The Forgotten Rolex - The Rolex Turn-O-Graph Thunderbird

Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph Reference 116264
The Forgotten Rolex - The Rolex Turn-O-Graph
I made a discovery when I was looking through a selection of new Rolex timepieces.  I saw this interesting Rolex that was clearly something I have never seen before.  I thought I had discovered a hidden treasure... a rare species.

The timepiece looked like a Rolex Datejust, but it has some unique differences.  Specifically the seconds hand is bright red.  The date in the 3 o'clock aperture is also red.  But the most unique difference is that the bezel has a 0-60 marking on it in 10 second intervals.

A New Datejust?
So, this was clearly NOT a Datejust even though it retains the name Datejust on the dial.  It wasn't quite like anything I had seen before.  However, it had many of the same features were there.  It has the Oyster case, luminous hour markers and Mercedes-style hands and a screw down crown.  This model is the 116264 which was produced sometime in the early 2000's.  This reference features a Caliber 3135 automatic movement in it.  This one features a Jubilee bracelet and a 36mm case.

As I started to look online, I found that this new Rolex, was actually one of the original Rolex timepieces which had been discontinued and recommissioned in the early 2000's for a short while before being discontinued yet again in 2011.
Vintage Turn-o-graph Ref 6309 with dauphine hands and hour markers.  Photo from Phillip's.

Historically Importance of the Rolex Turn-O-Graph
Pictured above is a vintage Turn-O-Graph reference 6309. This was a later model Turn-O-Graph featuring some exceptionally attractive Dauphine hands and hour markers.  This integrated the Turn-O-Graph into the Datejust lineup and added the date window with cyclops lens. It features a caliber 743.

But if we step back in time a bit further we can see the Reference 6202 with exceptional patina on its more standard hour markers - often found on modern Submariners and other Rolex Lineups.
Vintage Turn-O-Graph 6202 - picture from chrono24
This early Turn-O-Graph Ref 6202 was launched in 1953.  It looks much like a Submariner with the black rotating bezel.  Although the Turn-O-Graph, wasn't the first Rolex with a rotating bezel (that honor goes to the 1937 Ref 3346 Zerographe), it is the first one to be put into regular production. It featured a Caliber A260 movement.

The Turn-O-Graph acquired its name "Thunderbird" because in 1953 the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds - the pilots began wearing the timepiece while performing.  Rolex capitalized on the partnership and issued rare Thunderbird Turn-O-Graphs to the talented pilots.  This made the Turn-O-Graph one of the first Official Military timepieces.  And since it was worn by these acrobatic pilots of the USAF, the Turn-O-Graph became the first Rolex pilot's watch.
Rolesor version Reference 6609 - Picture by Chrono24

The Turn-O-Graph is also the first Rolex to use 2-toned gold and steel - the first "Rolesor" sports watch.

Inspiration for the Submariner and GMT
The Rolex Turn-O-Graph's rotating bezel and design became the inspiration for both the Submariner and the GMT-Master. The introduction of the Turn-O-Graph into the Datejust line most likely killed the model since its unique appeal of its rotating dial was probably lost since the GMT and Submariners took off with great fanfare.  Datejust users were probably not impressed by the "tool" functionality.  The distinctive Turn-O-Graph features really never became standards.  You could see many different bezels, hour markers, hands, and more.  Unlike many distinctive Rolex timepieces, the Turn-O-Graph kind of lost its unique identity - trying to take on too many looks.  It never developed its unique style.

However, it is clear that the Submariner and GMT-Master owe their popularity today to the early Turn-O-Graph designs.  Vintage Turn-O-Graphs have been fetching a nice price in auctions today, but haven't had the kind of outrageous success  of the Rolex Daytona.  So, it is still possible to pick up a vintage Turn-O-Graph for a reasonable price in comparison.

Where Did the Name Rolex Come From?

Where Did the Name Rolex Come From?

Rolex is probably the MOST recognizable brands in the world. 

However, the earliest name for the brand was nowhere even close to the name we so adore and admire.  The Founder of Rolex was Hans Wilsdorf.  He was born in Germany but moved to Switzerland as a young man and started working for a watch export company.  Soon he moved to London with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis, and created Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd. 

Early Hans Wilsdorf (Pre-Rolex) timepiece (image:
Interestingly, men initially thought that the watches that Wilsdorf designed and assembled were un-masculine.  Most men preferred the larger pocket watch. 

In 1908 Wilsdorf registered a trademark for the name "Rolex". 

What makes Rolex a great name?

  • Wilsdorf thought that Rolex sounded like a watch being wound.
  • Easily pronounceable in many languages.
  • It is only 2 syllables.
  • The name ROLEX, it goes Consonant, Vowel, Consonant, Vowel, Consonant.  
  • LEX sounds much like Luxury.  
  • The name is short and easy to remember.  

However, it wasn't until 1915, during the World War 1 conflict against Germany, that Wilsdorf decided to rename the company, Rolex Watch Co. Ltd.  Clearly he wanted to avoid the prejudice against Germany that came with the WWI conflict.  This was a good bet, because many soldiers who utilized a timepiece far preferred to have one of these highly durable wristlets rather than a pocket watch that could break or take precious time to pull out of their pocket in the heat of battle. 

At the time, Wilsdorf also relocated the company headquarters in Geneva Switzerland in 1919, which avoided heavy taxation from the post-war Great Britain.

