Rolex All-Stars – Get To Know The Most Iconic Models From The World’s Most Famous BrandWritten by Alvin Wong
History: Long overshadowed by its Oyster case brethren, the Cellini is that other, dressier half of the Rolex's dual-range catalogue, with the Cellini Prince dating back to the 1920s. The Cellini bears the distinction of being the first mass-produced watch to gain a chronometer certification, when a batch of 500 chronometers were produced for King George V's Silver Jubilee in 1936.
Triva: The Cellini is named after Benvenuto Cellini, and Rolex couldn't have picked a more colourful character to model its collection. The archetypal Renaissance Man, Cellini was a sculptor and goldsmith to princes and popes. He was also a writer and soldier, with an autobiography offering a compelling peek into life and times in the 1500s.
Merits: It's a dress watch of a different temperament from the Datejust; a little more discreet, subdued, and even a little more refined, bearing the torch of classical watchmaking at Rolex.
History: The Milgauss was developed in the 1950s at the behest of CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the world's largest particle physics laboratory and birthplace of the Internet). It was introduced in 1956 as an anti-magnetic watch aimed at scientists and engineers labouring to erect a brave new age. The antimagnetic watch was designed to run true in high-tech environments like power plants, medical facilities and research laboratories, where strong magnetic fields present could throw a watch off time. Discontinued in 1988, it was brought back in 2007, featuring improved antimagnetic performance.
Trivia: New materials have been developed that are virtually amagnetic. The old-school way to get around the problem of magnetic fields was to shield the movement in a soft iron inner case, which conducts magnetic flux around and away from the movement proper. This means no crystal casebacks and minimal dial openings to achieve the best possible seal: the Milgauss has no date window.
Merits: Modern life is littered with objects emitting magnetic fields such as speakers and motors. While these objects aren't of troubling intensity to begin with, watch repair shops widely report magnetised parts as a significant cause of timing issues brought to their attention. A Milgauss is hence named for resistance up to 1,000 gauss ("mille" being thousand in French). It will stand up to fridge magnets (10 gauss), but one would still stay away from alternative medicine spot magnets sometimes worn to keep arthritis and joint inflammation at bay – 1,000 gauss.
History: Rolex had a chronograph prior to the 'Cosmograph' – it was simply, the Rolex Chronograph, featuring a tachymeter scale on the outer edge of the dial. Then the Cosmograph was introduced in 1963, with the tachymeter scale for measuring speed engraved upon the bezel. 'Daytona' would be inscribed upon the dial the following year to mark Rolex's sponsorship of the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race held at Daytona Beach, Florida. The signature screw-down chronograph pushers came a year later, to prevent unintended activation of the chronograph. A self-winding movement was introduced in 1988, while an in-house movement arrived in 2000.
Trivia: The self-winding movement that Rolex used in its Daytona from 1988 was the legendary El Primero sourced from Zenith. It was one of the first automatic chronograph movements when it was created in 1969, and boasted one of the highest beat rates, at 5Hz. Rolex did a thorough job of customising the movement to its needs, replacing some 50 per cent of the components, including a larger spring balance to improve precision, scaling back the beat rate to 4Hz, and removing the date function.
Merits: The self-winding Daytona, whether fitted with a modified El Primero or Rolex's in-house Calibre 4130 movement, is one of the most coveted chronographs on the market. The Calibre 4130 itself is a fine sample of sound engineering, improving the already impressive power reserve of the El Primero-based model's 54 hours to 72 hours, with much improved winding efficiency as well timekeeping precision from a further enlarged balance wheel, and paramagnetic Parachrom balance spring. Engineering aside, the Daytona is also one of the most recognised statement watches with charisma above its asking price.
History: Intended for adventurers, the Explorer is one of the best loved in the Rolex catalogue for epitomising performance and resilience. Introduced in 1953, it is based on the watch supplied to Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in their first successful ascent of Mount Everest. It took a few versions before 'Explorer', the '3,6,9' dial and Mercedes hands were introduced. Rolex followed up with the Explorer II in 1971, sporting a 24-hour hand, which helped the wearer distinguish day and night hours when read off the fixed graduated bezel – useful at polar regions and underground areas where night and day cannot be ascertained.
Trivia: Rolex introduced the Explorer II reference 16550 in 1985 in two colours – with black or white dial – and a new movement that allowed the 24-hour hand to be adjusted independently in one-hour jumps. However, this being the days before Rolex had consolidated its production in-house, someone botched up the paint and the desired brilliant white version turned out creamy beige. These days, an Explorer II with a cream dial is much sought after by collectors.
Merits: Both the Explorer I and II have tremendous cachet as tool watches. There are few watches as sound and yet understated, equally fitting for the great outdoors as well as more formal occassions.
History: Rolex's first waterproof watch dates back to the Oyster of 1926, made famous the following year by Mercedes Gleitze who swam across the English Channel with it. Through the '30s, Rolex supplied third-party movements in Oyster cases to Panerai, which was supplying dive watches to the Italian Navy. It wasn't till 1953 that Rolex created its own dive watch: the Submariner, measuring 37mm across, with bi-directional rotating bezel, and water resistance to 100 metres. While this depth rating seems modest, Rolex had, that same year, strapped a special piece to a bathyscaphe when it dived more than 3,000 metres into the ocean. It would get a date option from 1969, followed by a unidirectional bezel from 1981.
Trivia: Besides its impressive and dependable real-world performance, much credit for the popularity of the Submariner is also due its appearance early James Bond movies, particularly those starring Sean Connery. The last time James Bond wore a Rolex on the big screen was a Submariner, in 1989's Licence to Kill.
Merits: The Submariner has been improved and refined to incorporate just about every feature and quality one needs in a dive watch. Its robustness more than makes up for any lack of fanciness: there is no complication beyond a simple date (and many would prefer without), in a steel case without gems. Nevertheless, as an old print ad intimates, it'll survive the depths, yet match a tux.
History: The windowed date display is so firmly entrenched into the visual vocabulary of a watch that we hardly even consider why it is there in the first place. But even this had a beginning: the Datejust released in 1945 was the first wristwatch – a chronometer, no less – to have a date aperture. Along with incredible mechanical feats, the almost mundane addition of a date has done just as much to seal Rolex's reputation for creating truly useful, sensible watches. In 1955, Rolex introduced instantaneous date change (at 12 midnight sharp) and the cyclops magnifier over the date window, offering 2.5x magnification.
Trivia: The first Datejust model showed even number dates in red and odd number dates in black.
Merits: While some consider it bland from a distance, the Datejust remains a stunner and is indeed one a handful of watches that have become the standard dress of success. And beneath the symbol lies a most soundly engineered wristwatch. It's dressy with the multi-link Jubilee bracelet; alternatively, it can be matched with the standard Oyster bracelet with its three-piece links underlining the Datejust's sports watch roots. It's an Oyster case after all.
Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.