March 30, 2017
by Ariel Adams
In my opinion, the most compelling new Rolex watch presented by the Swiss brand at Baselworld 2017 was the Rolex Cellini Moonphase. More than just a new interpretation of an existing design, this is not only a totally new watch, but it also includes a new movement and set of complications which haven’t been part of the Rolex portfolio for at least several decades. To help frame the ‘purpose and poise’ of the Cellini Moonphase, in Rolex’s words to me this watch is (paraphrasing) “a rare opportunity for the designers at Rolex to artistically express themselves.”
Rolex redesigned and re-introduced the Cellini collection of dress watches in 2014. Since then, the brand has launched an almost unprecedented collection of four different movements for the formal watch family. That includes a time-only Rolex Cellini, one with a date dial, the Rolex Cellini Dual Time, and for 2017, the Rolex Cellini Moonphase. For the longest time, Rolex was keen to produce high-quality albeit simple watch movements. The reason for this being that they wanted to reduce possible problems in the movements for consumers while also increasing production efficiency.
To a degree, as a more mass-market luxury watchmaker, Rolex understood that mechanical movement complications (other than the time or date) are rarely actually relied upon by wearers. This means that they wanted to focus on modern customers’ needs – and left more niche watch makers to focus on producing more complicated watches for enthusiasts that could be produced in smaller volumes.
For that reason, it is exceedingly rare for Rolex to introduce a new complication, and more common for them to simply introduce a new watch personality. The last time they did something like the Rolex Cellini Moonphase was with the Rolex Sky-Dweller that happened to get a new, much more affordably priced version for 2017 as well. The Sky-Dweller combined a GMT (second time zone) complication with an annual calendar (a calendar that takes into considering both the date and month). An annual calendar complication was new for Rolex, but it nevertheless has an arguably practical utility, as well as a very slick implementation on the dial.
A moon phase complication, however – especially on a dress watch – is a decidedly emotional complication without too much contemporary practicality. A moon phase indicator is designed to track the roughly 29-day cycle of the moon between its waxing and waning phases. With smartphones and other more useful weather and environmental status-indicating technology, it is a rare case indeed that someone relies upon a mechanical timepiece to be aware of the phases of the moon, let alone have any reason whatsoever to actually need to know this information.
With that said, the moon phase indicator is a beautiful feature integrated into many fine timepieces, and for this reason, we see it a lot in the more niche world of luxury timepieces that market themselves on emotionally driven aesthetics. I must say that I would not have guessed this complication to be of much interest to Rolex, whose aim is to make very high-quality watches that can be sold in relatively high numbers. What I mean to say is that, in my opinion, the Rolex Cellini Moonphase is the first decidedly niche Rolex dress watch I’ve ever seen during my lifetime. Further, it appears to be a specific attempt by Rolex to capture attention from other brands which many people assumed Rolex stopped paying attention to long ago.
Just one version of the Rolex Cellini Moonphase (the reference 50535) is being introduced for 2017. That means one case material and one dial option – at least as far as I know. Rolex is clearly testing the waters to see how a Rolex-made passion-driven classic dress watch will do. This is about as much effort as Rolex has put into an unsure product in a long time. While not everyone can agree on how successful the 50535 Rolex Cellini Moonphase will be in the market, I think most can agree that the watch is very attractive.
Slightly thicker than, say, the time-only Rolex Cellini – the Rolex Cellini Moonphase case is also 39mm wide and available in 18k Everose gold. The thickness of the classic case combined with the modest case diameter give the watch a pleasant, substantial feel for an otherwise dressy timepiece. Attached to the case is a matching brown alligator strap. I think it would also look good with a black strap, assuming you wanted to match the timepiece to a darker wardrobe of clothing.