Original article found on ablogtowatch.com
Many vintage Rolexes that are considered extremely rare and valuable today were initially quite unpopular when they were first released. One particular Rolex Milgauss was so unwanted by its owner, that it was actually returned to the store from which it was purchased; today, that watch is worth a quarter of a million dollars. Here is its story.
As electricity became a standard presence in work environments during the 1950s, some individuals – particularly scientists and medical technicians – found that the electromagnetic fields from their equipment wreaked havoc on their wristwatches. First released in 1958, the reference 6541 Milgauss was Rolex’s answer to the public’s growing need for an antimagnetic watch.
The name Milgauss was created by combining two words: mille (Latin for a thousand) and gauss, the unit of measurement for magnetic fields. The name was intended to be an ever-present reminder that the watch was designed to withstand electromagnetic forces up to 1,000 gauss. Rolex was able to achieve this feat by encasing the watch’s movement in a Faraday cage, which thoroughly protected its delicate workings from harmful magnetic forces. The Faraday cage (first invented by Michael Faraday in 1836) works by redistributing electromagnetic charges through the cage’s conducting material in order to neutralize the effects present inside the cage.
In appearance, the reference 6541 somewhat resembles an early Submariner, rather than a present-day Rolex Milgauss. The 25-jewel, self-winding movement – tucked safely away inside its antimagnetic, Faraday cage – was set in a stainless steel case with a black, rotating bezel that could be used as a rudimentary timer. As a final reminder of its electromagnetic resilience, the Rolex Milgauss was fitted with a unique, lightning bolt-shaped seconds hand.
An additional notable feature of the reference 6541 Rolex Milgauss is its “honeycomb” dial. While many collectors value this dial for its unique aesthetic flair, it actually helped increase the watch’s electromagnetic resistance. The dial is constructed of two crossed layers of metal that add visual depth to the dial, while also creating an excellent shield against magnetic forces acting on the face.
Despite being impressive from a technological standpoint, the watch itself was rather poorly received in the years following its release. Many considered the watch too large, and some took issue with its bold styling. Additionally, just four years prior to the release of the Milgauss, Rolex introduced both the Submariner and GMT-Master lines of watches, which further hindered potential Rolex Milgauss sales.
Despite several other options from Rolex, and a lukewarm reaction from the general public, there were some who were won over by the quirky design of the Rolex Milgauss. In 1958, NASCAR champion and race car driver Richard Petty purchased a brand-new reference 6541 Rolex Milgauss from Hayes Jewelers in Lexington, North Carolina. Richard Petty, nicknamed “The King,” is a seven-time NASCAR Championship winner. Statistically speaking, Petty is the most accomplished driver in the entire history of the sport, and in 2010, he was inducted into the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.