7 Rolex Milgauss Alternatives (& A Short History)
Simon Schneider14 October 2021 | 9 min read
A short history of the Rolex Milgauss
The Rolex Milgauss has one of the more peculiar histories in the Rolex family. Initially introduced as reference 6543 in the 1950s to solve the problem of scientists magnetizing their mechanical movements, it had a clear problem that it sought to solve like any good product should. Since strong magnets were often present in the workplace of a scientist and quartz watches hadn’t been invented yet mechanical watches tended to get magnetized making them inaccurate and useless in a work field that requires precise timekeeping.
The Faraday cage
Always ready to offer a capitalistic solution Rolex created a watch with a Faraday cage resistant to 1000 Gauss; hence the name Milgauss (Mil being Latin for 1000). A faraday cage is an invention by the eponymous scientist in 1836. The idea is that a conductive material, in this case soft iron, covers the movement. The result is that the external electrical field causes electric charges in the conductive material so that they cancel each other out protecting what’s underneath. While the faraday cage itself was nothing new then it was nevertheless the geniuses at Rolex Marketing that saw the creation of CERN as an historic event to tie their product release to and tested their watches there creating an industry standard.
The original Milgauss, which today is a highly valued collector item, was a stunning watch with a plethora of interesting features. It was available with a rotating bezel with either 60 minute or 6 hour increments. It was also available with a breathtaking honeycomb dial and a dot and arrow hour markers that really made it a unique piece in the collection. Most strikingly it was available with a thunderbolt second hand that would prove to be a key design element in the future.
An update that nobody asked for
In the 1970s the Milgauss got an update that no one really asked for. The new ref. 1019, while an appealing watch on its own rights, failed to capture any of the interest that made its predecessor so special. Gone was the rotating bezel, interesting dials, and lightning style second hands. Instead the design was brought more in line with any other Rolex. At a glance only the red elements of the name and tip of the seconds differentiate this watch from your standard Oyster Perpetual. Sales slowed down to where Rolex decided to silently and unsurprisingly stopped producing the Milgauss in 1988.
2007 saw the return of the Milgauss which managed to capture a lot of the magic that made the original piece so great. While scientists probably didn’t rely on their Rolex much for work anymore I do believe that with the increase in magnets in modern tech it was a clever time to bring it back. The design language returned to its more creative routes and does a great job capturing younger peoples tastes with some daring colour choices. In case you don’t like the design or don’t want to spend the bucks for it we have provided seven amagnetic watch alternatives for you in varying budgets.
7 Best Rolex Milgauss Alternatives (From €700 to €7,000+)
1. Rolex Oysterquartz
Pricing starts around €5,000
The Rolex Oysterquartz is a thing of mystery in many regards. While it was in the catalogue for three decades and still is a signpost of the struggling king ringing to regain its rank it remains largely forgotten. While it may seem, however, that this is a watch Rolex would rather see redacted from its history books it was a mechanical piece of marvel.
The most commonly known version is reference 17000 which with its integrated bracelet looks more modern than ever and while it was not directly designed by Gerald Genta the inspiration is undeniable. The most recognizable element has to be its unmistakable “tick”. Anatomically this watch is much more similar to a mechanical watch than the type of quartz you tend to know. It has a wonderful geneva stripe decoration, 11 jewels, and a pallet fork that is so loud that it can keep you awake at night.
Let’s move on though to the element probably least known about the Oysterquartz and that earns it its place in this ranking. The Oysterquartz was made to withstand 1000 Oersted. What the fuck is Oersted? Well while Gauss is a unit of magnetic flux density Oersted is a unit of magnetic field strength. Or simply put it is pretty much the same thing only that for marketing purposes you can understand that it was rated to a different unit of measurement for fear of competing with their own products.
2. Omega Aqua Terra 150M
Pricing starts around €4,000
Any list of alternatives to a Rolex always has to include an Omega. These two brands have been in perpetual competition being similar in price range, historical relevance, and mechanical pedigree. The Daytona has the Speedmaster Moonwatch, the Submariner the Seamaster Professional, and the Milgauss the Aqua Terra 150M.
Released in 2013, six years after the Milgauss, you can tell Omega must have had a big grin on their face as they drafted their promotional material throwing one jab after another in the face of Rolex. It starts with the name of 150M and that it is rated to 15,000 Gauss which might as well say “Much more than the Milgauss”. Then there is the seconds hand which while not a bolt of electricity the black and yellow colour scheme does have an electric vibe to put it mildly.
Finally there is the actual horological solution. While Rolex uses a classical faraday cage Omega has made the effort to design the entire movement from the ground up to be amagnetic. That is what allows for it to both achieve these incredible numbers and also a caseback allowing you to spectate the movement. Most strikingly, however, is how many times Omega mentions these technical differences, go see for yourself on their website. While watches are not top trumps, if they were the Aqua Terra would win every round against the Milgauss.
