Banner

The unloved Rolex - why does no one talk about the Rolex Cellini?

Category: Articles | Date: September 25, 2018

Why is this classically styled Rolex nearly as rare to see in a collection as a brand new Daytona?

The Cellini collection is a contemporary celebration of classicism and the eternal elegance of traditional timepieces, combining the best of Rolex know-how and its high standards of perfection with an approach that heightens watchmaking heritage in its more timeless form

That’s how Rolex describe their very own dress watch range under the Cellini name. In its current form, the Cellini has been around for four years now. Scrolling through hashtags online, attending watch events or spying on people’s wrists at busy airports, very rarely do you see a Cellini on the wrist out in the wild.

The Cellini Date – (image courtesy of Monochrome Watches / www.monochrome-watches.com)

On paper, it’s classic styling, design, size and a wide range of variations is normally a recipe for success. So why is a Cellini being spotted in public nearly as rare as a brand new Daytona? What is it about the Cellini that doesn’t convince consumers enough to put £11,000 down on a new dress piece?

A brief look at its interesting history…

Named after the Italian goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, the Cellini line was created as a way for consumers to show their appreciation for classic, elegant, traditional watchmaking and timeless style. Before it’s facelift in 2014, the Cellini was available in an array of case shapes from the popular Prince rectangular style (below) to more unfamiliar shapes from Rolex such as the 4670 with an integrated bracelet.

An example of the Cellini’s past… (image courtesy of BobsWatches – www.bobswatches.com)

This lack of identity and true design heritage may be one of the main contributing factors to the Cellini not feeling the love from the public. Looking back over the years it certainly does look like the Cellini has been the victim of the Sports models success.

2014 saw a new, refreshed, re-imagined Cellini in an attempt to give this range more identity. The Cellini Time, Date and Dual Time was initially released in classic dial options in precious metals respectively. The new models also came with a new 39mm (non Oyster…) case and, well pretty much everything else was new. Hands, dials, indices and subtle fluted bezels.

The intention from Rolex creating the updated Cellini was emphasised more due to the official release video depicted the piece alongside a very minimalist style building, grand classical music introduced the new Cellini. From looking back at coverage of these Rolex releases at the time, it looks like they were received well with praise for Rolex as they looked to try something completely new.

Since it’s initial re-design the Cellini range has expanded to now feature many different variations. The standard Time, Date and Dual Time are the staples in the collection. Precious metals are still the standard for case materials and both lacquered, sunburst and guilloche dials can be seen throughout the range. This quite possibly might be another reason for its unpopularity. There are so many variations of each range that most of them end up being relatively forgettable. Omega is somewhat of the masters when it comes to releasing many models of a specific range. The Speedmaster will always be popular and Omega knows this. Tasteful, purposeful special editions are all Omega need to do to keep die-hard Speedmaster fans on side, and generate new interest in their brand.

One of many extremely popular limited Speedmaster releases – Omega Speedmaster TinTin

Love or hate it, their ‘limited edition approach’ to the Speedmaster means they’re free to work with and create many different designs of a cult classic. The only reason this works so well is that the Speedmaster’s design is extremely popular to begin with. It hasn’t changed in decades of production. The Cellini approach on the surface is the same as Omega, however,  the fundamental difference is the Cellini, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have that popularity to start with. Or a tried and tested design that has been popular for many years. The result? A timepiece with 36 variations where almost all are pretty easily forgotten.

There is one exception out of the 36…

The Cellini Moonphase- (image courtesy of Monochrome Watches / www.monochrome-watches.com)

Baselworld 2017 was not only my first time attending but also saw the release of the Cellini Moonphase. Once again we see a 39mm Everose gold case, a subtle ‘Datejust style’ fluted bezel but now a date hand and of course a Moonphase at 6 o’clock features. A moonphase hasn’t been seen on a Rolex since 1950 and the demand for it hasn’t really died down ever since the 50’s, with auction rooms going crazy over rare vintage Rolex’s with moon phases. Bringing back the Moonphase could quite easily be the only keeping the Cellini’s head above water.

The moonphase on the Cellini features a round fragment of rhodium-plated meteorite applied to the disk – (image courtesy of Monochrome Watches / www.monochrome-watches.com)

So, why is it not popular?

Well when breaking it down, I think there are a few key reasons. First up and quite possibly the main reason is its simply the victim of the Rolex Sports watches success. As I’m sure many of you know, Rolex sports models are only getting more and more popular and the prices most definitely reflect this. A 5513 or 1016 just four years ago could be had for 5k, now you’d be hard pressed to find one of either under 15k. Take a walk into your local Rolex AD, my bet is you’ll see virtually zero sports models on displays and if you were looking for a brand new Daytona to celebrate your 30th birthday with waiting lists around 10 years, realistically it’ll end up being a 40th present. (Rumours we have heard is that some AD’s have simply closed waiting lists for these popular models).

