How The Rolex Turn-O-Graph Became a Thunderbird

How The Rolex Turn-O-Graph Became a Thunderbird

The inaugural Turn-O-Graph ref. 6202 was the first serially-produced Rolex wristwatch to feature a rotating bezel; the new element was presented as an easier way to measure and record time. As the Turn-O-Graph came before the Explorer, Submariner, and GMT-Master, it has the distinction of being Rolex's first tool watch.

 “now the simplest of all ways of timing has been invented. It is built into a wristwatch called the Rolex Turn-O-Graph. This new principle consists of an extra rim or bezel around the watch face. This rim is marked from zero to sixty and is easily turned by hand. To time an operation, all you have to do is align the zero mark on the rim with the second, minute, or hour hand of the watch. Thereafter, at any moment, you have an immediate record of the time elapsed.”

From a vintage ad for the Turn-O-Graph ref. 6202

The collaboration with the Thunderbirds (USAF Air Demonstration Squadron) began with a pilot who owned a Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph watch. The watch became popular amongst the squadron because of its practical timing bezel. In the late 1950s, Rolex was commissioned to supply the Thunderbirds with watches. Rolex subsequently capitalized on their relationship with the USAF and began marketing the Turn-O-Graph as the Rolex Thunderbird for the American market. There was eventually a special-edition full 18k gold version with the Thunderbird insignia on the dial.

We just received a beautiful Rolex Turn-O-Graph from 1974, come check it out at our Manhattan gallery, APR57. If you like an American Rolex you will like our radio show. Tune into WOR 710 AM, every Sunday evening between 8pm-9pm. If you have anything you would like to sell or have appraised please contact us. We are the only free appraisal service in town and we would love to tell you more about your piece. 
200 WEST 57TH ST.
NEW YORK, NY 10019
📞 917-439-9610