Point/Counterpoint: The Black Rolex Milgauss Is The Best Rolex Milgauss
The black dial, green-crystal 116400GV is the only Milgauss that knows how to party.
Today, two HODINKEE writers with very different opinions debate which Rolex Milgauss is the best Rolex Milgauss. In his article, Danny Milton argues that the Milgauss with the black dial is best. In this Counterpoint, Nick Marino argues on behalf of the version with the white dial. We invite you to read both pieces, and let us know your thoughts in the comments sections.
The dangers of publicly going toe-to-toe with the Senior Vice President of Content for HODINKEE (i.e. my boss) are not lost on me, especially when that someone showers me with compliments at the top of their article. I would like to start by saying thank you to Nick Marino – I’d trust him with my (and Ben’s) life, as well. Truly. But let’s get right to it and address the lightning bolt in the room: The Rolex Milgauss.
Nick’s piece – which you should certainly read before mine – is a diss track of my favorite watch, masquerading as a labor of love on his favorite watch. He boldly claims that the Rolex Milgauss 116400 with the white dial is the “best” Milgauss – which it’s not, unless my job is on the line, in which case … it absolutely is.
I am here not to battle Nick, but simply to tell you about my favorite Milgauss – a certain matte black dial number with colorful markers, and a green bezel – the 116400GV. When it’s all said and done, I’ll let you decide which one you prefer.
In the early aughts, Rolex was beginning its first real shift in design. A new GMT-Master debuted, introducing the world to the “super case,” as well as the Cerachrom bezel (on a gold watch). In 2007, it followed that up with a steel version. Needless to say this was a pretty drastic re-imagination of a Rolex staple. But the Crown wasn’t quite done shocking audiences.
Right alongside the steel GMT-Master, Rolex revived an esoteric, and uber-specific watch from its archive. The Milgauss, developed as a tool watch for scientists in the 1950s who needed a watch that could stand up to magnetic fields, was always something of an oddball. One of its key traits was an unmistakable lightning bolt-shaped seconds hand.
It became something of a forgotten watch, and certainly not one anybody thought would be plucked from obscurity. But then it was … it really was. At launch, Rolex unveiled three variations of the watch: A standard black dial with orange markers, a white dial with orange markers (the “Marino” if you’re me, the “creamciscle” if you’re everyone else), and an absolutely off-the-walls variation with alternating markers in orange and white capped off with that green crystal. Each watch shared a bright orange lighting bolt-shaped seconds hand, a thick steel oyster case, and a steel oyster bracelet with alternating brushed and polished finishes.
I’ll say this, hindsight is 20/20, and we never really appreciate what we have until it’s gone. The same idea can be applied to the modern Milgauss line. The non-green crystal models had a somewhat short shelf life, eventually being discontinued in 2016. I remember popping into watch shops back in the day when you could actually find Rolex sport models in watch cases. The standard white and black variations just seemed boring to me. They paled in comparison to the black dial that Nick finds so aesthetically sacrosanct.
To me, the GV (French shorthand for glace verte, or green crystal) is, to my mind, the fully realized vision of the Milgauss, full stop. The other models, including the white, just feel like hedges. It’s as if the team at Rolex was afraid the GV would be too much of a shock, so they padded it with two slightly more conservative watches to lessen the blow.
Well, they weren’t hot sellers at the time – and while watch buyers didn’t come out in droves for the GV either, there was at least some level of data that showed it to be a successful model. It’s so successful, in fact, that it’s been a constant in the catalogue for going on 15 years. That is a literal eternity when it comes to Rolex references. We’re talking 5513 Submariner- and 1016 Explorer-level runs here.
Now, I have a personal, and completely biased affinity for the GV Milgauss. When it came down to purchasing my first modern Rolex, it was that very watch or the GMT-Master “Batman.” If you’ve read my previous stories, you know which way I chose, but I have always kept my eye on the Milgauss. It’s never left my mind.
My particular bias is, at least I believe, untainted, whereas I think the horological hive-mind has done a course correction on what I believe are the lesser Milgauss models – Marino white dial included. Sure, white-dial Rolex sport watches are rare birds. There is basically one on the market today in the Explorer II (unless you count the Datejust). So maybe that’s the appeal, I don’t know.
What I do know is that the GV brings with it some legitimately interesting Rolex bragging rights, the kind of stuff the lowly white dial can’t tell the other kids on the playground. In his story, Nick rails hard against the green crystal. Well, I’m here to tell you this is more than just colored glass. Search the patent office and you won’t find a single record of Rolex having filed one. That’s because the house of Wilsdorf knows how difficult it is to create a green sapphire crystal and it hasn’t bothered to put a patent on it knowing that nobody else will be able to replicate it. We’ve heard of the Oysterflex … this is an Oyster flex.
I would also like to take a moment to address my esteemed boss’s umbrage with the black-and-orange color scheme. In a word, he hates it. I doubt that Cal Ripken Jr., or the entire holiday of Halloween would take kindly to those fighting words.
But it isn’t like the Milgauss is the first watch from Rolex to combine these two colors. We need only look at one of the most iconic Rolex watches ever, the other esoteric design, the Rolex Explorer II Reference 1655 also known as the Steve McQueen (despite the fact that there’s no evidence he ever wore one). Black and orange is at the bedrock of some of the most iconic and recognizable designs the brand has created in the last 40 years. I will even include my GV Milgauss and the modern Explorer II in that group.
The fact that the GV Milgauss has lasted almost 15 years while the others failed is no accident. It’s horological Darwinism – natural selection. The larger consumer base chose wisely, they chose GV. In fact, in 2014, Rolex saw fit to add yet another Milgauss to the collection, known as the Z-Blue for its sunray blue dial. You know what it had protecting that dial? A patent-less green crystal. Take that Marino!
It now sits side by side in the lineup with my choice of Milgauss. The best Milgauss. The black dial GV Milgauss – in glorious black, orange, and green (mic drop).
Photos, Kasia Milton