The Cellini line has been Rolex’s least popular since its launch in 1986, a confusing multitude of models that, while well made, felt at odds with the rest of the Rolex collection, and it was discontinued after a long, drawn-out death. With that in mind, was the relaunch of the Cellini name in 2014 a wise idea?
A lot of incredible things happened in the excessive 1980s: Sally Ride became the first female astronaut; DNA was first used to convict criminals and exonerate innocent prisoners; Top Gun. Until the Wall Street crash in 1987, the 80s were all about glitz and glamour, wealth and excess, and Rolex wanted to capitalise on the growing connotations between luxury and its gold watches.
After a shaky start in the 1980s, has the Cellini finally found its place in the Rolex collection?
The unfortunately timed 1986 Cellini was Rolex’s answer to the 80s, an angular golden homage to the Italian Renaissance goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini. Like the decade that inspired it, the Cellini was excessive in every way, a broad, blustering creation in gold and diamonds. “The King gasped in amazement”, one advert said. “The Pope could not refrain from praising it greatly.”
The Cellini collection was actually the handiwork of the same man who had helped steer Rolex towards making watches for professionals in the 1950s, Rene-Paul Jeanneret, and the Wall Street crash aside, it was an astute decision on his part. But with the end of the decade came an end to the decadence, and the Cellini became as irrelevant as it had been relevant mere months before.
Over the next few years, the Cellini did its best to stay afloat, albeit at odds with the rest of the Rolex collection—that is, until 2014, when someone high up at Rolex must have asked the Cellini department, “What are you doing?”
The result was a new Cellini, and rather than drawing a vague connection to a watch from the 1920s, its design followed the modern Rolex ethos to finally bring it in line with the rest of the collection. Take a Datejust, scale the case to 39mm, thin the lugs and the fluted bezel, expand the crown, and voila—you’ve got a Cellini.
Borrowing classic Rolex styling, the new Cellini is a visual fit with other Rolex watches
There’s a three-hander, a date, a dual time and a moonphase, available in a choice of either white or Everose gold. With the case suitably in tune with the rest of the Rolex catalogue, the dial is where the Cellini can cling on to some individuality. Inspired by watches from the golden era of the dress watch, the 1950s, we’re treated to applied batons, printed Roman numerals, sword hands and a choice of smooth or guilloche dial.
If you’re familiar with contemporary Rolex, you’ll also be familiar with its build quality, and with more polished surfaces, intricate print and especially with the guilloche dial, the brand’s almost clinical attention to detail really gets to shine with the Cellini. The blip of the 80s aside, Rolex has never been one for frippery, favouring polished practicality over outright aesthetics, and with the Cellini, it’s finally a chance to show off a bit. Only a bit, mind; this is still Rolex we’re talking about.
The 31xx movement series is on duty behind the historically significant bubbleback case; it’s a solid calibre that’s served Rolex well, even if the new 32xx series makes it look a little long in the tooth. A nice carryover from the previous Cellini Prince would have been the sapphire case back, sadly forgone here. The calibre 7040, a full-bridge hand-wound gem, gave the Prince a unique selling point that would have been very welcome in the new collection.
The Cellini is currently only available in precious metals with a selection of dial colours
Bring all that together and the result is a watch that offers something different enough from the usual Rolex fare whilst still being quintessentially Rolex. It’s not the most glamorous watch, nor the most complicated, but given the direction many watches in the Rolex collection are taking, with glossy ceramic bezels and larger cases, it turns out in a rather surprising twist to be one of the brand’s most reserved. Obama probably wouldn’t wear a Sky-Dweller, but he does wear a Cellini.
Prices start at £11,500 for the time-only model, rising to £19,650 for the full moonphase, which is comparable to the Master Ultra Thin range from Jaeger-LeCoultre. Strong money, but surprisingly for a non-steel non-sports watch, the famed Rolex residuals kick in for a much better resale value than expected.
For anyone who says that Rolex doesn’t try anything new—who are, for the most part, right—take the opportunity to consider a Cellini. In broad terms, it’s a mild deviation from the norm, however for Rolex it represents a veritable leap. If the brand gets a whiff that the watch-buying public likes this kind of experimentation, then maybe we’ll see things like sapphire case backs appear in the future. Either that, or it goes the way of its Cellini brethren and is consigned to the pages of history. The choice, really, is up to you.
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