Raise your hand if you once had a Rolex that would be worth a fortune right now if you’d kept it. I mean, I can’t see you, but thanks for playing along. I too have owned a Rolex that I would now struggle to afford to buy back. It’s happened to me not once, but twice. If I’d kept those watches, I’d have earned enough on top of what I’d paid to buy a Patek Philippe Aquanaut—back then I mean.
Now … not so much. Now, many of the watches I’d hoped to buy are no longer attainable. Back when I was a pipsqueak junior engineer, I rewarded myself for graduating by spending a couple of thousand on a Submariner. Today, the only way that’s going to happen is to graduate straight into a trust fund. I just wish there was some sort of secret back door into the brand, some collection that was also a little bit of a bargain, too.
Well, funnily enough, there is, and it’s called the Cellini. Borrowing its name from 16th century artist Benvenuto Cellini, known for his works in the precious metal gold, the Cellini collection was introduced in the 60s as a way of breaking the Rolex brand into the luxury market. Until then, a Rolex was a hardworking machine, and in that spirit lay its appeal—the Cellini endeavoured to throw in a good helping of indulgence.
It was an unfamiliar direction, one the brand was clearly uncomfortable with—until very recently. In 2017, for the first time in its half-century of existence, the Cellini actually looked like a Rolex—but with a twist. Instead of being just another luxury watch produced by the same guys who do the Submariner, it is a refined version of the Rolex design language. And, more importantly, a pre-owned example can be purchased for 25 percent less than its RRP. In Rolex terms, that’s a veritable steal. Could this be the Rolex I’ve been dreaming of?
That depends: is the Cellini actually a watch worth owning? Or is it just my brain convincing me to accept a very expensive compromise? Spending time with the watch proves to be very revealing. For example, I don’t typically like Roman numerals, but these pencil-thin, elongated versions have grown on me, and now I actually quite like them. They read like markers at a glance, but yet there’s something more, a little like Cartier’s secret signature.
The dial is simple, the hands a throwback to the Oyster Precisions of the fifties, and rather than feeling like someone put a wig on a donkey and called it a thoroughbred, it actually takes the brand back to its roots, to a simpler, more classical state. If Rolex were ever to do a vintage reissue, this is it.
And all the hallmarks of the Oyster, for which Rolex has become synonymous, are there. The skinny fluted bezel, the knurled crown, the simple case. The bubble-like caseback is a nod to the earliest automatic Rolex Perpetuals. A little disappointing is the 50m water resistance but honestly, I don’t mind. The calibre 3132 inside, full of the typical Rolex bells and whistles—like the Parachrom hairspring, hacking seconds and free sprung balance—may not be protected on a dive, but you’d look foolish taking one along with you anyway.
I like this watch. There, I said it. I like it, and to me it feels like a step up from the watches I had previously, a different direction—rather than treading the same old path I did before, but this time it’s a toll road. Could it end up being the first Rolex I’ve owned for a decade? It could be, it could be…
Getting back on the Rolex bandwagon is very appealing, but the options are, these days, rather limited for me. Perhaps I should just suck it up and pay more? But I can’t. Perhaps I should stay clean and off Rolex for good? Seems a little petty. The Rolex Cellini, however, could be a way out, an opportunity to purchase an affordable gold Rolex. And you know what they say: sweet is always sweeter when you get a bargain—or at least, a Rolex-style bargain.