Tool Watch Time: Rolex Watches for Nerds

In the next installment of our Tool Watch Time series where we explore utilitarian Rolex watches developed for specific needs, we take a look at timepieces built for what we affectionately call, nerds. That is, Rolex watches built explicitly for scientists, engineers, doctors, and other professionals. What particular needs does this group have when wearing a watch? Since many of these professionals spend time in areas that have high-magnetic fields and magnetism is very detrimental to the functionality of a mechanical movement, they would need an antimagnetic watch. So today, let’s have a closer look at antimagnetic Rolex watches.

Antimagnetic Rolex Watch #1: Milgauss Part 1

Rolex Milgauss Ref. 6543

In 1956, Rolex introduced the stainless steel Milgauss antimagnetic watch for the scientific community. The name of the watch is a contraction of the words “Mille” (French for 1,000) and “Gauss” (the unit of measurement for magnetism). Therefore, as its name suggests, the Rolex Milgauss can endure magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gauss. Rolex achieved this antimagnetic ability thanks to a pair of protective shields—one on the movement and one on the case.

Rolex Milgauss Ref. 1019

Aside from the Milgauss’ antimagnetic capabilities, the watch also has other interesting design features. Early models of the watch, the Milgauss ref. 6543, had a 38mm Oyster case—quite large for the era—a marked rotating bezel similar to the Submariner, a honeycomb dial, and a lightning bolt seconds hand.

As is often the case, Rolex modified the Milgauss over the years. However, the following iteration after the Milgauss ref. 6543, the Milgauss ref. 1019, lacked many of the features that gave the Milgauss its quirky personality. While the resistance to 1,000 gauss remained, gone were the lightning bolt seconds hand, the honeycomb dial, and the rotating bezel. They were instead replaced with a straight seconds hand, black or white dial, and a smooth steel bezel. Undoubtedly due to a shortage of interest, Rolex shelved the Milgauss collection in 1988.

Antimagnetic Rolex Watch #2: Milgauss Part 2

Rolex Milgauss Ref. 116400

Not to be defeated, Rolex re-introduced the Milgauss in 2007. This time, Rolex merged modern considerations and vintage touches. The new Milgauss ref. 116400 sports a 40mm Oyster case with a smooth steel bezel. Furthermore, not only did the lightning bolt shaped seconds hand return, but this time in a bright orange hue—accompanied by other orange accents—sitting on a black or white dial. There was also the debut of the anniversary Milgauss ref. 116400GV, where GV (Glace Verte) refers to the unique green tinted sapphire crystal protecting the dial. Powering these contemporary antimagnetic Rolex tool watches is Cal. 3131 with 48 hours of power reserve.

In 2014, Rolex extended the modern Milgauss range with the Milgauss ref. 116400GV “Z Blue” edition with a bright blue dial sitting under the green crystal. Very modern, very striking, and very nerdy—in the best way possible.

Antimagnetic Rolex Watch #3: Air-King

Rolex Air-King Ref. 116900

Aside from being one of Rolex’s oldest collections, the Air-King was always considered to be one of the most affordable watches from the brand with basic features and classic designs. However, Rolex discontinued the classic Air-King in 2014 only to bring back a completely new version in 2016. And the new Air-King ref. 116900 is the model we’re discussing here because like the Milgauss (and unlike older versions of the Air-King) it is indeed antimagnetic.

Featuring a 40mm Oyster case, a black dial, white minute numerals and white gold Explorer-style 3,6,9 hour markers, Mercedes-style hands, along with green and yellow dial details, the Air-King ref. 116900 is unlike any previous models that shares its name. Beneath the flashier exterior of the Air-King ref. 116900 is the same Cal. 3131 of the Milgauss with the customary protective shield. As a result, the Air-King is also antimagnetic and can be classified as a tool watch for the purposes of our discussion.

If you frequently find yourself in high magnetic fields or you just like the concept of a watch that can withstand such an environment, then the Rolex Milgauss or Rolex Air-King are tool watches definitely worth considering.