Up Close: the Rolex Cellini Moonphase

Launched at Baselworld 2017, the Rolex Cellini Moonphase is the most complicated watch in the Cellini line-up and Rolex's first moonphase in half a century.

Rolex Cellini Moonphase
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Rolex re-launched the Cellini collection in 2014, to a lukewarm reception. It's not that they aren't good watches - they come with the same build quality as any Rolex Oyster - but there's just not the same love for seeing Rolex "do dressy" that there is for the Oyster collection. This year Rolex released the Cellini Moonphase; can this convert the doubters and add a bit of punch and personality to the dressier side of the mega-brand?

Cellini is a victim of Rolex's success, really. The Oyster models have all existed for decades and Rolex has done an excellent job of stewarding those designs into the 21st century, slowly and surely modernising them where necessary. Sure, the die-hard fans rant and rave about the addition of a cyclops to the Sea-Dweller's date window, but that's exactly the point: when that's all you've got to be unhappy about, things are not going too badly.

The Cellini on the other hand, is new. Rolex fans don't like "new". It doesn't have a fifty-year old design to fall back on and it is never going to be the watch that comes to mind when you think of a Rolex. If anything, the branding gets in the way - if "Cellini" was spun off as a top-level brand in its own right, it would escape some of the shadow cast by that crown. But it's not, so it has its work cut out.

Rolex Cellini Moonphase
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The last Rolex watches to feature a moonphase complication were references 6062 and 8171, both rare triple-calendar pieces that command huge auction fees. In all honesty, apart from the existence of a moonphase dial this watch has nothing in common with them, and it's stretching it somewhat to call it a successor, let alone hold those much-loved vintage references up as a standard that the Cellini Moonphase has to match.

So what is it for? On one level, it's Rolex saying, "look, we can do 'horology' too" - hence Geneve under the brand name on the dial. Never mind the fact that Rolex's base calibres are as horologically sound as anything else out there, and that in the Sky-Dweller and Yacht-Master II it has two properly clever complications. The Cellini is there to compete with brands that identify as horological, brands that market themselves on their manufacture status - brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Sohne or Vacheron Constantin.

On another level, it's just sensible business for Rolex to have something to offer that kind of consumer. So let's accept that this isn't intended to occupy the same space, figuratively or literally, as a Day-Date or a Daytona.

Let's get a few other things out of the way, as well. Some people online are taking against the Cellini Moonphase because it's not particularly easy to read the phase of the moon from the subdial at six o'clock. There's a small gold arrowhead marker just at the top of the subdial that tells you where you're at in the lunar cycle.

And it is true, this is not a particularly informative complication. But no-one needs to know the phase of the moon. Most people who own moonphase watches have them set incorrectly, and this bothers them not one bit, because the point of a moonphase watch is to look cool. That's all - and Rolex knows this. (I might have some time for the criticism if you said producing a less-than-informative complication is not a very "Rolex" thing to do - but then that's more grist to my "Cellini should be a separate brand" mill.)

Rolex Cellini Moonphase
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On the flip side of the same coin, I will admit to being entirely nonplussed by Rolex's proud boast that the moonphase indicator is accurate for 122.5 years. Yes, that's roughly twice as long as I have left to live, but it is also pretty much industry standard for a moonphase complication at this price level, and a long way from being impressive. What is impressive is the basic level of daily accuracy from Rolex's calibre 3195, an automatic guaranteed for five years to vary by a maximum of -2/+2 seconds a day.

What's also impressive are the little details that have gone into the Cellini Moonphase. The white dial is lacquered; the blue moonphase dial is enamelled and the moon itself is a tiny slice of meteorite. Nice touches that all help justify the price (read all about how meteorite gets from outer space to your watch dial here). The fit and finish is also top notch - as you would certainly hope for the thick end of £20,000 - under close examination the sword hands are crisp and spotless, as are the nicely faceted hour markers.

Taking a step back and looking at the overall design, there are elements that certainly come down to personal taste. The fluting on the bezel is one of the few pieces of Rolex DNA that gets carried over from the Oyster range. It adds sparkle (particularly when the watch is brand new) but to my eye, makes the whole watch a bit old-school. The size is just right at 39mm and Rolex has done the smart thing in minimising dial text (it's the only Cellini not to say so on the dial). People who call it conservative and say they expect better from Rolex are missing the point: all of Rolex's successful designs are extremely conservative - it's simply that they've been around for long enough to become icons.

Rolex Cellini Moonphase Clasp
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The make-or-break, the marmite factor, if you will, for this watch is really the chapter rings for seconds and the date. By having so many concentric circles, the dial seems smaller than it should, and the seconds ring is broken by the large crown logo. The seconds hand is as long as the date hand, so it looks like you read them both off the outer scale. And there are just a lot of numbers on this dial - a problem avoided by digital date displays or smaller circular ones, like Jaeger-LeCoultre's Master Ultra-Thin Moon.

But these are personal likes or dislikes. Sector dials are very in right now, so you could argue this piggybacks slightly on that trend. The Cellini Moonphase is busier-looking than the competition (the aforementioned Jaeger-LeCoultre; the Saxonia Moon Phase from A. Lange & Sohne; the Senator Panorama Date Moonphase by Glashuette Original; Chopard's LUC Lunar Twin; Vacheron Constantin's Patrimony Moonphase and Retrograde Date) but not a chronically over-worked dial.

Rolex Cellini Moonphase Caseback
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Price-wise, it sits reasonably comfortably around those other watches. At £19,650 it is nearer the top of the list; you could buy the Saxonia, the Senator, the Chopard or the Jaeger for less. And for the same combination of complications but a less high-grade finish (no enamel, lacquer or meteorite), you could also have a Zenith Elite Moonphase. All of the above come with sapphire casebacks whereas the Cellini's is closed; yes, that's "on-brand" for a Rolex watch, but it's out of step with what the buyer of this kind of watch wants to see.

And that's really where we have to leave the Cellini Moonphase; a good watch that's caught in an awkward place. Its best attributes - the movement, the attention to detail, the build quality - are thanks to it being a Rolex. And the one thing that holds it back - its conservative attitude - is inescapable because it's a Rolex.

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