This short blog piece is intended to give a bit of an update on the background of what is a very interesting and unusual sports Rolex model – the Milgauss.
I won’t go into too much detail about the vintage references, partially because I’m sure you can find this information elsewhere on the net if you really want it (Jake’s Rolex World is excellent) but mainly because that’s not the point of the piece.
Prices of the vintage references are already way out of the reach of what the average Oakleigh customer normally wants to spend and an assessment of their potential investment value is a tricky thing.
On the other hand, the current Rolex Milgauss reference 116400 is a beautiful, interesting and undervalued watch which I believe is set to increase in price significantly over the coming months.
So, a little background first:
The Rolex Milgauss 6541: 1956 – 1960
During the 1950s when the scientific world was undergoing significant changes as a result of developments in equipment, the scientists at the CERN laboratories in Switzerland (home of the Large Hadron Collider) discovered a previously unforeseen problem. These chaps need to be able to tell the time accurately and reliably in order to do their work but the magnetic fields in which they were working were affecting the operation of their wristwatches. Put simply, if you apply magnetism to a watch, the parts stick to each other and it stops working.
In answer to this specific problem, in 1954 Rolex invented the 6543 ‘Pre-Milgauss’ which was shortly followed by the first production Milgauss, the 6543, in 1956. With its characteristic black waffle dial and secondhand in the shape of a lightning bolt as a nod to its origins, the 37.5mm Milgauss was bit of a marvel. Rolex had got around the magnetism problem by encasing the entire movement in a Faraday Cage – a capsule of soft iron which repelled the magnetic forces. The Milgauss wasn’t the first watch to be made with a Faraday Cage but it was the first to be famous for it.
Incidentally, the Faraday Cage was designed to repel magnetic fields of up to 1,000 Gauss – hence the name ‘Mil – Gauss’.
These days a perfect Full Set 6541 watch is impossible to get so if anybody particularly wanted one, the few that are available for sale tend to be less than perfect watch only examples – you can still expect to pay around £250,000 for one in 2021.
The 6541 was made until 1960 when it was superseded by the far more less eccentric looking 1019
The Rolex Milgauss 1019: 1960 – 1988
When Rolex decided to make the Milgauss more generally acceptable from an aesthetic point of view, reference 1019 was launched with a much more plain look altogether. Gone were the waffle dial and eccentric lightning bolt seconds hand to be replaced by a very plain looking 38mm steel case on an Oyster bracelet with a plain dial in either white or black and standard hands.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say and I have always thought that the 1019 Milgauss is beautiful in its simplicity. Having said that, I was fortunate enough to own one a few years ago and while it is beautiful, it is less than inspiring on the wrist – this may be the reason why it was so unpopular when it was new that it was only made in batches. Rolex would collect orders over a period of time and when they had sufficient orders to justify restarting the manufacturing process, a new batch was made. This is why you will never see a 1969 Milgauss because those made in 1968 were sufficient to supply demand until 1970.
With developments in watchmaking technology, the Faraday Cage became superfluous in the 1980’s and production of the 1019 stopped in 1988. The Milgauss disappeared from the Rolex catalogue until it was resurrected in 2007.
These days, even a watch only 1019 costs upwards of £25,000.
The Rolex Milgauss 116400: 2007 – Date
When the Rolex Milgauss 116400 was launched at Baselworld in 2007, it was with a return to original style concepts, drawn from all the previous incarnations. Most importantly, the lightning seconds hand was back. A bigger watch altogether, the 40mm 116400 is like a chunky, smooth bezelled Datejust II – a very simple but substantial case, necessary for the housing of the Faraday Cage.
Originally released with either a black or white dial, both with orange markers, the 116400 was still not the most popular of sports Rolex references and it’s fair to say it was a slow burn. It was with the GV (Glass Vert) 50th Anniversary version that interest in the Milgauss began to increase. James Bond actor Daniel Craig was well known for being a fan of the GV – he never wore it on screen but was often seen wearing one out and about – and Roger Federer appeared in the GV adverts.
The 116400GV was a standard black dialled Milgauss with orange markers and lightning hand and a green tinted crystal which gave the whole watch a completely different feel. This was sufficiently popular that a second version was released in 2014 with a blue dial – the GVZ.
Production of the white dial and black dialled versions was discontinued in 2018. As is often the case with references that weren’t particularly popular when they were in production, availability is now relatively limited and this in itself drives demand. So, we have a classic case of limited supply and high demand – the magic formula for increasing prices.
Until recently, even the best 116400 Milgauss could be bought for around £6000 as a Full Set – that’s changed over the last 18 months but you can still buy a perfect watch for less than £9000. Compare this to a Submariner or GMT Master II and the Milgauss looks like something of a bargain
So, if you fancy something a bit different that looks beautiful and wears really well that’s virtually guaranteed to increase in value while it’s on your wrist, the 116400 Milgauss is a pretty safe bet.