Monday, November 06, 2023

The Complete History Of The Rolex Milgauss



Back in May of this year, Phillips Auction house held its "The Geneva Watch Auction XVII", and they set an all-time auction record for the Rolex Milgauss model when they sold this magnificent example for close to $2.5 Million. 

This is no ordinary Rolex Milgauss in the sense it appears to be one of rarest models in amazing mint condition, and even came with its original box and papers. In other words, this is a museum piece and people keep telling me that Rolex purchased it for their private museum collection.

There are so many fascinating late art-deco design lauguage details on this Rolex Milgauss Reference 6541, including the black honeycomb dial, coupled with the dauphin hands, and unique lightning bolt second hand, not to mention the arrow minute markers at 15, 30 and 45. It is interesting to note that this early Milgauss model lacked any kind of lume, despite the fact the round markers appear as if they were lumed, which is even pointed out in the Italian Rolex Milgauss ad seen below in this story.

That being said, there has been some confusion around some of the dating details of this watch, which I intend to clarify in this article. For instance Phillips dated this watch with a "Circa 1958" designation, which is not surprising. The challenge is that when many of the original Rolex sports models were introduced along with the Datejust and Day-Date Rolex was not keeping or publishing details on original shipping dates, which has resulted in a great deal of confusion in recent years.

The best dating scholarship comes from horological  historian, Nick Gould who did a deep dive around this model and pointed out despite the fact Rolex suggested this model came out in 1956, and Phillips estimated it was made in 1958, the historical record suggests otherwise. Nick pointed out the earliest Rolex Milgauss ad he has ever seen (as pictured above in an Italian newspaper) was from late 1959, which suggests the first Milgauss models really hit the market in early 1960 despite the fact it first debuted in Rolex's 1958 Master Catalog. 

Nick discovered the newspaper article section below which introduced the Rolex Milgauss as a "New type watch for scientist by Rolex" originally appeared in The Singapore Straits Times on Tuesday, November 29, 1960.

Nick pointed out that the timing certificate that accompanies this magnificent model indicates it was assembled in 1960. It appears from the historical record that even though it was previously beloved Rolex introduced the Milgauss in 1955, that the watches were only in prototype form and were not available until late 1959 at the earliest. Nick also pointed out the Milgauss was never mentioned in the Swiss Journal in 1957, 1958 or 1959. Nick also mentioned despite the fact the Milgauss shown in the 1958 Rolex Master Catalog (pictured later in this story) featured a Submariner style bezel insert, he believes René-Paul Jeanneret decided to make a different style bezel insert to better differentiate the two models. Also, the updated bezel insert features a 60 minute gradation designation, which is ideal for measuring 60 seconds per minute, or 60 minutes per hour.

This Rolex Milgauss is literally a Rolex Time Machine piece in the sense it almost looks like it was made yesterday. For the record, I would not be surprised if Rolex were to reintroduce an updated version that incorporates many of the characteristics of the original in years to come. We MIGHT even see it as soon as 2024, which makes sense as Rolex recently discontinued the Milgauss after bringing it back to life to critical acclaim more than a decade ago.

So what is the great takeaway from this article? Many collectors tend to date watches based upon serial numbers, as well as other relatively inaccurate details. In my upcoming series of books, I intend to set the confusing record straight on many of the details surrounding launch dates of models, as recent scholarship continues to provide so much more historical detail. Also, it is worth pointing out that according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office application (not pictured in this article, but appearing in my future book series) says the make was first used in commerce in 1959.

Below is my original article I wrote on the complete history of the Rolex Milgauss which I am including to better contextualize the Reference 6541 Milgauss model discussed above. Special thanks to Phillips, as they are so good at showcasing historical Rolex models with AMAZING Wrist shots like the one above.

Speaking of my upcoming series of 12 Rolex books that entire the complete history of Rolex, I thought I would share an exclusive previously undocumented image and piece of Rolex history. The photo below shows Rolex executives at the Daytona International Raceway back in 1962 chatting with racing legend, Fireball Roberts. Keep in mind that at the time the Rolex Daytona model didn't exist and was three years away from making its formal debut, but this photo is historically significant as it is part of the genesis story of the Rolex Daytona.

Fireball Roberts not only won the 1962 Daytona race, but is pictured above rocking his Rolex Milgauss. The photo above was taken the same day Roberts won the Daytona 500.



It's hard to believe Rolex discontinued the Rolex Milgauss—Again, so I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at this really cool model. In the past, I have written some very detailed stories on the history of different Rolex watch models, including The Complete History of the Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER, The Complete History of the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph, and The Complete History Of The Rolex Yachtmaster–just to name a few. 

