A Big Draw – The Rolex Milgauss
Omega had the Railmaster and Universal developed the Polerouter, proving that there was a market for such watches. This was before watchmaking technology had progressed to where it is today with amagnetic compounds being available to make the important timekeeping elements of a watch impervious to magnetic fields. But why MilGauss?
Gauss in a CageCarl Friedrich Gauss is regarded as one of the greatest mathematical physicists in history. His ground-breaking research in magnetism led to him devising a way to represent magnetism in units called gauss. Each of us is always surrounded by an electromagnetic force of approximately 0.5 Gauss. A small toy magnet would measure approximatley 10 Gauss. Much like a Submariner or Seadweller that is totally over-engineered for 99.9 percent of users’ needs, the Rolex Milgauss was able to withstand magnetic fields of 1000 gauss…hence the name! So how did Rolex make this possible? They used a Faraday Cage. The faraday cage was the brainchild of Michael Faraday who amongst other innovations, created sheilds that could block and redistribute electromagnetic fields to protect sensitive equipment.
Swiss R&DWhen we think of Rolex or Tudor and the historical development of professional watches, names such and Comex, Pan-Am, Sir Edmind Hilary and the Marine Nationale (French Navy) spring to mind. When it came to testing and developing the Milgauss, the solution was a little closer to home. The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaireor CERN is based in Geneva and regarded as the pre-eminent particle physics research facility globally. As attested to in the famous Milgauss booklets that accompany the watches, from the late 1950s, CERN confirmed that the Milgauss could be exposed to magnetic fields of up to 1000 gauss without any negative impact on timekeeping.
The Early YearsThe first Milgauss reference was the 38mm steel case 6543. One of the biggest mysteries of these early Milgauss is the rotating bezel was marked with single units of one to five. The dials had a textured, almost weaved finish with MILGAUSS was printed in red. The anti-magnetic properties of the watch came from the use of a soft-iron shield around the movement, acting as a miniature faraday cage. The next Milgauss reference was the 6541, which was very similar to the 6543, the biggest addition being the ‘lightning-bolt’ seconds hand. Rolex used the 1080 calibre and the weaved texture dials in both models. Internally, there was a small change. Both references had an iron ring around the movement, but where in the first reference a thick case back was used, the 6541 had an additional inner sheild as well as a standard steel outer case back. Maybe due to the strange rotating bezel, 6541 references produced for the American market had solid polished steel bezels installed, which was a great segue into the third series of watches.
Steel Style1019 was first launched in 1960 was a stalwart of the sports family until 1989. The case size was, as with previous models, 38mm and housed the calibre 1580 movement. As with the 6541, the 1019 had an additional amagnetic inner shield that completed the faraday cage construction. The hour and minute hands were of a unique baton shape that is a little like the Tudor Homeplate hands and the seconds hand had a red tip. For the first decade of the watch’s life, the hands were polished with a central ridge running along their length. In around 1970 the hands changed to a flat matte brushed steel style. The dials were available in either black or silver and both had the word MILGAUSS in red. The silver dials featured a super cool and interesting vertical brushed finish, that had previously been seen on some rare Datejusts and other Oyster watches.
One of the rarest is a black dial that has two very interesting attributes. The first is a small batch of black dials with silver text and minute track. The vast majority of black dial watches have white text and minute track, making silver examples super collectible. The second is that the lume plots were noticeably square as opposed to the domed round mounds we are used to seeing. Square lume also existed on silver dials from the same time, circa 1970. The combination of black dial and square lume is, however, a winner!
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Watch the video where Bernhard is telling the full story behind this crazy watch!
Milgauss Strikes BackLike phoenix rising from the flames, the Milgauss was reborn at Baselworld in 2007 with a new reference 116400. The contemporary watch is a cool amalgam of the 6543/1 watches and the 1019. The is a very modern 40mm and is driven by the calibre 3131 that features the parachrom hairspring and anchor escapement, which make huge improvements in the anti-magnetic properties of the watch. Rolex reintroduced the lightning bolt sweep seconds hand but instead of the early rotating bezels, went with a smooth steel bezel as seen on the US-market 6541s and the reference 1019. The lightning bolt seconds hand was bright orange, as was the text MILGAUSS on the dial and orange was also a feature of the lume markers. To celebrate 50 years of the ‘official’ launch of the reference 6541 Milgauss in 1957 (the 6543 was viewed as a pre-production model), at the 2007 launch also Rolex unveiled the 116400GV. The same watch as the regular black dial version, the GV (glace vert) had a special green sapphire crystal fitted. Finally, in 2014 Rolex revealed a new 116400GV with electric blue colour dial. Referred to by Rolex as the Z-Blue dial.