3. SINN 857 UTC
Pricing starts around €2,000
Out of the many German watchmakers none encapsulates the engineering spirit more than Sinn. The Frankfurt based company is a real innovator and the 857 UTC is evidence of that. As part of the pilot series and has a classical Flieger design with a lot of contrast and legibility.
The case is made out of stainless steel with a bead blasted finish and made to be particularly scratch resistant. It also has a Ar-Dehumidifying technology that prevents movement damage and your watch fogging up. If it all couldn’t be more German already it also conforms to the legendary national Institute for Standardization for an amagnetic watch to 1000 Gauss and waterproofness to 20 bar according with DIN 8309 and DIN 8310 respectively.
A date window hidden at four o clock, a 60 minute bezel, and a 24 gmt hand make this watch a great travel companion.
4. IWC Ingenieur
Pricing starts around €6,000
The IWC Ingenieur is a watch that from the beginning on was set out to be a model created for scientists and to withstand high magnetic fields. It made its introduction in 1955 with reference 666. While this piece was for its time a relatively sporty piece it does show its age and would nowadays be classified more as a dress watch.
The Ingenieur most people think of nowadays when the name is mentioned, however, has little relation to this original. That is because 1976 saw the model get a fresh coat of paint when star designer Gerald Genta helped create the SL automatic which is still the foundation for the current design. With an integrated bracelet and a screwed bezel his signature is undeniable and these early models have become highly collectible and in demand.
While those watches already were amagnetic, none focused more on pushing the boundaries than the 500,000 A/M. It was a technical piece of marvel that through the help of a niobium-zirconium alloy balance wheel was able to set a new world record for magnetic resistance and managed to stay accurate to 3.7 million A/M. Reference 3508 was introduced in 1989 and production estimates range between 1500 and 3000. Immediately identifiable by the 500,000 engraved on the flanks of the case this watch is the definition of a sleeper hit.
5. Ball Engineer II Magneto S
Pricing starts around €2,500
The Ball watchmaking company has a rather unique history as it is closely linked to that of the American railroad system. Before trains started connecting distant cities the concept of a universal standard time was not present and time could vary wildly between the cities. Add to that inaccurate watches and you have a recipe for disaster with results ranging from the inconvenience of missing your train to fatal accidents as trains rushed into each other.
To combat this issue a Mr. Webb C. Ball was designated to be America’s “Chief Time Inspector” and created criteria so stringent for both accuracy and reliability that they would later go on to inspire the Official Swiss Testing Institute (COSC). While the modern Ball company has moved away from purely focusing on Railroad watches that is maybe for the better as without it we wouldn’t have the most creative antimagnetic watch on our list. The Ball Engineer II Magneto S.
This watch uses the Faraday cage system but with a twist because it also allows for a caseback. How does it do that? Behind the Sapphire caseback is a shielding that operates similar to a camera shutter and can be moved with the bezel to either close to provide protection or open for an unhindered view of the movement. While it does have a little hole even when closed that is not dramatic since it is smaller than the wavelength of the magnetism and doesn’t affect the movement
6. Tissot Gentleman Powermatic 80 Silicium
Pricing starts around €700
Tissot has been the comeback brand of the last year. With the newly released PRX they have shown that they have their finger on the pulse of the market, although to be fair that seems to mean that they have copied the design of the Oysterquartz previously mentioned in this blog. The watch we are looking at today though is part of the Gentlemen collection. For the initiated these watches are made to be a middle ground between a sports and dress watch and be a perfect daily companion.
The Powermatic 80 movement is based on the ETA caliber 2824-2 which has earned its rank of being a “workhouse” movement. Tissot did, however, make significant upgrades to it beyond a customized rotor. They increased the power reserve from a measly 38 hours to an impressive 80. For our purposes more interesting though is their decision to swap out the standard balance wheel for one made out of silicon. Silicon is interesting because it is inherently amagnetic and may be the next industry trend with even Rolex using it in some of their less popular models.
7. Panerai Luminor Submersible Amagnetic PAM 389
Pricing starts around €7,000
Panerai may not be the first brand you think of for an amagnetic watch but their PAM 389 may help change your opinion. Panerai is a historic brand but their move to sell to the civilian public rather than just military customers came quite late. In 1993 the modern model we know today as the Luminor was first released, however, the history of the case design goes back much further.
Already in the 1950s the Marina Militaire was created, where the word Luminor just referred to the luminous material used similar to how the name Radiomir used to be used for the same purpose. While from a technical, execution, and finishing based perspective the brand has developed it has stayed true to its DNA. The bold case shape has stayed largely untouched and the patented lever crown locking action immediately identifies this watch as a Panerai.
The PAM 389 was meant to be an equal parts dive watch as it is an amagnetic watch. The 47mm giant is made out of titanium to compensate for its size and comes with a unidirectional bezel. It is water resistant to 30 ATM and has an automatic 72 hour power reserve in-house movement named the P.9000. The magnetic rating is achieved through the use of a faraday cage. This is a great choice for larger men or those with even larger personalities as this watch is bound to garner some attention!
Featured image credit: Quora