Rolex history is fascinating on so many different levels, and this story explores the history of one of the more unusual Rolex watch models, which is named Milgauss.

Rolex Milgauss photo from Philippe

Before we examine all the amazing details and history of the Rolex Milgauss models, let's hop in the Rolex Time Machine and travel back to Geneva in the early 1950s to best understand the genesis of this history.

In the early 1950s, a brilliant scientific organization was founded in Switzerland named the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which in French is named Organisation Européenne Pour la Recherche Nucléaire. It's nickname was CERN, which was founded in 1954, with the goal to build, maintain and operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory. This fascinatingly ambitious project began, like any great journey, with a few simple steps–in the beautiful and picturesque Swiss countryside. The photo below, taken on May 17, 1954 shows the first breaking of land to build the particle accelerator and the two men are founding CERN administrators.

This is a story about men and their machines...

The photo below shows the CERN laboratory in Switzerland in 1956 after it went into operation. According to Rolex: 

"In the 1950s, CERN was one of the first scientific institutions to confirm that the Milgauss watch could indeed resist magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gauss."

The CERN photo below shows the building of the ISR (Intersecting Storage Rings) in 1967. 

The CERN photo below was taken in 1971 and shows the world's first hadron collider's Intersecting Storage Ring (ISR), which was a former particle accelerator that ran from 1971 to 1984..

Birth of The Web @ CERN


CERN, which is located in Geneva, Switzerland and it has been a technological powerhouse since its inception. As a matter of fact, in December of 1990, Sir Berners-Lee had invented the web browser along with defining it's core infrastructural components including html, URL and http. As part of his vision, he created which was the first web server in the world, which ran on Steve Jobs NeXT computer at CERN. Below we see the worlds first web page which presented an overview of the World Wide Web program.

World's Largest Magnet


Today, CERN remains the pre-eminent particle physics laboratory and it houses the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world today. The photo below sows the ATLAS Barrel Toroid which is the largest superconducting magnet ever made and it was first switched on November 20, 2006. 

CERN describes "The ATLAS Barrel Toroid, then the largest superconducting magnet ever built, was switched on for the first time at CERN on 20 November 2006. The magnet is called the Barrel Toroid because of its barrel-like shape. It provides a powerful magnetic field for ATLAS, one of the major particle detectors taking data at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The magnet consists of eight superconducting coils, each in the shape of a round-cornered rectangle, 5 metres wide, 25m long and weighing 100 tonnes, all aligned to millimetre precision. The ATLAS Barrel Toroid was cooled down over a six-week period from July to August 2006 to reach –269°C . It was then powered up step-by-step to higher and higher currents, reaching 21 thousand amps for the first time during the night of 9 November. Afterwards, the current was switched off and the stored magnetic energy of 1.1 GigaJoules, the equivalent of about 10,000 cars travelling at 70 kilometres per hour, was safely dissipated, raising the cold mass of the magnet to –218°C."

1955 Rolex Milgauss

Reference 6543

A Timeless Art-Deco Masterpiece

The early history of the Rolex Milgauss is a bit confusing. The first Rolex Milgauss was developed by Rolex in 1954 with a Reference Number of 6543. The best scholarship suggests this first model was produced in very small quantities and more than anything was like a proof of concept model. Nobody knows the exact number of these early models that were made but it is believed Rolex made somewhere between 75 to 200 of this model. 

I put together this image which I believe clarifies the difference between the 1954 Rolex Milgauss Reference 6543, and the 1956 Rolex Milgauss Reference 6541, which was offered with and without a spinning bezel. Notice the earlier Reference 6543 featured was NOT offered on a steel bracelet, and had a Submariner style bezel insert, and also lacked a lightning bolt hand.

Also, the later Reference 6541 features a dust cover inside the case back which the 6543 lacked, while the 6541 features dial legs which the 6543 dial lacks.

According to Jasper Lijfering from Amsterdam Vintage Watches:

"Not sure how in-depth you wanna go with the different variations of dials, bezels and hands (which is quite odd given the fact the case was made in one batch but apparently the parts weren't) but I think its of importance to note the smooth bezel. 6541 was USA market only. Furthermore the 6543 measures 19.7mm between the lugs and therefore its not possible to fit the Oyster bracelet to it."

