Rolex Decades: The 2000s Milgauss Versus the 2010s Milgauss -

Rolex Decades: The 2000s Milgauss Versus the 2010s Milgauss

These days, Rolex’s scientist’s watch, the Milgauss, is famous for not being famous.

A timepiece which has lived its life in the shadows, it has been a perpetually ignored creation, despite its singular talents, with buyers traditionally passing it over for more recognizable names.

However, that could only last so long. Eventually, collectors fill their watch boxes with the usual suspects and then notice, to their horror, that those boxes look a lot like every other watch collector’s. With exclusivity prized above nearly everything else, that then sends enthusiasts scurrying for the lesser known pieces, those dark horses in the collection which could set them apart in a crowded playing field.

In recent years, that has given the Milgauss a chance to shine.

If you have been following our ‘Decades’ series, you will know that we have covered the earliest part of the watch’s history already. That period between the 1950s and ‘60s saw the model go through just three separate references, culminating in the 1960 release of the ref. 1019.

You might then be wondering why only the second article dedicated to the Milgauss kicks off in the 2000s. It’s quite simple.

The ref. 1019 took the piece all the way up to 1988, an incredible 28 years, with only the bare minimum of alterations. Then, between 1988 and 2007, there was no Milgauss.

Rolex discontinued the watch, finally giving up hope, it seemed, that it would ever sell well enough to be a viable concern.

In fairness to the brand, it never had previously. Originally released in the same bountiful phase as the Submariner, GMT-Master, Day-Date and Explorer, it basically got lost in the crowd. And its appeal wasn’t improved by its mission; to resist the high magnetic forces of the technician’s laboratory or engineer’s workshop. Compared to watches designed for Scuba divers, world travelers, chairmen of the board or pioneering adventurers, most people’s decision was clear.

The comeback kid, on the other hand, was something else. Here at last was a new take on the Milgauss—still with its abilities intact, but with a refreshed style and more colorful aesthetic.

Its return was certainly a surprise following a near-20 year layoff. But it has turned out to be a welcome one. While it still can’t compete with the full-throated Rolex sports models for either sales or popularity, it has become something of a cult hero nowadays.

Below, we take a look at how the modern day Milgauss differs from its forerunner.

The 2000s Milgauss Versus the 2010s Milgauss: The Milgauss Super Collides

The Rolex Milgauss ref. 1019
Key Features:
Production: 1960-1988
Size: 38mm
Materials: Stainless Steel
Movement: Rolex Cal. 1580
Bezel: Steel. Smooth. Fixed
Crown: Twinlock. 100m Water Resistance
Dials: Black/Silver

The Rolex Milgauss ref. 116400
Key Features:
Production: 2007-Present
Size: 40mm
Materials: Stainless Steel
Movement: Rolex Cal. 3131
Bezel: Steel. Smooth. Fixed
Crown: Twinlock. 100m Water Resistance
Dials: Black/White/Blue

On the 10thSeptember, 2008, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, started up the Large Hadron Collider. The culmination of more than three decades of planning and building, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator consists of a 27-kilometer ring of superconducting magnets along with a series of accelerating arrangements that boost the speed of the particles around its loop. It was a colossal achievement and meant that scientists were able do all sorts of terribly exciting science stuff (I’ve absolutely no idea).

In anticipation of the feat and to celebrate the accomplishment, Rolex decided to relaunch an all-new Milgauss the year before, in 2007.

It was something of a sentimental decision. The Milgauss enjoys a long history with CERN, dating all the way back to the original reference, the ref. 6543 from 1956. Some believe, erroneously, that researchers at the institute actually commissioned the watch from Rolex directly. While that rumor has been discredited, there’s no denying that the model was designed with their like in mind, and that therewasa special version of the ref. 1019 in the ‘60s ordered especially by the organization with all lume stripped away so as to avoid affecting their equipment. It is known now as the CERN dial.

So the brand turned up to Baselworld with not one but three new examples, causing many-a head to turn; not just because the watch itself was back unexpectedly after such a prolonged absence, but also because of the form it took.

The long-running predecessor had been a particularly conservative design. Time-only, 38mm, all steel and with a choice of just a black or silver dial framed by a fixed steel bezel, there was pretty much nothing to distinguish the watch visually in any way. Versions prior to the ref. 1019 had either copied the styling of the Submariner or, in the case of the ref. 6541 from the mid-50s, had at least shown a little eccentricity by adding a lightning bolt-shaped seconds hand.

