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ROLEX BLOG

The History of the Rolex Cellini

May 17, 2019

BY Ripley Sellers

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Today, we’re having a look at what can safely be called the least well-known and least recognizable collection from the Crown’s archives: the Rolex Cellini. Unlike many of the other watches in the Rolex catalog, which all have clear purposes and well-defined aesthetics, the Cellini lineup has been somewhat of a catch-all collection throughout the years for various Rolex dress watches in all shapes and sizes.

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Benvenuto Cellini and the Idea of Owning Multiple Watches

The Rolex Cellini collection takes its name from the famed Italian goldsmith and sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini. The name was chosen for Rolex’s collection of refined and often gem-set dress watches as a means to celebrate the elegant lines and impeccable craftsmanship of the artist’s works.

Rolex Cellini

The ‘Cellini’ name is quite appropriate for Rolex’s collection of refined dress watches that are most frequently craft from gold.

The production of luxury-oriented dress watches may sound like an unusual move for a brand that built its reputation by building highly reliable tool watches; however it was the clever work of Mr. Rene-Paul Jeanneret that led to this new shift in direction for the brand. As Director of Marketing for Rolex, it was Jeanneret that spearheaded the efforts to craft the narrative of the Rolex collector, creating the premise of owning several Rolex watches for different uses and occasions – the “tool watch” concept, rather than just one watch that would be worn throughout all of life’s activities.

This mantra of owning multiple watches became a part of Rolex’s marketing language by the early 1960s, and it didn’t take long before the public’s buying perspective had shifted. Purpose-built tool watches like the Rolex Submariner and GMT-Master were finding success, making way for a purpose-built dress watch – the Rolex Cellini.

Rolex Cellini

The history of the Rolex Cellini is not nearly as streamlined or concise as many of the other watches in the Rolex lineup.

A Wide Range of Designs

By the time the 1970s rolled around, the Cellini collection was already a diverse assortment of elegant, dress-oriented timepieces. While the vast majority of Rolex’s watches used their patented, waterproof Oyster case, watches in the Cellini collection often skipped the screw-down crown and caseback, as they did not require the high-degree of water resistance of their tool watch counterparts.

Instead of focusing on robust and purpose-built designs, the Rolex Cellini collection placed an emphasis on refinement and the use of gold and gem stones. Dress watches were by no means a new concept; however the Cellini was the first Rolex collection that was strictly focused on aesthetics, rather than pure functionality – something that has since become significantly more common throughout the watch industry.

Rolex Cellini

Despite embracing a wide range of styles, the Cellini has always been Rolex’s collection of refined dress watches.

Although many of the earliest Rolex Cellini references followed a rather classic and conservative aesthetic, the collection expanded during the 1970s to incorporate the bold, angular designs that characterized much of the era. During this time, Rolex hired prominent designers such as Gérald Genta to design some of their new timepieces, and Cellini watches like the ‘King Midas’ and the ref. 4651 possess a number of distinctive design traits that are characteristic of the watches born during this era.

According to several sources, Gérald Genta is the man behind the design of the Rolex King Midas from 1963 – a bold, angular, and thoroughly modern, solid-gold Rolex that is best known for being owned by Elvis Presley back in the day. While entirely unconfirmed by Rolex, most collectors believe that Genta was the designer who created the King Midas because the unusual watch possesses a number of key design elements that are found throughout the vast majority of his other works, such as a non-traditional case shape, strong angular lines, and a distinct integrated bracelet.

Rolex Cellini

It is believed that legendary watch designer, Gérald Genta is the mind behind the Rolex King Midas.

Back to Conventional and Conservative

After experimenting with the bold and angular lines of the 1970s, the Rolex Cellini collection began to take on a much more conventional and cohesive overall aesthetic. Models such as the Cellini Danaos featured a modern take on a distinctly vintage-influenced design. Measuring only 35mm in diameter and with a slightly barreled case design, these watches are oddly reminiscent of the old Rolex bubbleback models; however they are quite a bit more refined and elegant than their predecessors.

Rolex Cellini

While the very first Cellini watches were rather classic and conservative in appearance, the collection became home to a variety of unusual designs starting during the 1970s.

As Rolex continued to flush out the appearance of their Cellini line, the overall aesthetic of the collection shifted back towards classic and conventional designs. Rather than embracing the bold and angular lines of the watches from the 1970s, the new generation of Rolex Cellini watches were back to simple and timeless designs, finished to the same exacting standard as all of Rolex’s creations, with subtle flourishes of refined luxury.

Many of the design cues that first appeared on the Cellini watches from the early 2000s can still be found on the modern Cellini timepieces that Rolex sells today. While these new Cellini references are thoroughly modern as far as their build quality and materials, they can also be viewed as the contemporary equivalents of the early Cellini dress watches that Rolex first brought to market several decades ago.

Rolex Cellini

The ref. 50535 marks the first time since the 1950s that a watch with a moonphase complication has made an appearnace in Rolex’s catalog. (Image: aBlogtoWatch)

The Modern Rolex Cellini

The most recent addition to the Rolex Cellini collection was introduced at Baselworld 2017, when Rolex unveiled the reference 50535 – a 39mm model in Everose pink gold, which features both a pointer date and a moonphase complication. Watches with moonphase complications disappeared from Rolex’s catalog back in the 1950s, and until the release of the ref. 50535, Rolex’s lineup was completely devoid of a watch with this historic complication – despite it being an absolute mainstay in the catalogs of many other luxury timepiece manufacturers.

Rolex Cellini

All modern Rolex Cellini watches share a 39mm case that is craft from either 18k white or rose gold.

Today, all of the watches in the Cellini collection share a 39mm case that is craft from either 18k white gold or Rolex’s proprietary Everose pink gold. Additionally, modern Rolex Cellini watches are available with a handful of different dial colors, and offered in time-only, time and date, dual time, and date plus moonphase configurations.

Despite the range of dials and complications, the current Rolex Cellini collection has a far more cohesive overall aesthetic than any of the previous Cellini generations. Previously a catch-all category for Rolex’s dress watch designs, the Cellini lineup has evolved over the years to become a clear and well defined collection of Rolex dress watches.    

Rolex Cellini

Many people know its name, but few know the history of the Rolex Cellini.

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