In the 1950’s, Rolex adopted a business strategy that would propel it to become the powerhouse market leader it is today. On its early days, Rolex had created several wristwatch models, but they had mostly been dress watches, some more formal than others. However, starting with the Explorer – a watch designed for the hardships of mountaineering -, Rolex began to create sports watches geared towards specific, niche audiences.
Nowadays it is possible to buy a beater watch like a Cassio G-Shock overloaded with features and go do whatever you’d want with it. However, in the mid-century limitations in technology, such as the lack of computers, created the need for specialized tool watches for different professions. An example of this is the Rolex Submariner for diving professionals and perhaps one of the most overlooked ones is the subject of today’s article: the Rolex Milgauss, the Scientists Watch.
Magnetism: an invisible hazard
In the beginning, mechanical watches were particularly frail. Because of the high number of moving parts, most of them being extremely tiny but still of key importance for the watch, the wristwatch as a whole was vulnerable to rough falls, water, dust, and many other hazards. However, one invisible enemy was also the bane of many timepieces: magnetism.
There are many ways in which magnetic forces can affect a mechanical watch. The first and most obvious is that it can move certain pieces out of place; and if you’ve seen the insides of a movement, a tiny slip can cause a critical malfunction.
On the other hand, magnetism can cause metallic components to remain magnetized even after they’ve moved away from the source. This could influence the overall accuracy of the movement.
This was a well known problem in the 50’s, and while regular folks could just avoid magnets and similar hazards, this was of course a serious problem for people whose jobs required them to be near magnetic fields. And they were common: scientists and engineers were regularly exposed to them in their line of work. Being well aware of the problem, some just opted to not wear a watch at all.
The Birth of the Milgauss
Recognizing this problem, Rolex went on to create a watch that could resist magnetic fields. And this is the result.
First Edition Milgauss
The original Milgauss had somewhat of a similar look as early Submariners, with a bidirectional bezel for timekeeping, but had an extra metallic honeycomb mesh across its face. This was an extra shield to ward away magnetic interference.
Furthermore, the second generation of the watch included what would later be a definitive staple of the line: a distinct thunder shaped minute hands. Additionally, Rolex also shrouded the movement inside a soft iron Faraday cage, which redirected the magnetic energy away from the caliber. This served as an important improvement for its intended role.
This particular aesthetic, however, was lost. In order to give the watch it’s own identity, the diver aesthetic was dropped in favor of a much leaner design. Unlike other watches of the 50’s, the Milgauss did not enjoy much commercial success, as it was discontinued in 1988.
However, it was revived back in 2007. Rolex created a new iteration of the watch, faithful to the original third, leaner Milgauss, and even improved on the antimagnetic properties of the watch.
Our take on the Second Generation Milgauss
With our Diving Armour line we’ve wanted to pay homage to classical time pieces, giving them a modern interpretation. To that end, we’ve created the Sub Fifty Five.
As you can see, it recaptures the aesthetic of the “sub” Milgauss, complete with a lightning shaped hand. Our version is larget at 41mm in order to better suit modern audiences. You can get yours through this link.
Cover Photo: https://www.watchworkshaarlem.com