Rolex Spent $2.5M On Their Own Watch: Future of the Milgauss?
In March, Rolex quietly discontinued the modern Milgauss (ref. 116400). The anti-magnetic cult favorite had a 16-year production run following its 2007 revival. However, like most Rolexes, the original hails from the 1950’s. The first Milgauss – ref. 6541 – is known for its rotating bezel, honeycomb dial, and since-revived lightning bolt seconds hand. This reference is highly desirable due to its scarcity; there are thought to be around 200 in existence. Just a few days ago, a pristine example sold at auction for $2.5 million. The buyer? Rolex. Is The Crown simply bolstering their historical archives? Could this purchase indicate a revival of the Milgauss? Before we jump to conclusions, let’s discuss what we know.
Life and Death of The Rolex Milgauss ref. 116400
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For the past few years, enthusiasts have contemplated the fate of the Rolex Milgauss ref. 116400: iteration or discontinuation. The watch developed a cult-like following with its green-tinted crystal, lightning bolt seconds hand, and internal Faraday cage. Despite these compelling quirks, the modern Milgauss went unchanged for 16 years (with the exception of a few dial/crystal variations). Simply put, it was time for renovation or conclusion. Rolex decided on the latter.
The Future of the Rolex Milgauss
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Leading up to Watches and Wonders, I made a few Milgauss predictions. I predicted incremental changes to the ref. 116400: an upgraded caliber 3230, revival of red accents, and possible adoption of the Air-King’s crown guards. Obviously, this did not happen. Complete discontinuation of the Milgauss leads me to believe that a more significant overhaul is in the works. Does this mean we’ll see a return of the rotating bezel? In all likelihood. . . no. As pointed out by IDGuy in his 2023 Milgauss predictions, bringing back the Milgauss’ rotating bezel would confuse Rolex’s Professional collection: namely the Submariner, Sea-Dweller, and GMT-Master II. Rotating bezels are fundamental to these watches’ identities. This is not the case with the Milgauss. A more realistic update would be akin to my 2023 predictions: a movement upgrade, some red accents, and a new case (likely slimmer as a result of ditching the Faraday cage).
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So what about the auction result? If Rolex doesn’t plan to re-release the 6541, why would they spend $2.5 million on one? First of all, Rolex doesn’t need this example as some sort of technical reference. Although their archives are private, I’m sure they have access to plenty of good examples. I see this auction result as Rolex identifying and establishing value in the Milgauss name. Furthermore, they’re investing in their own name, similar to a share buyback in the stock market. In fact, Rolex purchased a number of their own watches at the Geneva Auction including three rare Daytonas and a GMT-Master. In total, they spent around $10 million on their own products. The Milgauss auction indicates a re-release insofar as it demonstrates Rolex’s reverence for the model. This does not presuppose a re-release, but it certainly leaves the door open.
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