Almost every review or written content will always brag about the benefit of a Sub or Explorer is their versatility. Sports watches are being worn every day, down the gym and to weddings, so why would anyone need an outright dress watch from Rolex for £11,000?

It’s hard to argue with the Rolex Sports Watches versability – All you need is a new watch strap…

Its lack of identity has been brought up quite a few times now, but I do feel this is a large contributing factor in the Cellini’s lack of success. Rolex especially, the historical value behind every model is a huge selling point for their watches. Whether it’s a little Air King, classic Datejust or a GMT Master II, there is an incredible history behind every model.

The Cellini is one of only a few that has a troubled background. For many brands, this isn’t a roadblock at all, but when you have some many models in your collection that do have history, one that has a forgettable one stands out like a sore thumb.

The Cellini Dual Time – (image courtesy of Monochrome Watches / www.monochrome-watches.com)

And that 39mm non-Oyster case. Much like my previous point, the Cellini is the only current Rolex in the line that isn’t an Oyster case. I can’t help but imagine if it was an Oyster case, maybe in 36mm these concerns wouldn’t even exist. The 36mm Oyster case has been around for decades and even through the increased popularity of bigger case sizes recently, remained an ever popular size. Older models in the range have also had display casebacks showing off the watchmaking skill. The current Cellini range, however? A solid caseback. For me, that would be another tally in the negative column rather than positive.

Competition

With the range starting at £11,200 the Cellini is up against some tough competition from some similarly iconic brands. After only a quick look at what else is out there for a similar price and cheaper, it starts to become even clearer why the Cellini is unloved.

A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin – £11,000

The A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin (image courtesy of Monochrome Watches / www.monochrome-watches.com)

For around £200 less than the Cellini Time, this A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin is the first stiff competition the Cellini is up against. This Lange comes in at 37mm, a tad smaller than the 39mm Cellini but for me, this is only good news. I admit the Saxonia Thin is a manual wind movement whereas the Cellini is automatic, however, bare in mind it is a Lange manual wind movement. This movement has been hand finished to an incredibly high standard and attention to detail.

It’s very well documented that every Lange watch, once assembled is then taken apart and put together again to ensure perfection is achieved. Check out the incredible lengths Lange go to make their watches so special in a great article here. 

Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Moon – £11,500

Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Moon (image courtesy of Jaeger LeCoultre / www.jaeger-lecoultre.com)

Jaeger LeCoultre is one of the most prestigious luxury brands out there. Their quintessential approach to watchmaking and classic style almost demands respect. Nothing is more iconic from JLC than a Reverso. Created as a solution for polo players to avoid getting the glass on their watches damaged during play, the Reverso has stood the test of time and is quite possibly the definitive dress watch. The Reverso Tribute Moon has both a frosted white dial with moonphase and date hand, and once reversed over a hobnail dial is visible in a midnight blue colour scheme.

Coming in at £11,500 this is not only competition for Time, Date and Dual Time Cellini but even the Moonphase for half the money…

On the topic of JLC, the Reverso Tribute Duo at £9,800 is also a solid option for those looking for a time only dress piece and is most noticeably, cheaper than the Cellini Time (a bit of a theme here…)

Glashütte Original PanoMaticLunar Steel – £7,600

The Glashütte Original PanoMaticLunar in Steel (image courtesy of Monochrome Watches / www.monochrome-watches.com)

We’re going back to German with this final suggestion. This decentralised dial layout on this Glashütte Original PanoMaticLunar is something a little different to the other dress watch suggestions. But much like the Cellini Moonphase all of the same features are available on this model and is powered by an automatic movement. A benefit of this watch over the Rolex is that a display case back shows off this movement showing it’s 3/4 sized rotor with hand engraved balance cocks.

The Glashütte Original PanoMaticLunar in Steel (image courtesy of Monochrome Watches / www.monochrome-watches.com)

The fact this is available now for around £8,000, it’s hard to justify any of the other suggestions when compared to this, let a lot the Cellini…

Conclusion

The Cellini Moonphase- (image courtesy of Monochrome Watches / www.monochrome-watches.com)

Rounding up my thoughts, I feel very much sorry for the Cellini. It’s a model with such classic design, such class and only has good intentions. I personally really enjoy the Cellini but can’t help but feel it’s missing something. It seems some unavoidable pitfalls such as its troubled past and successful sporty siblings time after time result in it being the last model remaining in AD’s up and down the country.

It’s latest Moonphase variation might be the saving grace for the Cellini. You can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye on the Cellini range in the coming years to see how the model can learn from its mistakes and hopeful point itself toward a more successful, popular future.

Leave a Comment