The 20th century and indeed during the Industrial Revolution, magnetism was becoming a more and more prevalent factor in the wearing of a watch: magnetism was utilised in a variety of technical applications besides watchmaking, such as new machinery in the engineering industry, in addition to the latest transport developments such as trains, planes and cars.
The increasing use of magnetism in daily life caused interference with watches’ time-keeping, and thus, the reliability and accuracy of the current watches on the market decreased. Manufacturers sought to rectify the issues caused by magnetism interference, and hence modern technologies and alternative materials were used in the creation of models such as the Omega Seamaster Coaxial Chronometer Movements.
The vast majority of the newer models with high-quality movements featured a degree of anti-magnetic protection, due to it’s design or materials – however, this was typically only 60 Gauss, roughly equating to 4800 amperes per metre. This level of protection fell short of the required need to resist magnetism interference, and so watchmakers continued to develop new designs, materials and techniques.
In 1933, Tissot released their Anti-Magnetic watch (a fairly self-explanatory name!), which was a wristwatch able to tolerate exposure to magnetic fields without any deviation in time keeping, and was the best watch on the market in this period.
We see the next major innovation in the field of wristwatches in 1948, because this year was marked by the release of the revolutionary IWC Mark XI, a piece held in such high regard pilots used them! This piece became the choice wristwatch for pilots due to its’ high standards, and the design: luminescence was utilised on the hour and minute hands, while the numerals from 1 to 11 created an iconic design.
Besides it’s iconic design, this piece was incredibly popular amongst pilots of the time due to it’s anti-magnetic properties: the delicate movement system of the watch was housed in a soft iron core case, which protected the inner mechanism of the watch from being affected by magnetic fields; with the soft iron core essentially blocking any effects of magnetism on the movement, there was no need to incorporate costly new materials or designs into the movement, and instead the emphasis was put on building a solid protective case thereafter.
In many ways, the IWC Mark XI set the modus operandi for watchmakers trying to construct the perfect anti-magnetism timepiece. Competitors began to emulate this watch, by moving away from exotic materials within the movement, to designing watches with better outside protection against magnetism in the form of robust movement cases. This was less expensive and considerably more effective in reducing the effect of magnetism, and therefore creating more reliable, time accurate watches.
This shift in watch design advanced watch magnetism tolerance hugely, shown by the latest watches of this period being able to withstand up to 1,000 Gauss of magnetic force, while just 15 years prior, the aforementioned market leading Tissot Anti-Magnetic watch could not withstand even a tenth of magnetic force. With this innovation, watches became less affected by magnetism in everyday life such as in household appliances and vehicles, and became substantially more reliable.
In 1954, the world leading watchmaker Rolex introduced the Milgauss, which is perhaps the most underappreciated piece in their current range following a long hiatus from the production line of many years. This watch was reportedly produced for CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research, who demanded a watch resistant to a magnetic force of 70,000 amperes per metre, roughly equating to 1,000 Gauss
The first Rolex Milgauss was with reference number 6543, and whose design could easily be mistaken for that of the Submariner. With a rotating bezel and that fantastic dark dial, this watch also had a luminescent plot, as well as luminescent hands. CERN tested the watch in 1956 and it was found that the Milgauss 6543 could indeed tolerate magnetic fields of up to 1,000 Gauss. The Milgauss 6543 is an incredibly rare watch with only 100-200 pieces produced, and it was replaced by the Milgauss 6541 in 1956.
Check out the Milgauss Wall Clock in our shop