The story of the Milgauss begins with its striking lightning-bolt shaped seconds hand. The unusually shaped hand is one of the most recognizable and desirable features of the original anti-magnetic Rolex, and one that was greatly appreciated within the small scientific community for whom the watch was intended – and it’s what a much larger group of enthusiasts enjoy about the latest model too.The Milgauss began with the lightning bolt hand, and has it today, but when the second iteration (ref. 1019) adopted a straight seconds hand, interest in the Milgauss dropped to the point where Rolex eventually decided to stop producing it. In England, retailers found it so difficult to find buyers that they began using the watch as a bargaining chip when selling other more popular Oyster models. That’s right – at some point, you could get this watch for almost nothing (and sometimes you did).
The Milgauss reference 6541 was introduced in 1956, and it was one of the first wristwatches capable of keeping time accurately when exposed to strong magnetic fields thanks to its soft iron inner case. This was actually the second Milgauss, after the ref. 6543 (despite the reference numbers, ref. 6543 actually came first) which was a watch Rolex made in very small numbers, and which bears little resemblance to subsequent models.
The design of the Milgauss was initially very similar to another professional Rolex model known for its resistance to water, not magnetism. Just like the Submariner, the Milgauss was presented in an Oyster case made of steel, technically making it a sports watch, and just like the Submariner, it had a graduated rotating bezel, bubble indexes (in certain places), and perhaps most important of all (to collectors) a single line of red text indicating the name of the model.
Just like early versions of Rolex’s diving wristwatch, the original Milgauss now trades for some serious money, not because it was one of the first mainstream antimagnetic wristwatches (look at prices for a 1950s IWC Ingenieur for comparison) but because of its rarity, and the fact that it has aged well in terms of case proportions and overall design. And because it’s an important part of Rolex’s history.
Conceived and manufactured by Rolex, the watch was tested a few miles from the watchmaker’s facilities against magnetic fields up to 1,000 gauss by some of Switzerland’s most brilliant minds at the European Organization for Nuclear Research . Before it was anyone else’s, this was their watch.