The 1955 Rolex Milgauss Reference 6543 pictured below, set an all-time record when it sold at Christie's Auction House on May 15, 2017 for $272,500 in Geneva!!!! To the best of my understanding this watch may have been modified by swapping an early Rolex Submariner bezel insert for the standard Milgauss bezel, but then again it is possible that Rolex shipped some with this bezel configuration. Also, this watch lacks the typical lightning bolt second hand, and apparently up to half of the Reference 6543 models featured the plain second hand.

This is a seriously beautiful and timeless Rolex watch, and it is is superb condition, as seen in the photos above and below. 

Christies Lot Essay


One of the most fascinating models made by Rolex starting from the 1950s is the Milgauss, a watch made to withstand magnetic felds of up to 1000 Gauss.

Rolex’s ethos was to devote some of its production to the manufacture of watches for scientifc professionals working out in the feld. The most highly specialized watch devised for this purpose is the Milgauss, it works on the principle of the Faraday cage – a soft iron band bracing the movement on reference 6543 and a soft iron container enveloping the entire movement in the near contemporary reference 6541.

Lot 200 is an example of the very rare frst Milgauss reference 6543 – in production for three years from 1955 to 1957. Lot 201, shows the progression of the Milgauss design with reference 1019, the final vintage model originally launched in 1963.

The Milgauss was only ever sold in very small numbers, fnally being discontinued in 1988. Rolex reintroduced the model in 2007 to critical acclaim, the new model quickly became highly collectible. A rarer “green glass” version is offered here as Lot 202.

In the 1950s, Rolex began to actively and intensively pursue the market for professional watches. Possibly the most specialized of the timepieces devised over that time is the Milgauss, dedicated to the extremely rarifed market of professionals working with high magnetic felds. Reference 6243 – in production for three years from ’55 to ’57 - is the frst Milgauss model released. It will be joined the same year by the longer-lived reference 6541.

Reference 6543 achieves very high anti-magnetic properties thanks to a very thick case back and a soft iron band bracing the movement. This is a diferent approach than the nearly contemporary reference 6543, which instead achieves the faraday cage efect (magnetic isolation) through an inner soft iron container enveloping the entire movement. The case features the typical Rolex revolving bezel. Early examples mounted a black insert with “Submariner-style” graphics, which will soon be modifed with the dagger markers typical of the Milgauss models.

A curious detail of this reference is the lugs width: it is slightly narrower than the canon 20 mm., thus preventing the attachment of a bracelet.

1956 Rolex Milgauss

Reference 6541

A Timeless Art-Deco Masterpiece

The second generation Rolex Milgauss antimagnetic Reference debuted in 1956 with the Reference Number 6543 which was believed to have also been produced in small quantities. This is confusing as the Rolex Milgauss Reference 6543 model was introduced at least a years earlier than the 6541. The confusion point is that you would expect the lower number to be an earlier model, but it is the other way around.

The early Rolex Milgauss models watch looked remarkably similar to a Rolex Submariner and were designed for customers who work in or around electromagnetic fields. This was achieved with a special shield inside the case which was made from ferromagnetic alloy which could withstand 1,000 gauss magnetic fields. This original Rolex Milgauss models featured a honeycomb dial and an unusual second hand that took the shape of a lightning bolt. The first Rolex Milgauss featured a great deal of timeless Art-Deco design language including lumed Dauphin hands coupled with arrow shaped pyramid markers at 3, 6 and 9 o'clock. Also, the bezel featured similar sharp pyramid markers.

According to Rolex The Milgauss spinning bezel featured: "A revolving rim, calibrated into sixty second divisions, serves as a simple stop watch for timing different operations." This is interesting as the original Rolex Milgauss bezel was similar to a Submariner bezel but instead of having  10, 20, 30, 40, 50 markers on the bezel it featured 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, but they served the same purpose which means the user could use the bezel for counting 60 seconds or 60 minutes, or up to 12 hours.

Rolex is famous for experimenting like crazy with new models, which would explain why they made the identical Milgauss model with and without a bezel. It also strikes me that they wanted to differentiate it from the Submariner, so they gave it different dial timing gradation. The first Milgauss was launched somewhere between 1954-1955, which around the same time as the GMT-Master and Submariner which both featured spinning bezels, which were kind of the Rolex fidget spinners of the time.

The name 'Milgauss' is a conjunction made up by Rolex and comes from the French term 'mille' which means 'thousand' when translated into English, coupled with the term 'gauss' which is a measurement unit of magnetic induction equal to one ten-thousandth of a Tesla, which equals one Maxwell per square centimeter. The 'gauss' term was named for the German physicist and mathematician, Carl Friedrich Gauss in 1936. 

