Rolex Milgauss Review – The Most Underrated Rolex?
by Raman Kalra
Raman Kalra is the founder of The Watch Muse blog and has kindly agreed to share some of his articles with us here on Quill & Pad.
Rolex has always been known for their tool watches, whether for divers, explorers, or racing drivers, but there was another tool watch in the lineup – the Milgauss. Known for being the scientist’s watch, with non-magnetic properties up to 1,000 gauss which is where the name derives from, it was designed for those working in power plants, laboratories, and the medical field.
Given the slightly more niche nature of the Milgauss, it was never a hugely popular model and was ultimately discontinued in 1988. However, Rolex surprised the watch world at Baselworld, in 2007, with a modern interpretation.
Unfortunately, Rolex decided to discontinue the Milgauss collection early 2023.
The modern Milgauss, despite being one of the longest-standing current offerings by Rolex (we are now well over a decade since last release!), remains one of Rolex’s more under-appreciated models. Having owned a black dial 116400GV since 2016, I am here to tell you why it might be time to start thinking otherwise.
Top Reasons for Being Underrated
The green glass!
How could it not be that green glass? No other watch brand has ever managed to create a colored sapphire crystal. Rolex is so confident in its creation that it is still not patented, even though Rolex are usually eager to protect their inventions. In their own words “it is so difficult to make that no one else would even venture to try.”
This is just super cool. Not even the most elusive and expensive watches in the world can claim this. The glass is made in such a way that it is not just a coating, but the tint is present throughout the whole crystal, taking weeks to manufacture. However, even on top of the material complexity, there are other benefits to the green glass. The main is light play. Looking at the watch directly, you only see a very faint green outline.
Tilt the watch and it becomes a richer, deeper accent. But hit the light correctly, and the whole watch glows. It becomes this luminescent feature, bringing a sense of intrigue and life to the watch. For me, it goes perfectly with the scientific heritage this watch has.
It may sound silly but if you were to imagine an image that represents nuclear science, I would bet at least some of you would think of a glowing test tube. The glass manages to replicate that in some sense and indirectly is a perfect way to give a nod back to why this watch was conceived.
The final point I will mention on the glass is the color – green. Rolex and green are synonymous. Green has a tendency to show up in many of the anniversary models – think the ‘Kermit’ 50th-anniversary Submariner (ref 16610LV), 60th-anniversary Day-Date with olive dial (ref 228235), 50th-anniversary gold GMT (ref 116718LN). Yes, this was the re-launch of the Milgauss and Rolex used their coveted green on the watch.
Every time I look down, the glass gives me something different to look at, something emotive about the level of engineering to produce it, and ultimately reminds me this watch could only be one brand – Rolex.
Color Palette – 1970s
I know that the color palette won’t be for everyone. I am sure you know what the 116400GV looks like, but let me spell out the extent of color used. Black dial, green glass, white indices and minute markers, orange second-hand, orange 5-minute markers and a lighter, different orange for the 3-6-9 indices. It is a lot but pulling it all together works. There is enough color there to give off a sporty vibe, but still manages to be refined, giving you a versatile watch to wear for every occasion.
Taking a step back and considering the broader watch market, undoubtedly the fashion of the last 5 years has been centered around vintage-inspired watches, specifically focused on the 1970s. A lot of this comes down to the meteoric rise in demand for Gerald Genta designed steel sports watches with integrated bracelets – Patek Philippe Nautilus, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and IWC Ingenieur to name a few. Although, with this rise in demand, many of these watches are now unreachable for most.
This demand has moved away from just integrated stainless steel sports watches, and now you are finding more general 1970s-inspired watches at different price points e.g., Glashütte Seventies Chronograph or the Tudor Heritage Chrono. This is where the Milgauss comes in. The correct combination of colors found on the dial gives you a ‘70s vibe without following the crowd.
On top of that, the Milgauss is very much a modern watch, designed in modern times, which fits the current fashion without seemingly trying to. It manages to achieve a vintage look without clear intention – I’m looking at you fauxtina.
I consider most, though not all, Rolex watches to be versatile. You can wear a Submariner at the beach and the office. Similarly, a Day-Date, which is naturally more formal, still doesn’t look out of place with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. The Milgauss is no exception, although it falls in the middle of the spectrum between the Submariner and Day-Date.
Breaking down each individual feature of the watch into a scale between the generally accepted ideas of what dictates a formal or informal watch, it is easy to see how the Milgauss fits somewhere in the middle.
Below I’ll rate the elements of the Milgauss 3 categories: Formal, Neutral, and Casual.
Bracelet – Casual: Comparing the two bracelets on offer by Rolex – Jubilee vs. Oyster, the Milgauss comes on the Oyster bracelet which is traditionally seen as the more casual option. Yes, a leather strap should be the formal standard, but I’m only considering the two bracelet variations on offer.
Case Size – Neutral: The Milgauss case size is 40mm. Not what I would wear as a formal watch (I lean towards a 36mm), but it also isn’t a 44mm IWC Pilot’s watch.
