Last Wednesday saw Joe Biden sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, a sigh of relief for many Americans and observers around the world after four years of Trumpian chaos.
Three of the five living former presidents attended the ceremony: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as the 47th Vice President of the United States. Obama, one of the youngest men to have ever held the office, has lent into the ‘elder statesman’ role quite effortlessly, and for many remains a paragon of style and ‘cool’.
Indeed, Obama cut a dapper figure during Biden’s inauguration, right down to his watch. Eagle-eyed watch fans were quick to spot Obama’s intriguing choice in wrist candy: a Rolex Cellini Time (ref. 50509), one of Rolex’s more obscure offerings and one of the most misunderstood collections in their repertoire.
We’ve previously discussed the complexities of presidential watches here on DMARGE, and how most presidents have quite a conservative taste in timepieces. Some presidents splash out a bit when they leave office – Bill Clinton, for example, has quite the collection – and Obama’s Cellini is yet another example of how a president, once becoming a civilian, has ‘cut loose’ when it comes to their watch-wearing habits.
But there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the Cellini, and it’s worth exploring how this understated watch speaks volumes about Obama’s character.
First introduced in the 60s as Rolex’s dress watch line and named after a famous Renaissance goldsmith and sculptor, the Cellini line has always been a bit of an anomaly. Not only is it a dress watch line from a brand that’s primarily known for its technical ‘tool’ watches, but unlike Rolex’s other product lines, the Cellini line is rather ill-defined. Models from the 60s and 70s like the King Midas and Danaos are rather avant-garde, whereas modern Cellinis are very conservative and restrained.
The Cellini line has always been overshadowed by Rolex’s more technical models such as the Air-King, GMT-Master and Submariner lines. Despite coming from the world’s most famous watch brand, they’re very much “if you know, you know” watches.
Retailing for 21,500 AUD, Obama’s 39mm dress watch features no complications – it tells the time and that’s it – and would otherwise seem rather plain if you didn’t know it was made of 18ct white gold. It’s actually quite a famous watch and one of Obama’s favourites, the watch immortalised in art thanks to its appearance on his wrist in his official presidential portrait.
It’s an inspired choice and immediately sparks some questions. Why buy a dress watch from a tool watch brand? Why spend that sort of money on something so understated? What does the watch tell us about the man?
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Investing in a Cellini shows that you’re focused on precision and quality rather than pomp and circumstance – emblematic of Obama’s character as a leader. It demonstrates a respect for tradition, yet a touch of individuality: US Presidents have long been associated with Rolex as a brand and consistently chosen to eschew flashy watches, so the Cellini follows in that tradition. But it’s also a unique, obscure choice that reflects Obama’s quietly revolutionary character. The Rolex Datejust that Biden wore for his inauguration sends a similar message.
More than anything, it shows that Obama has taste – something he’s always been renowned for, from his impeccable taste in modern music to his crisp fashion sense.
Obama was in many ways a highly conventional president and statesman. But as the first African-American president, Obama will always be unique. His Cellini is the same: it’s a highly traditional dress watch from a highly unconventional brand. The more you think about it, the more you realise how well the Cellini suits Obama.
Hopefully Obama’s endorsement of the Cellini will see more watch fans expand their horizons and take a second look at Rolex’s most underappreciated collection.