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The Milgauss vs The Ingenieur: Battle of the Anti-Magnets

The Milgauss vs The Ingenieur: Battle of the Anti-Magnets

John Wallis

Facing off are the Rolex Milgauss vs the IWC Ingeniuer: Which model will stand stronger in the face of magnetism? Will it be the Rolex Milgauss with its innovative Parachrom blue hairspring or the IWC Ingenieur with a reformation of the escapement, balance wheel, and overall unyielding engineering focused design? Read on to find out which one we believe to be the ultimate topper.

Head to Head

It's not by accident that we are pitting these two watches head-to-head. They were both released in the same year - 1954 - and were among the first tool watches in the world dedicated to anti-magnetism. In the bright young post-war fifties, scientific innovation was all the rage, and watchmakers were realising there was a market for pieces aimed at professional scientists. Specifically, those who worked in power plants, research labs or medical facilities, where they were exposed to strong magnetic fields. Such fields could cripple a regular watch. The Rolex Milgauss (from "mille", Latin for thousand, and "gauss", the unit of magnetism) and the IWC Ingenieur were made to be resistant using special soft iron Faraday cages to protect their movements.

Case and design

The Milgauss fits right in among Rolex's other watch families, and yet it also stands out. Many have compared the look of the watch to the Submariner, especially the iconic early reference 6451, with its circle indexes and rotating black bezel. Any Rolex Milgauss review will focus on another famous element: the beloved lightning bolt seconds hand. Although the watch fell out of production for twenty years, it returned in the late noughties with the lightning bolt in pride of place, as well as jazzy new colours - a very unusual move for the brand. While it no longer has a diving bezel, it now features an astonishing green-tinted dial crystal that is said to be so difficult to produce they didn't even bother to patent it.

Where the Milgauss has been relatively steady in its physical appearance over the years (there were only three vintage models before the modern incarnation), the Ingenieur has taken a variety of forms. Originally an elegant sports watch in the fifties, a look to which has now returned, best known for the Gerald Genta makeover from 1976. With its striking tonneau case and circular bezel with five exposed screws, the Ingenieur is one of a small number of highly recognisable and critically acclaimed Genta designs (others include the Royal Oak and the Nautilus), known for being both fashionable and ruggedly industrial.

Movements and engineering

Originally, both watches used a Faraday cage to shield their movements from magnets. The Milgauss was, of course, resistant to 1,000 gauss, while the Ingenieur claimed a resistance of 80,000 amperes per meter, which is more or less the same thing. The Milgauss maintains its imperviousness to magnetic fields in modern incarnations. The Ingenieur, meanwhile, has seen a variety of evolutions, some of which have not bothered with magnetic resistance at all, while others have introduced remarkable innovations to dramatically increase it. One example is the 1989 edition, which reached 500,000 A/m by replacing key components (escapement, balance wheel etc) with non-ferrous materials.

Today's Rolex Milgauss 116400 also uses paramagnetic materials in its fantastic in-house Calibre 3131 to boost its resistance. The 3131 is a marvel of modern watchmaking, and updates the previous 3130 with the much vaunted Parachrom blue hairspring - a niobium-zirconium alloy similar to that used in the 1989 Ingenieur mentioned above. The Ingenieurs in IWC's current range are powered by both in-house calibres, such as the superb and comparatively affordable 69000 series, and outsourced movements.

Final verdict

The Milgauss vs Ingenieur head-to-head is a tough one because despite both being anti-magnetic tool watches for scientists, they are so different in many ways. Where the Milgauss sets its sights firmly on a specific look and functionality, the classic IWC Ingenieur automatic has tried to do a lot more over the years - as the name suggests, it is a watch not just about anti-magnetism but also engineering in general. This can be seen in the phenomenal timepieces produced in partnership with AMG, the high-performance division of Mercedes, as well as all the other incarnations produced over the years, including the chronographs and high complication pieces.

This same difference can be seen in the pricing. A quality Milgauss can reliably be found on the pre-owned market for around £5 or £6,000, whereas an Ingenieur will set you back anywhere between £1 and £15,000 depending on the model. A decent Genta-style three-hander should be accessible for at least half of what the Milgauss costs. True, it might not contain an in-house movement, but many great watches don't. At the end of the day, the Ingenieur will always be a stunning and versatile tool watch with real historical roots in both science and horology - the Milgauss is the same but with a much narrower, niche focus. There will always be those who consider this fixation worth the price premium, but in our opinion, it is the more accessible and practical Ingenieur that deserves to win this Rolex vs IWC showdown.