don't have any negative comments about it.

The case-back is polished stainless steel, screws down and is stamped with the famous Rado ‘Water Sealed’ twin seahorse logo.The model number, its origin, the model series and the word "SCRATCHPROOF" are the only information sand-blasted on the case-back.

The crown at the two o'clock position controls the internal bezel. A screw-down crown, it is easy to unscrew and screw. When unscrewed, you can move the bezel clockwise or anti-clockwise. The second crown at 3 o'clock adjust the date and time. It is also a  screw-down crown and equally easy to unscrew and screw.

You should also noticed a part of the case extending on either side of the crowns. This provide an additional protective shoulder for the crowns.

For a dive watch, the lume quality is poor. The markers and hand designs are too small to apply an effective amount of luminous paint. One simple solution, lumed the whole dial instead. Similar to my Citizen NY0040 (see the example on the right).

Instead of needing to focus on the lighted part (as it is now), focusing on the unlighted portion (like viewing a negative of a photo) also achieves the same outcome. I am not sure whether Rado buys this justification but it sure makes the model rock!

This watch is very difficult to keep spotless. Since it is highly polished, skin oils and fingerprints are easily transferred on to it.

The watch sits perfectly on my wrist. The design of the unique lugs falls nicely on other side of my wrist which creates a balance that is seldom seen in many watches.

Another unique feature of the watch which can be seen in the following photo is where the serial number is etched. Generally, most brands will note the serial number on the case-back or between the lugs. In this case, Rado opted to print it on the hard-metal bezel itself.

The clasp is signed and polished.

I do find the style of signage on the clasp to be different then the rest. The use of a grey rectangle as background seems odd. I expected Rado to just etched or sandblast the brand directly onto the metal.

As highlighted earlier, the watch is comfortable to wear. The case wraps itself on the wrist and you don't find a lot of 'jiggling' despite the weight.

The shape of the watch makes it easy for the watch to slip under shirt cuffs. As such, this watch is equally at ease in formal functions. In fact the polished hard-metal bezel is very 'dress-watch' like.

Apart from the poor lume, this watch fulfil the requirements of a daily watch. Not too big and can be used for active lifestyle as well as formal functions.


  1. Caution. Baracudas like the strap.

  2. Nice write up. One comment regarding the floating anchor logo not having a function. This isn't strictly true. The mechanism is mounted on the dial in a jeweled pinion similar to those used in the movement and lubricated with the same oil. When the anchor no longer rotates freely, it means the oil is getting thick and the watch needs servicing. Consider it a sort of analogue service computer. To my mind, this is a very useful function since service intervals are usually based solely on time, whereas oil degrades based on amount of use/sitting, temperature, humidity, etc.

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for that insight. I never knew what was the original purpose of the floating anchor. Very smart of the designers.
      Also, thanks for visiting an taking time to write in a comment! Truly appreciate it.

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