Rolex Turn-O-Graph Thunderbird

Rolex Turn-O-Graph Thunderbird

While there are many vintage watches that have bonafide aviation pedigrees, very few are associated with an elite flying unit like the Thunderbirds.

Except this watch: the Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph.

Launched the year before the Submariner, the Turn-O-Graph was, in many ways, the manufacture’s first tool watch. Rolex intended for it to be a substitute for a chronograph, which—as a wristwatch with a complication—was generally more expensive than a time-only watch. In lieu of a chronograph, Rolex intended for the bezel (which Rolex called the "time-recording rim") to be used to record elapsed time; by aligning the arrow of the turning bezel with the minute hand, the wearer could quickly keep a count of the passing minutes.

Understandably, Rolex marketed the Turn-O-Graph to business travelers and pilots. At the time the Turn-O-Graph was released, the GMT Master—that epitome of a pilot’s watch—was still a few years from existence. Therefore, in lieu of a dedicated pilot’s watch, many pilots turned to the Turn-O-Graph as a solid alternative.

In fact, the next reference of Turn-O-Graph would be worn by the Thunderbirds themselves.

In 1956, Rolex released a new reference of Turn-O-Graph: Reference 6609. This model would differ drastically from its predecessors. Unlike the previous models, which but for the bezel would be virtually indistinguishable from the Submariner, the Reference 6609 was built around the 36mm Oyster case used in the Rolex Datejust.

Rolex would offer this new reference of Turn-O-Graph to the Thunderbirds, a squadron of the U.S. Air Force known for acrobatic demonstrations and experimental flying techniques. Formed following the Second World War, the Thunderbirds were unquestionably one of the most elite units in the Air Force. Its pilots were the best of the best, and their planes—the F100 Super Sabre, the first fighter used by the United States that was capable of supersonic speed—were the creme de la creme.

For the pilots of such an elite unit, they needed an elite watch. Accordingly, they were equipped with solid 18K gold versions of the Reference 6609. Rolex touted that fact in an ad campaign, showing the new Rolex 'Thunderbird'—complete with the Thunderbirds’ logo—on a blue background while F100s soared above.

So iconic was this association that Rolex used the name Thunderbird to designate all subsequent Turn-O-Graphs sold on the American market; such is the case with the Reference that followed it, the 1625.

Introduced in 1959, the Reference 1625 was the first Turn-O-Graph offered in two variants. Like the Reference 6609, the Reference 1625 was offered with a steel case and a white gold bezel. But it was also offered with a steel case and a yellow gold bezel, like the one featured here.

While two-tone watches can be somewhat polarizing, there’s something about the Reference 1625 that speaks to the elegance that’s inherent in this watch. Not bulky like the Submariner, the 1625—like all two-tone Datejusts—has a more rarified air than a mere tool watch. On a two-tone Jubilee bracelet like the 1625 offered here, it makes a great addition to any get up, even an olive-drab flight suit. 


SKU: AS02450

Stainless steel and gold case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown). Reference 1625. Circa 1972.

Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition overall with some signs of moderate age and use. Rotating bezel is in very good condition. Dial is in very good condition with patina to the luminescent elements of the hour plots and hands. Rolex crown.

Includes one 20mm two-tone 6251H Jubilee bracelet with 55 end links.

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