Rare Rolex Milgauss sells for record €2.3m at Swiss auction

The Milgauss was one of the highest priced timepieces sold during a weekend of watch auctions in Geneva

The Milgauss watch was created for scientists working in laboratories because it could tell the time accurately even in the presence of strong magnetic fields

A rare and pristine condition Rolex Milgauss watch sold for €2.3 million, smashing records for the highest amount paid at auction for the Swiss brand’s timepiece made for scientists.

The stainless steel watch, produced in 1958 and designed to resist magnetic fields, features a black honeycomb dial, rotating bezel, and a seconds hand shaped like a lightning bolt. The Milgauss was one of the highest priced timepieces sold during a weekend of watch auctions in Geneva.

It was sold by Phillips Auctioneers on Saturday for 2.24 million Swiss francs to a bidder in the room, a record for any Milgauss, and double the pre-auction high estimate of one million francs.

A similar version from 1958 sold at Christie’s in 2013 for 317,000 francs (€326,000). Another, sold by Phillips in 2022, fetched just over 300,000 francs (€308,000).

The winning bidder, who topped a rival offer from the US, bought the watch on behalf of Rolex, according to people familiar with the matter. Contacted by Bloomberg News, Rolex declined to comment.

Rolex Milgauss ref 116400 range

It’s not unusual for luxury watch companies to buy their own timepieces at auction for their archive collections or museums.

The result shows watch collectors are still willing to pay record values for rare, vintage Rolex timepieces in top condition, said Tony Traina, an editor at Hodinkee, the US-based online watch magazine and retailer.

Rolex discontinued the latest version of the Milgauss in March. The anti-magnetic watch was created for people working in laboratories and was never as popular as Rolex’s other ‘Professional’ models made for deep sea divers, pilots or race car drivers.

The watchmaker was approached in the early 1950s by scientists at Geneva’s Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, better known as CERN (and now home to the Large Hadron Collider), according to a research article by Logan Baker, senior editorial manager at Phillips’ digital marketing department.

The CERN scientists asked for a wristwatch that could tell the time accurately even in the presence of strong magnetic fields. Rolex produced the first Milgauss in 1956. With a soft iron cage surrounding the movement inside the case, it was named for its ability to withstand exposure of as much as 1,000 gauss or ‘mille gauss’ in French.

“No one famous wears a Milgauss,” said Traina, who also co-hosts a podcast about watch auctions and the secondary market called Significant Watches. “It’s the watch for scientists. It’s the watch for nerds.”

During the weekend auctions, Sotheby’s sold a yellow gold Rolex Daytona nicknamed the ‘John Player Special’ for its resemblance to the colors of the 1970s British tobacco-sponsored Lotus Formula One racing team, with a so-called ‘Paul Newman’ dial, for 2.24 million francs (€2.3 million). That’s the same price as the Milgauss and the highest price ever paid at auction for a John Player Special Daytona.

Christie’s sold a limited edition Patek Philippe, Nautilus 5711 made for Tiffany & Co. with the jewellery brand’s signature blue coloured dial, for 2.23 million francs (€2.3 million). The same model was sold for about $6.5 million (€6 million) in 2021 while another sold for 3.17 million francs (€3.3 million) in 2022.

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