As a company that built its reputation upon water resistance and durability, Rolex has always been best known for its various sport and professional models. Even classic watches such as the Oyster Perpetual and Datejust feature screw-down crowns with enough water resistance to accompany you scuba diving, and part of Rolex’s success can be attributed to the fact it’s timepieces are particularly well-suited to being that “one good watch” that a person owns and wears every single day for the rest of their life.
However, since the 1960s, Rolex has produced a line of dedicated dress watches in the form of the Cellini collection. The most recent generation of Rolex Cellini watches debuted in 2014 with the latest addition (the Cellini Moonphase) joining the lineup in 2017. With that in mind, earlier this year in 2022, Rolex discontinued the entire Cellini series, with the sole model remaining being the reference 50535 Moonphase version that had most recently joined the lineup. While this could be taken as a sign that the Rolex Cellini is slated to be discontinued entirely, one other possibility is that the collection is simply taking some time to regroup, and that we will see the Rolex Cellini collection make a return in a completely redesigned package.
No one actually needs a proper dress watch anymore, and the rules for formal attire have become relaxed to the point where people can (and do) pair a tuxedo with a chunky stainless steel dive watch. However, despite the fact that no one actually needs a timepiece specifically for formal attire, the greater category of dress watches is more popular now than it has been within the last decade. For a number of years, most of the attention from collectors and enthusiasts has been centered upon sports watches, and it seems that people are now starting to look for something different to add to their collections. Interest in dress watches has been slowly rising, and since they are not purpose-built tools that need to record laps at the race track or survive crushing depths below the surface of the ocean, dress watches are free to focus on their aesthetics and wearability, making them some of the most refined and comfortable timepieces available.
If Rolex were to discontinue the Cellini collection altogether, it would leave somewhat of a hole in the brand’s catalog. Since Rolex no longer produces solid gold versions of the Datejust and Day-Date that are fitted with leather straps, the Cellini is really the only option for a traditional dress watch in Rolex’s current catalog. There is always the possibility that Rolex is simply done producing classic dress watches, and that the most dressy model that the brand intends to produce is simply a classic gold President or a Datejust with a Jubilee bracelet. However, considering that nearly all current-production Rolex models follow a overall case design that is similar to either an Oyster Perpetual or a Submariner (at least at their core), the Cellini is one of only a small handful of watches that offer a truly different overall aesthetic, and seeing it dropped from Rolex’s catalog altogether would undeniably limit the scope of the brand’s current offerings.
With that in mind, Rolex is a bit of an enigma, and trying to rationalize all of its decisions is a near-impossible and never-ending task. As much as we like to think of Rolex as being predictable, the brand also does things that are completely out of left field, and discontinuing the Cellini collection would hardly be the most unexpected thing that Rolex has done recently. One reason why the Cellini collection might get discontinued is because Rolex has more-or-less eliminated leather straps entirely from its standard lineup. While a few of the off-catalog models encrusted in gemstones still come on leather, the rest of the collection all features metal bracelets or Rolex’s Oysterflex rubber strap. Given this movement away from leather, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to see this continue and mark the end of Rolex’s classic dress watches entirely. However, one alternate possibility is that the Rolex Cellini collection will be reimagined and still offer many of the hallmark traits of a classic dress watch, but with some variation of the Oysterflex bracelet fitted to it rather than a traditional leather strap.
Leather is the original material for watch straps, but even the best leather straps get worn out and funky with regular wear and exposure to sweat and the elements. Just like tires or brakes on a car, leather straps are seen as consumable throughout the lifecycle of a timepiece, but this slightly goes against Rolex’s whole “Perpetual” philosophy. Oysterflex bracelets have already replaced the leather straps that were previously fitted to solid gold versions of the Daytona and Sky-Dweller, and it is conceivable that Rolex may have similar plans for the Cellini collection. Admittedly, a rubber strap on a dress watch isn’t the most obvious or conventional pairing, but given that Rolex only offers the Oysterflex on solid 18k gold watches and refuses to pair it with any of its various divers (the most natural pairing for a rubber strap), seeing a slightly more refined version of the Oysterflex show up on a redesigned Cellini wouldn’t be the most unexpected thing in a world that now has two-tone Sea-Dweller watches and green-bezel, left-handed GMT-Master II models.
So, what would a new Cellini look like? Well, given that the name of the collection is a reference to famous Italian sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, you can almost guarantee that whatever the new watch would look like, it would probably be made from 18k gold, with Rolex’s proprietary Everose gold certainly being among the offerings. Additionally, given the way that Rolex likes to keep things consistent when it comes to the movements that are used across its catalog, you can similarly guarantee that the new Cellini models would be powered by some variants of the Caliber 32xx series. Furthermore, given that the model itself is intended to be a dress watch, you can likely rule out any rotating bezels or Mercedes-style hands, along with eliminating crown-guards as even remotely being within the realm of possibility, considering that not even the Rolex Explorer or Milgauss feature them on the side of their cases.
With that in mind, considering how Rolex tends to always look forward with its designs, a modernized version of the classic dress could easily be within the realm of possibility. Furthermore, if Rolex were to remove the raised strip from the top of the Oysterflex bracelet, the resulting design could easily be a modern yet refined strap that could work quite well on a thoroughly contemporary dress watch. Now, whether or not the Rolex Cellini will make a big comeback or fade away into the archives of discontinued Rolex models remains to be seen, but given the rising interest in more dressy designs, a reimagined Cellini might just be the thing that makes people start talking about this often overlooked Rolex model again.
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*All images courtesy of Bob’s Watches.