A Rolex Milgauss ref. 6541 was auctioned for CHF 2,238,000 this past March, I am sure you heard. Now that the dust has settled somewhat, we ask ourselves: was it worth it? What makes this such a special watch? And why did it outperform its estimate by so much?

Let’s have a look at one of the rarest regular production models from The Crown.

Rolex Milgauss Ref. 6541

Milgauss ref. 6541 — Image: Phillips

Milgauss history 101

Let’s kick things off with a very brief recap of what sort of watch we are dealing with. The story started in the mid-1950s. Rolex was hard at work releasing watches for specific professional target audiences — the Submariner for divers, the GMT-Master for pilots, and the Explorer for, well, explorers. Omega’s Railmaster had already shown there was a market for a watch with great magnetism resistance. So Rolex followed suit with a specialist watch for scientists and others working in highly magnetic environments, such as hospitals and laboratories.

The first Milgauss was ref. 6543 in a 38mm steel case with a rotating bezel. It featured an iron ring around the movement and an extra-thick case back for protection from magnetic fields. Reference 6541, as recently auctioned, used a full-iron Faraday cage inside rather than the thicker case back. The key visual difference to the 6543 was the lightning-bolt-shaped seconds hand. Both share a waffle dial, a dauphine handset, and the Rolex caliber 1080 inside.

These early references are poorly documented. There are versions known with solid steel bezels as opposed to the Submariner-style rotating bezels. Reference 1019 replaced the 65xx models in 1960. There were likely only around 200 pieces produced by then as they did not turn out to be a great commercial success.

Rolex Milgauss Ref. 6541

Milgauss Ref. 6541 — Image: Phillips

The Milgauss auctioned by Phillips, March 2023

This means the Milgauss ref. 6541 is one of the rarest regular-production models that Rolex has ever made. This in itself is enough to warrant spectacular auction results. But the one offered by Phillips in March was in excellent condition to boot.

The case is seemingly unpolished, and the watch was hardly ever worn. The bezel is free of any scratching or fading, and the dial and revited Oyster bracelet are immaculate too. And then we have the set content. The chronometer certificate, guarantee card, booklet, hangtag, and box are all still with the watch.

In short, all the ingredients for a record-breaking auction were present here.

Image: Phillips

Putting a number on a Milgauss ref. 6541

It is usually quite hard to put a price on a watch as rare as this. Dutch magazine Quote interviewed vintage dealer Jasper Lijfering about the auction recently. Jasper is known to be an admirer of the reference, and he publicly shared his hunt for one on YouTube. As it happens, he also sold one in amazing condition fairly recently. If anyone can put a number on a 6541, it is him.

In his eyes, these should fetch around €300,000 in today’s market. You can double that figure for one in as good a condition as the one recently auctioned. There is currently one on Chrono24, in worn condition with no accessories, advertised at €287,000.

Another one in lesser condition was set to be auctioned by Sotheby’s on June 9th, but the lot has been withdrawn. It carried an estimate of US$80,000–120,000, but then, as mentioned, it was nowhere near the condition of the Phillips lot. And as you probably know, condition is everything in this segment.

Rolex Milgauss Ref. 6541

Milgauss ref. 6541 — Image: Phillips

So, what happened with the Phillips lot?

To put it simply, a bidding war between two parties happened. That’s about it. Apparently, one of them was an American collector. The other? Well, supposedly, that was Rolex, although the brand has, in true Rolex style, not commented on the matter.

Once you enter the realm of watches as rare as this, anything can happen. It is hard to speak of “a market” when the result is determined by only two parties. In fact, these two parties may have a bigger influence on the market than the market did on them. Welcome to the odd world of rare collectibles!

Milgauss ref. 6541 — Image: Phillips

Closing thoughts

It is interesting to see brands snapping up their own “heroes” like this. Of course, they want to have a collection of great examples of their past creations. But then they are also pushing up the prices and building hype this way. Which is the greater motivation? Who am I to say?

This is obviously a game for the ultra-rich with a set of rules that does not apply to “normal” watch collecting. What do you think? Is this Milgauss ref. 6541 worth CHF 2.2 million? Let us know in the comments below.

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