Complication – Formal: It is a time-only watch; no date, no chronograph.
Bezel – Neutral: It comes with a smooth bezel. It isn’t a rotating GMT or diving bezel, but also it is not fluted.
Thickness – Neutral: The Milgauss has a case thickness of 13mm. It is not thin, but like case size, there are much thicker watches out there.
Crown Guards – Formal: It is a Yes/No question. Crown guards are saved for more casual tool watches given their purpose is to essentially protect the crown while the profession is carried out.
Orange lightning bolt seconds
The modern Milgauss is made up of many unique parts, but the second hand is not only unique, but it is also a direct feature that descended from the original ref. 6541.
Other watches play around with individual second hands, whether by color or adding in certain elements near the tip (Tudor with the Snowflake and Omega Aqua Terra are rated above 15,000 Gauss for example), but none come close to the orange lightning bolt found on the 116400 rated to 1,000 Guass. Mille is French for 1,000 hence the name Milgausse.
It is one-of-a-kind, so much so, that you can see the second hand alone and know it can only come from one watch.
Whilst being both a homage and unique, Rolex achieved something great with the design originally by incorporating a symbol that signifies Energy. This reflects the scientists who the watch was made for, but also CERN, where the watch was tested.
CERN is the site of the Large Hadron Collider, which is the world’s highest energy particle collider. How better to pay respect to this than have a lightning bolt sweeping around the dial constantly, the main hand on the watch allowing you to visually see the release of energy from the mainspring at any time?
And all this in a magnificent orange. Again, all pointing towards one thing. Energy.
I love Rolex. I love everything that Rolex stands for in terms of precision, going above and beyond in your craft to make truly the best, most refined product possible. I love that their designs across the range are timeless. No other brand can trim down the lugs by a few millimeters and release it as a whole new model (with an extra waitlist nonetheless!).
But, sometimes this can be unexciting. Let’s take the new 2021 Explorer II as an example. With the 50th anniversary of the Explorer II in 2021, many expected something novel to be done with the model to commemorate the milestone, whether it was the addition of a ceramic bezel or a green GMT hand.
But this was not the case, with a watch that at first glance looked identical to the previous iteration. In situations like this, even though the Explorer II is a great watch and the changes made can only be considered improvements, it does lack in terms of excitement.
This is where the Milgauss, however, goes against the grain. For such a reserved company, that looks to create subtle variations in its iterations of original designs conceived, in most cases, long before the 21st century, the Milgauss is different. It is bold, it pushes the boundaries of what is to be expected from Rolex, and it has an element of fun. Granted some of their recent offerings have been more in this stride, such as the 2021 “palm” motif Datejust, the Milgauss was ahead of its time in this sense.
Further, despite the color and boldness of the watch, the Milgauss is not as widely “known” as some of the other offerings such as the Submariner and Datejust, which can allow it to fly under the radar to some extent. This to me is just an extra plus.
Where the Milgauss Could Be Improved
The biggest wish for the next Milgauss iteration from me is to reduce some of its thickness which is currently 13mm. I am torn in writing this because the thickness comes from the faraday cage that Rolex uses in between the case back and the movement.
Originally, this was the defining factor in the watch being non-magnetic, and the fact that it was kept in the modern Milgauss is just cool. If you were to open up the back of the watch, which I don’t recommend and is fully reserved for Rolex-approved watchmakers, the Faraday cage has a B with an arrow above (the symbol for magnetic flux density) engraved on it. Yet another unique detail.
But, with modern technology in watch movements having non-magnetic properties such as the paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring in the 3131 movement, the faraday cage is now just there for bragging rights. Now, when it comes to wearing the watch daily whether it’s with a suit or just casually, the heft becomes noticeable when I compare it to some other watches in the collection. For pure convenience, I wouldn’t mind an extra 1mm in thinness. Yes, 1mm makes a difference.
I had not considered this until the new 2022 Air-King was released. I will go into my Air-King thoughts another day, but the crown guards definitely added something extra for me. It gave the Air-King a new sportiness, somehow now fitting better in the Rolex Professional category and what I would consider a tool watch.
It got me thinking about the Milgauss, and I think crown guards could add that same something extra. Yes, they might take away some of the versatility that I mentioned above, but in return, you would be giving it a more go-anywhere, ruggedness. This could all be personal preference, but something I would watch out for on the next iteration.
Quick Facts Rolex Milgauss
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Dimensions: 40mm x 13 mm
Movement: Rolex caliber 3131, automatic winding, non-magnetic, Faraday cage rated to 1,000 Gauss, Parachrom-Blu hairspring, 4 Hz, COSC chronometer rated
Water resistance: 100 meters
Strap/bracelet: Oyster bracelet
Price: $9,150 in 2022
Notes: modern production 2007-2023 (discontinued 2023)
You can read more articles by Raman Kalra at www.thewatchmuse.com.
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