The Rolex Milgauss arguably has a more interesting heritage than its famous cousins, the Submariner and GMT Master. Also dating back to the mid-1950s, the Milgauss could be found strapped to the wrists of the world’s brightest minds, helping them keep track of time while practicing their craft amongst strong magnetic fields. To recap the Milgauss raison d’etre, Rolex created the watch with shielding strong enough to withstand 1,000 gauss (hence the name “Mille-gauss”) for scientists like the ones working at CERN in Geneva. Magnetic fields can wreak havoc upon the accuracy of movement components and even cause permanent damage.
Like many purpose-built tool watches of yore, we now view the Milgauss in a luxury light. Many anti-magnetic watches have come and gone offering several times the amount of protection relative to the Milgauss, however the nerdiest Rolex still remains an object of the highest desire. As with other Rolex tool watches, this wasn’t always the case. The Milgauss only received one model change in the first 32 years of its existence and was put on hiatus from 1988 until 2007, when the current 116400 iteration debuted. Time has been kind to early Milgauss values since the oft-ignored model was sold in relatively low volumes compared to other Rolexes. In this experience the vintage Milgauss shares commonality with the legendary Daytona as a Rolex that retailers once had to practically give away.
Like nearly all stainless-steel Rolex watches, we are now seeing contemporary Milgauss values on the secondary market creep up as well. Even thirteen years into the current model run, the 116400 provides many compelling arguments for acquisition. There is the modern Rolex finish and feel to the watch, with a substantial, waterproof Oyster case, smooth domed bezel and sapphire glass. Also important to the modernity of the Milgauss is the impeccable Oyster bracelet with polished centre links.
With the magnetic shielding over the venerable 3131 movement, the case profile is substantial but not overly bulky. There is a lot of shine to this modern scientist’s watch, now doubling duty as a pure luxury accessory. Also interesting to note is that the Milgauss strays from the Rolex norm of having a caseback without any engraving. Turning this watch over will reveal model-specific text, a pleasant surprise for collectors of the brand.
It is vital to discuss what sets the modern Milgauss apart from other Rolexes and watches in general. Tudor aside, the Milgauss is perhaps the most “fun” embodiment of Rolex (not counting rare leopard print Daytonas). All Milgauss variants feature the polarizing lightning bolt second hand. This feature is most noticeable on the white dial version, where it sweeps over matching bold orange indexes.
The combination of white and orange provide a noticeable pop of expression for the wearer relative to the more sedate but similarly proportioned Datejust 41. As a nod to the precision nature of the watch, the lightning bolt second hand reaches to the far outer minute track of the dial where the five minute intervals are marked with Arabic numerals.
Rolex didn’t leave the party with just the white dial Milgauss. It stayed awhile longer and imbibed enough to create a 116400GV variant with a black dial and green tinted sapphire crystal. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a watch with a lot going on. A veritable circus of black, green, orange and white all mingle together expressing a vibrant and brash statement about its owner. An owner I might add that should be quite adept at finding wardrobe items that match the personality of the Milgauss GV. The green tinted crystal lends itself to many different personalities depending on the current lighting situation and viewing angle.
Within watch collecting and enthusiast circles it is easy to see how the different Milgauss models now hold special appeal. They combine a long but quirky heritage with unconventional (for Rolex) design practices and wearing one still indicates that the owner is definitely a watch person, not simply a social climber. Purists will also appreciate the virtues of this watch for the time-only nature, where the only complication is purely visual and not mechanical. Do scientists really need to know what day it is while wandering the halls of a particle accelerator and contemplating the very essence of our universe?