The current Rolex Milgauss, reference 116400, is an outlier in Rolex’s catalog. It’s hard to miss the green tinted sapphire and bright orange lightning bolt. Obviously, this look isn’t for everyone. So who exactly is it for? What does it represent? And how does Rolex’s design language come through with this unorthodox offering? The Milgauss is somewhat of a black sheep in the Rolex family, but it deserves some time in the spotlight. Does it deserve some time in your collection?
A Short History of the Milgauss
Although we’re focusing on the current model, we can’t just skip over the Milgauss' history. The name Milgauss refers to the watch’s resistance up to one thousand gauss, or ‘mille gauss’ in French. Gauss is a unit of magnetism, and 1000 is a lot. For reference, the pull of a fridge magnet is around 50 gauss. The Rolex Milgauss was purpose-built for engineers and physicists. The first production model was distributed to scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Particle physics labs contain high levels of magnetism; CERN was the perfect partner. If you’re interested in learning about Rolex’s history in scientific innovation, I recommend this article by Meghan Clark.
The first production Milgauss, reference 6451, was essentially a modified Submariner. You could get it with or without a rotating bezel, but the lightning bolt second hand was a non-negotiable. It was a cool watch, but unless you were a particle physicist, it didn’t make sense as a purchase. Aside from its anti-magnetic properties, the Milgauss didn’t offer anything new in the Rolex catalog. In 1960, they decided to refine the Milgauss with the reference 1019. This model is closer to what we see today (an Oyster Perpetual), but far more understated. The 1019 came on a steel bracelet with your choice of a black or white dial. They also got rid of the lightning bolt second hand, replacing it with a traditional stick hand. Again, nothing crazy compared to the rest of their catalog. The Milgauss was discontinued in 1988.
The Modern Milgauss
When Rolex released the new Milgauss in 2007, they wanted to make a statement. This new reference offered green-tinted sapphire crystal, a black or white dial, and a bright orange lightning bolt for a second hand. Over the years, Rolex phased out the white dial and the clear sapphire. They brought in the distinct sunburst 'Z-Blue' dial in 2014. This new reference is the best of all worlds: the distinct second hand of the 6451, the refined silhouette of the 1019, and a modern twist on the color scheme. The green sapphire gives a unique look, and pays homage to Rolex’s signature color. Of course, this new model still has resistance up to 1000 gauss.
I think Rolex hit the nail on the head with this new Milgauss. They perfectly encapsulated the watch’s history, but positioned it as its own unique product. The design language might be polarizing, but it’s meaningful. The Milgauss has a rich history, and I consider the 116400 to be the definitive reference. But who is it for? If you’re spending five figures on a Rolex, you want to be confident in your decision. The brand has so many iconic models, so why should you buy a Milgauss?
Who is the Milgauss for?
Don’t worry – you don’t have to be a particle physicist to own this watch. Nor do you have to be a diver to own a Submariner. Rolexes are purpose-built tools from the 1950’s. Today, they’re just incredible watches with incredible history. The Milgauss is no exception. I see this as an enthusiast Rolex. In a world of Rolex owners that don’t know a movement from a dial, the Milgauss is a purist’s purchase. Don’t get me wrong -- it’s eccentric, but the appeal comes from the heritage. Those willing to dig deep (and read this much about a watch) will appreciate every little detail of the Milgauss: the arabic minutes hugging the bezel; the thicker, orange block indices at 3, 6, and 9; the perfectly proportioned ‘Milgauss’ text in orange; I could go on. The blue dial and green sapphire creates an turquoise like you’ve never seen. It's an incredibly unique watch at an incredibly low price (for a Rolex).
So is the Milgauss for you? I hate to make it this simple, but. . . do you like it? Does it fit in your collection? Do you appreciate and enjoy the Milgauss’ history? If you answered yes to any of those questions, it might be the watch for you. It could be your only watch; you can always dress it up or down with a different strap. Personally, I think it would look great with a rubber strap, especially an orange or green one. The Milgauss is an enthusiast's watch through and through. It's a one of a kind piece, especially in Rolex's catalog. What do you think? Is the Milgauss for you?