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During the Quartz Crisis, so many brands were forced to close their doors, or merge with competitors simply to stay afloat. And yet Rolex remained independent and privately-owned. The Crown has weathered two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Quartz Crisis—and even now, when the Swiss watch industry is undergoing a fallow period, Rolex has never been stronger.
Theirs is a story of survival, of adaptation to meet the changing demands of customers, and above all tenacity. When faced with the Japanese quartz technology, many Swiss brands—including Rolex—dabbled with it, either implementing it into their collections or switching over to Quartz entirely, often to disastrous results.
But not so Rolex.
In the 1980s, the manufacture underwent a subtle transformation from a producer of tool watches to watches in the luxury realm.
This metamorphosis was gradual; it didn't happen overnight. But small changes were made to sports watches like the Submariner or the GMT, such as sapphire crystals instead of mineral, or the addition of white gold surrounds to the hour plots. These changes made it evident that Rolex had not only staying power, but was in tune enough to its customers to offer them something that they couldn't get anywhere else.
However, the Turn-O-Graph is perhaps a contradiction to that ethos of adaptability. Simply put, no one quite knew what to do with it, least of all the Crown itself. Despite being launched alongside the Submariner in the 1950s, and then having a facelift in the 1960s, the Turn-O-Graph was Rolex's dark horse.
Early advertisements were unfocused, touting the Turn-O-Graph's innovative bezel or "time-recording rim" as a way to time a phone call or a yachting race. By the mid-1950s, the Turn-O-Graph was given a new case (based on the Datejust's), and was offered to the Thunderbirds, a squadron of the U.S. Air Force known for acrobatic demonstrations and experimental flying techniques. It's this association that gave rise to the nickname by which this variant of Turn-O-Graph is known even today.
Despite flagging sales, Rolex did not neglect the Thunderbird. When the Submariner got a quickset date, so too did the Thunderbird. And when the Submariner got a sapphire crystal, the Thunderbird did as well.
Though the model was discontinued in the 2000s, examples from the mid-1980s offer a less-commonly seen alternative to the Datejusts produced in that era.
The Thunderbird featured here, a Reference 16253, dates from the mid-1980s, a pivotal era in Rolex history. With its two-tone stainless steel and yellow gold case (and matching two-tone Jubilee bracelet), it has all the makings of a dress watch. But, because it is a Rolex, it possesses the proportions that consumers have come to associate with the brand, and simply deserves to be worn every day.
Stainless steel and yellow gold Oyster case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown). Rolex Reference 16253. Rolex Caliber 3035 Self-Winding Movement. Circa 1986.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel Oyster case is in very good condition with some signs of use and wear, particularly on the sides of the case. Yellow gold bezel is in very good condition with no signs of over-polishing, retaining its factory bark finishing. Bezel does have minimal signs of use and wear. Dial is in excellent condition with no signs of major discoloration or hand drag. Date wheel appears to be original. Rolex crown. Rolex case back has some signs of wear, including some light scratches, but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one 20mm stainless steel and yellow gold 62523H Jubilee bracelet with 455B end links. Bracelet shows some signs of stretching due to age and some wear marks on the clasp, but is in otherwise very good condition. Also includes two 20mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle