Watch Review : Rado Diastar – “Come And Have A Go If You Think You’re Hard Enough!”

Greg Rusedski. Now there is a name not often associated with this hobby, and certainly not one at the top of the list if I asked you to list some famous brand ambassadors. Nevertheless, it is a name that had an impact on my own watch story as a youth. As most of Britain rallied behind our Canadian import at Wimbledon in the summer of 1997, I was edging closer to the TV set each time he tossed up the ball before another booming serve, squinting to get a better look at the stylish watch on his wrist.

That watch was a Rado Ceramica – a watch that seemed so futuristic at the time, and now seems so typically Rado. Although the wait for a British Wimbledon champion (in the form of a dour Scot) lasted much longer than my yearning for that particular watch, the Rado brand has remained on my radar ever since.

Although a large part of their catalogue makes use of what Rado themselves refer to as ‘hi-tech’ materials and with cases and dials to match that ethos, there still remains a segment of their models which retain a strong sense of the brand’s heritage. In the last few years we have seen a successful re-reissue of the 1960s Captain Cook diver, followed up with a Manhattan re-release at Basel in 2018 as well as almost countless subsequent additions to the Captain Cook line. However, one Rado design has seen only slight revisions that whole time with the same distinctive styling ever-present. For many, the DiaStar is the quintessential Rado.

 

Scottish Watches and Fears Watch Company

It was in the early 1960s that Rado presented their first “scratchproof” watch; the DiaStar 1. This model, as with others that have followed, used a Tungsten Carbide “hardmetal” for the case and bezel. With a hardness many times that of stainless steel (1400-1700 Vickers vs ~150 Vickers), this case material is also approximately twice as stiff and twice as dense. That density makes for a heavy watch on the wrist, and most Rado DiaStar models remain fairly modest in size partly for this reason.

 

The increased hardness isn’t without its drawbacks though. Tungsten Carbide is difficult to work with and can be cracked or shattered easier than stainless steel. In order to reduce the likelihood of this happening in normal daily usage Rado came up with the distinctive DiaStar case shape. The result is a smooth case and bezel flowing around the whole of the front of the watch, and only a relatively small vertical case wall.

Although much more scratch-resistant than stainless steel, strictly speaking the Tungsten Carbide case of the DiaStar isn’t quite “scratchproof”. By way of comparison, sapphire crystal usually comes in at about 2100 Vickers and to augment the qualities offered by the case material, Rado therefore also chose to fit every DiaStar with sapphire crystal. Use of sapphire wasn’t revolutionary in watches by this time, but it was still nowhere near as prevalent as it is today.

(As a side note, Rado was later able to produce a watch with the same Vickers hardness as diamond – named the v10k.)

The distinctive styling makes the DiaStar recognisable today but it wasn’t a runaway success initially. Despite this, the DiaStar has now been in production for over 55 years. Many re-editions, Limited Editions and a huge number of dial variations have come and gone but the distinctive case is ever-present. In many cases it is difficult to guess which decade a particular watch could be from.

The particular model seen in the images here is the DiaStar 50th Anniversary Limited Edition which was released in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first DiaStar, and was limited to 1962 pieces.

If you’ve never experienced one in person, there are two things you’re likely to notice right off the bat. First up, it’s smaller than expected. Secondly, once you are onboard with the size, it’s also perhaps weightier than you might imagine. Starting with the size, the diameter excluding the crown is only 35m. Given the expanse of the bezel, that brings the dial in at about 25mm. The lug-less design also makes for a small measurement across the 12-6 axis too, just over 42mm. Although it isn’t particularly thick in absolute terms (under 10.5mm), the case shape gives off the feel of a tall watch by comparison.

On the wrist though, those dimensions just work. The density of the Tungsten Carbide case can really be felt, and the prospect of anything nearer 40-42mm is suddenly quite unappealing. Even the case profile makes much more sense. There’s still no getting away from how small the dial is, especially on a model like this where the hands are similar to the dial colour and don’t even come close to spanning its full radius. The reasons for the shortfall are legitimate, but they are born out of a compromise between design and function.

In isolation, the dial is beautiful. Tall and highly polished indices rise above the brushed silver surface, with the shimmering coolness broken by the date window at three o’clock and the red flash of the Rado anchor logo. While it’s nice to see such tall indices drawing attention to the depth of a watch rather than trying to hide its thickness, their presence forces the hands to fall short of the perimeter.

Unlike many Rado DiaStars, the sapphire crystal is not faceted. That’s a typical Rado feature that I tend to like, and I therefore expected to miss it here, but its omission adds to the cleanliness of the dial and I’ll accept that anything else hindering the ability to tell time would be unwelcome.  Although the case is dominated by the single surface of the bezel, it manages to take on a different character from each viewing angle. Such a large polished surface is difficult to keep clear of fingerprints and smudges, but the material keeps it free from scratches that haunt most polished bezels.

 

Inside the DiaStar is the ETA 2836-2. Sitting where Rado do in the Swatch group hierarchy, that’s no great surprise. This calibre gives the same 28,800 beats per hour and 38 per hour reserve as the well-known 2824-2. The movement is perfectly suited to the watch, though the small push-pull crown sitting fairly flush within the case doesn’t make hand-winding an easy task.

In celebration of the 50 years since the launch of the DiaStar, this Limited Edition model comes with a set of cufflinks bearing the same freely moving anchor as on the dial. Incidentally, the anchor is representative of the automatic movement inside and can therefore be found on pretty much all automatic watches from the brand.

The tale goes that when the anchor on the dial stops rotating freely then the lubricants in the movement are likely to have dried up too, indicating the need for a service. It’s a nice story, but one without too much credence. As much as I don’t normally dress in a way that draws attention to my watch, the cufflinks are a great match. As small as the Rado may be, it does seem to crave attention.

 

Another nice nod to the history of the model is the folded link bracelet and spring-loaded extendable clasp. I find that small links tend to make for a comfortable bracelet anyway, and the clasp extension just adds to that. Although the lugs are hidden, there are no proprietary fittings here so any 18mm strap should work. Given the nature of the watch I would think a dressy leather strap could pair well, but both the look and feel on bracelet are hard to beat.

So, is it dated or timeless? The DiaStar is an iconic design that can probably be viewed both ways. It’s a special watch in how it looks, and how it feels. There’s no denying that emphasis is placed on aesthetics above performance, but it’s still a perfectly usable everyday watch. Even though the case material is never going to be common, Rado have focussed on the benefits of “hardmetal” and from it created a watch that builds on those aspects.