The Rolex brochure pictured below was published in 1960 and it features a Reference 6541, but notice it also list Reference 1019.

1958 Rolex Milgauss

Reference 6541

According to leading Rolex vintage dealer, Eric Ku of the Rolex Milgauss Reference 6541 models with the plain steel bezels were made by Rolex removing the turning/spinning bezels and replacing them with plain bezels because the original models with the spinning bezels didn't sell well. Eric Ku elaborates:

"The best scholarship suggests Rolex replaced the spinning bezels with plain steel bezels to make the Milgauss look different as they didn't originally sell well. That is why you never see Rolex collateral material showing the smooth bezel. It was like a blowout at the end. The Rolex Milgauss models were often given as awards to NASCAR winners and Daytona 500 winners until the mid 1960s."

The photo below shows a 1958 Rolex Oyster Milgauss Reference 6541 with a plain bezel, which was auctioned by Antiquorum in 2013. 

The following racing selection is from an upcoming article by Nick Gould on named "U.S. Racing Drivers Wearing Rolex" and it showcases Race car drivers winning Rolex Milgauss watches in the mid 1960s which is consistent with and confirms Eric Ku's understanding:

Lloyd Ruby (1928 –2009)

Lloyd Ruby raced in the USAC Championship Car series for 20 years. He had 88 top 10 finishes and won 7 races. He was also successful in endurance races, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona twice, the 1966 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1966 World Sportscar Championship. His regular co-driver for these longer races, was British born American racer, Ken Miles, who played a key role in developing the Ford GT-40.

In 1964, the Daytona Continental race was increased to 2000 kilometers in length.  1965 marked the last race in this format before the Continental became the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1966.

Ruby and Miles were the winners of the 1965 Daytona Continental and also won the first 24 Hours of Daytona in 1966.

The photo below shows Ruby and Miles receiving Rolex watches after claiming victory at the 1965 Daytona Continental.

Now you would assume they were given the Daytona chronograph, but they received a completely different model. The pictures above and below show both men receiving the Reference 6541 Milgauss with smooth bezels. The Milgauss was created for people working in environments with strong magnetic fields, such as engineers and scientists. 

The issuing of a Milgauss to the winner was not a one off, as we have proof that two years prior the same model was gifted to the winner of the 1963 Daytona Continental, Mexican racing driver Pedro Rodriguez. The photographs below shows him receiving the watch and wearing it while posing for the camera.

I could not find any photographs of Miles wearing his Milgauss, but Ruby wore his watch after receiving it as these photographs from 1965 and 1966 show. 

The photograph below shows Ruby holding a newspaper wishing him good luck for the 1966 Indianapolis 500, with his Rolex Milgauss on the wrist. 

In 2002, Lloyd Ruby (pictured below) attended the Detroit Motor Show and he still had his Milgauss! The dial of the watch had turned to a tropical brown color.

Nick Gould also discovered a Rolex advertisement from 1962/63 (pictured below) for the Rolex Zephyr featuring Edward "Fireball" Roberts.  The interesting thing about the advertisement is that Roberts is sporting his Rolex Milgauss in the photo.  To our knowledge this is the earliest ad that features someone wearing a Milgauss in print.  A big thank you to Nick of Ad Patina for sharing this ad.

Reference 1019


Switzerland is renowned for many fine things beyond Rolex watches, and chocolate, so you might be surprised to find it is home to one of the greatest scientific communities in the world. Rolex originally made the Milgauss for scientists who worked at CERN...

The photo above and below show the Reference 1019 overlapping an image of CERN taken in 1956.

Return of The Rolex Milgauss

Reference 116400


Rolex discontinued the Milgauss watch model in 1988, and shocked the horological world when they reintroduced an all new Milgauss model in 2007. This new Milgauss quickly became very popular among Rolex fans, particularly because like a Rolex Daytona it looks different than standard Rolex watches. Rolex shocked the collectors community again in 2023 when they once again discontinued the Milgauss model a second time.

If you are a reader of Jake's Rolex World, you know I consider many vintage Rolex ads to be works of art, in-and-of-themselves. The 2012 Rolex Milgauss ad seen below, in particular, strikes me as having magnificent composition. The GV Milgauss model (pictured below), which features the green edged sapphire crystal, is so un-Rolexy in so many ways, but that is what makes it so interesting. The orange 3, 6, & 9 markers, coupled with the orange lighting bolt second hand, really set it apart. GV is French and means "Green Crystal."

...Tennis Superstar...