With the great Milgauss return then, things were very different.

The 2000s Milgauss Versus the 2010s Milgauss: The Overhaul

Rolex launched two variants of the ref. 116400, and another designated ref. 116400GV. We’ll start with the former pair.

Both measured 40mm, increasing the size of the watch past 38mm for the first time in its history. During the model’s absence from the catalog, the brand had made the switch to Oystersteel—904L—so these were also the first Milgauss watches to be cast in the new metal.

Up front, you could take your pick from either a black or white dial, the latter already marking it as somewhat unusual in the Professional Collection, which is conspicuously light on white dialed pieces. And, to the joy of nerds far and wide, the lightning bolt was back, picked out in a zesty orange.

In fact, besides the seconds hand, the ‘Milgauss’ signature and the five-minute markers above the indexes were also colored a bright orange, making these new additions some of the most vibrant models in the portfolio. This is something Rolex seems to reserve for its entry-level watches, the lower price of admission apparently freeing their designers up to have some fun. The most recent Air-King is another example, a watch that has also had the paint splashed around.

Speaking of which, the Air-King of this era, the ref. 116900, shared not only a case but also a movement with the Milgauss. Both incorporated the same thicker back needed to accommodate the Cal. 3131’s soft iron Faraday cage-like arrangement.

The movement was a significant step-up on the ref. 1019’s Cal. 1580, boosting the frequency to 28,800vph and offering an impressive 48-hour reserve. Essentially an antimagnetic reworking of the base Cal. 3130 found in the Explorer and no-date Sub of the time, the Cal. 3131 also benefitted from Rolex’s new Parachrom hairspring, which in itself offered a huge amount of protection from magnetic forces.

Topping it all off was the first sapphire crystal the Milgauss had ever had. And on the two standard ref. 116400 pieces, that crystal was perfectly clear. On the third variant at the launch however, the ref. 116400GV, Rolex had come up with something a bit special.

The 2000s Milgauss Versus the 2010s Milgauss: The Milgauss Goes Green

Just as the letters at the end of Rolex reference numbers often denote a particular color (the Pepsi GMT’s ‘BLRO’ for ‘Bleu’ and ‘Rouge’, for example) the GV also represented a specific tint. But this time it wasn’t on the Milgauss’s bezel, but on its crystal. Standing for ‘Glace Verte’ or ‘Green Glass’ the manufacture found a way to add a dash of green to the sapphire. And in possibly the least Rolex-ish move ever recorded, the brand hadn’t even bothered to patent the innovation because it was reportedly so complex, time-consuming and expensive they were confident no one else would be able to replicate it.

The ref. 116400GV was a second black dialed piece, but the addition of the toned glass gave the watch an even greater pop than the other two. It proved something of a minor sensation in 2007 and elevated the Milgauss far above its established underdog status.

But they weren’t done yet.

The trio stayed in production until 2014. At that point, Rolex retired both of the non-GV pieces, black and white, and replaced them with another, single, green-sapphired watch.

Except this time, they doubled down on the whole colorfulness bent they were on and handed this latest version a sunburst blue dial. Called the Z-Blue, the combination of the metallic-looking face and the emerald crystal gave the model a constantly shifting hue and tremendously dynamic vibe—perfect for a watch born to handle electrical forces.

That reduced the collection to just two, the same two as make up the range today, but all of a sudden the Milgauss was being seen as a genuine option to some of the more renowned Rolex names.

Whether it is a change in people’s appreciation towards science and technology, or merely that, at long last, the brand has given the Milgauss some of the sort of innovational progress it usually reserves for their big hitters, it has transformed the fortunes of the once forgotten watch.

The revival of the Milgauss represents one of the most extreme changes between one Rolex reference to the next. The fact that the two models were separated by a near 20 year absence is obviously the main factor and the brand threw everything they had at the watch’s latest iteration.

Now a celebrated presence in the collection, chances are it is on its way to a new update soon. It is still powered, even in 2022, with the previous generation movement, while all around it have graduated to the Cal. 32XX series.

What the next modernization will also include we don’t yet know, but don’t be surprised to find it following the Air-King’s lead and growing some sporty crown guards at the very least.

Rest assured, when it happens, we’ll report it here.

Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive

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