Roger Federer
Rolex GV Milgauss

Ashton Kutcher

Back in 2011 I published a story on Ashton Kutcher wearing his white dial Rolex Milgauss.

Daniel Craig

Back in 2009, I published a story on Daniel Craig who plays James Bond wearing his GV, 50th Anniversary Rolex Milgauss.

Nicky Hilton is pictured below rocking her Rolex Milgauss.

A True Blue GV Milgauss

...BaselWorld 2014 Introduction...


40MM Reference 116400GVA

Rolex introduced a new version of the Milgauss, with a brilliant blue sunburst dial, which contrasts in an interesting way with the green GV crystal in 2014, and discontinued selling all Milgauss models in 2023, at Watches and Wonders.

John Goldberger
Vanity Fair Article
For The Love of the Rolex Milgauss

My good pal, John Golberger, who lives in Italy, wrote this article for Vanity Fair in 2013, where he discusses the appeal of the Rolex Milgauss. John Goldberger is the author of many amazing horological books, including 100 Superlative Rolex Watches.

On The Hunt For the REAL

Rolex Milgauss History

1957 Rolex Master Catalog

The Truth Is Out There

On April 22, 2020 I first published this story seen above which showcased the 1958 Rolex Master Catalog (which can be seen in the second half of this story), and much to my surprise a reader of Jake's Rolex World on our Instagram account named Gustavo @rolextudorplanet mentioned that the Rolex Milgauss didn't exist in the 1957 Rolex Master Catalog, and he knew this as he had a copy. I reached out to Gustavo and asked if he would send in a copy and he did so. 

Gustavo said: 

You have to notice the page with the professional watches has got two pictures cut, the one on top left was an Oyster Perpetual but instead you see a beautiful square watch Reference 9156 from a previous page. 

Also one of the Turn-O-Graph pictures was cut, showing instead a white dial OP ref 6420, also from the page in the back. It's funny to think that the dealer cut the pics for customers to go a decide whether to buy the watch or not!

Gustavo continues: 

"The other watch page is just mesmerizing with DJs, DD, a 6062 moonphase and some chronographs."

Gustavo pointed out that date stamp is the same on the 1957 catalog as it is on the 1958.

Update on April 28, 2020: The Section below was published on April 22, 2020, and I just updated it with the page that showcases the magnificent Rolex Triple Date Moonphase Reference 6062.

Rolex Milgauss History

1958 Rolex Master Catalog

I have an interesting story to share with you. If you are a regular reader of Jake's Rolex World, you know I specialize in two things: Separating Fact from Fiction, as well as writing definitive stories on Rolex models. On Saturday, I began a significant update to my story named, "The Complete History of the Rolex Milgauss." In my naiveté I thought I could pretty easily put together the missing pieces of the Milgauss history puzzle and boy was I wrong!?!! I kept getting stuck on details, coupled with a lack of reliable information, so I began reaching out to all my friends all over the world that are some of the leading vintage dealers and horological experts for assistance. This included Eric Ku, John Goldberger, Jose, and Nick Gould, but something interesting occurred.

Many people I had never met or even known of starting reaching out to me with all kinds of fascinating information, much of which has completely changed the nature of putting together the Rolex Milgauss puzzle. The biggest contribution, by far comes from renowned vintage watch dealer  Wulf Schütz @RareAndFine, who is from Switzerland. Wulf and I had a three hour conference call, and he completely blew my mind with the depth of his knowledge on the history of the early Rolex Milgauss watches. Wulf shared the images with me in this post, that are taken from a 1958 Rolex Master Catalog.

On a side note it is fascinating to notice that the majority of watches on this page feature dauphine hands, including the Milgauss. FWIW, dauphine hands are my absolute favorite hands of all time...

On April 28, 2020 I added this page which features the gorgeous Rolex Moonphase Triple-Date Reference 6062.

It turns out that Wulf is working on a guide book on the subject of history of vintage Rolex Milgauss watches which he plans to publish sometime in the next year or so. I was so impressed with Wulf's knowledge, passion and attention to detail I asked him if he would like to collaborate with me on telling the REAL history of the Rolex Milgauss, and he agreed. What does this mean? It mean that Wulf and I are going be collaborating on major update for on my story, named "The Complete History of the Rolex Milgauss." 

This page above will be included once we update and complete the story. This is a HIGHLY significant piece of the puzzle, as we see the Milgauss Reference 6541 pictured on the bottom row (third from the left), but there is a bit of a Mystery to this image which Wulf and I think we have figured out. Stay tuned as we will be updating this amazing piece of Rolex history until we believe it is finished.