Hans Wilsdorf Watch (Image:

Name Timeline For Rolex

  • Wilsdorf & Davis, Ltd.  (1905-1915)
  • Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. (1915-1920)
  • Montres Rolex SA (1920)  (In Geneva)
  • Rolex SA (1927)
    • Montres Tudor (SA) - a Sub Brand to Rolex SA, offering Tudor watches since 1946)
  • Currently owned by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation - a registered charity which does not pay corporate income taxes.

How Long Does a Rolex Last

How Long Does a Rolex Last?

The simple answer is that a Rolex can last a lifetime or more as long as it is well cared for.  Just like any piece of equipment, a fine timepiece needs to be looked after by professional watchmakers and gemologists.  Depending on the kind of timepiece you purchase, you might need to have specific things to address.

3 Things to Do to Protect Your Rolex

  • First - Make sure you Screw Down Your Winding Crown tightly to ensure waterproofness.  This is most important for diving watches.  However, if you take your Rolex swimming or in the shower, this becomes the top priority.
  • Second - If you have a metal band, wash and clean your Rolex using soapy water and a soft brush.  However, do not wash a leather band.  We highly recommend a Rubber B or similar rubber band for normal wear and tear.  You can preserve your original leather band in a case or drawer for years, while enjoying the beauty of your Rolex with a more functional rubber band. 
  • Third - Wind your Rolex often.  If you wear your Rolex, you don't need to do this.  However, if you don't wear your Rolex, you could purchase an autowinder that can keep your timepiece working and ready to go when you need it.
Rolex timepieces can last many years without much care at all.  However, some of the luster of the metal might start to lose its shine, and often the scratch resistant sapphire crystal can still get scratched.  This is certainly not the end of the world.  Scratches do add character.  And even the highly "worn" Paul Newman timepiece went at auction for over $16 million.  So, collectors still will pay a premium for a highly sought after timepiece even if it would be considered in "Poor" or "Well-Worn" shape.  

Rolexes are made to be worn.  The purpose behind Rolex, is to make a durable timepiece that can withstand the life activities of the man or woman wearing it.  Whether it is diving in the ocean, climbing a mountain, or racing on a yacht or racecar at breakneck speed the Rolex is bound to keep up and exceed your expectations.  

How Rolex Services Your Rolex

Some experts suggest sending the Rolex in for servicing every 5 years.  Just as you would send your car into service every 3-6 months to change out the oil and rotating the tires, Rolex owners are often urged to send their timepiece to Rolex for care and cleaning.  Here is what Rolex does to preserve the function of your timepiece.
  • Complete Disassembly - Rolex takes all of the pieces of the timepiece apart.  This means they remove the entire band from the watch, and the movement out of the case itself.  
  • Cleaning the Movement - Dust and debris can get inside a timepiece over time.  Rolex uses ultrasonic devices to clean the movement completely.
  • Replacing Components - Each watchmaker examines individual components in the movement and identifies components that may require replacement.  Genuine Rolex replacement parts are used to preserve the integrity of the movement.
  • Timing Calibration - Rolex watchmakers meticulously adjust the balance wheel for several days to make sure the timepiece provides precise timekeeping performance.
  • Refinishing the Case and Bracelet - Cleaning is not limited to the movement.  The entire case and bracelet are examined for damage and wear and tear.  Parts, such as links in a band, might be used to replace damaged links.  Everything is cleaned with the same precision as the movement - restoring the lustre of the entire timepiece.
  • Lubrication - One of the biggest reasons for having Rolex service your timepiece is for them to add their advanced lubricant to minimize friction and prevent wear and tear, while preserving accuracy.
  • Reassembly - Each timepiece is reassembled with ultra care and precision.
  • Testing the Waterproofness - The newly reassembled timepiece is tested to meet pressure-resistance, a vacuum test, compression test, and a condensation test.  If even the slightest bit of moisture is found inside the case, these tests will reveal all.  
  • Final Quality Check - During this final checklist, the watchmaker tests power reserve, timing accuracy and overall appearance of the watch one last time for the highest possible standard of quality.
After achieving all of this, Rolex offers a two-year service guarantee.  Servicing can cost approximately $600 - $1000.  However, it could be more or less depending on the model.  Some service centers have their own watch experts and may charge less for a complete servicing.  However it is imperative that Rolex timepieces are serviced by only authorized Rolex Dealers.

Ellen DeGeneres's $750k Vintage "John Player Special" Rolex Daytona

Vintage Rolex Daytona, nicknamed the "John Player Special" Image from
Famed celebrity Ellen DeGeneres is a highly accomplished timepiece collector with both new and vintage Rolex watches in her collection.  Although she often gifts timepieces to her friends, this is one she is definitely keeping and wearing on a daily basis.  The timepiece pictured has a rubber band, however, the one Ellen recently acquired has a gold band.

The Rolex Daytonas have become highly sought after in collector's circles, and the prices for these vintage Rolex Daytonas have continued to rise astronomically.  Although 750k sounds like a huge amount for a used Rolex, this rare and coveted timepiece, now with Ellen Celebrity status attached to it, will definitely make this timepiece even more valuable as time goes by.

There are estimated at less than 400 of these rare Daytonas in circulation today.  These timepieces originally sold for about $700 which is approx 5k in today's prices.  That would actually be a bargain in today's Rolex market since most new gold Rolexes sell for 20-30k or more.  Rolex Daytonas are in such high demand that it might cost much more and take some time to acquire a new gold Daytona.  The price of gold is also much higher today than it was in the 1960's when these John Player Specials were sold.

The John Player Special Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6241 was named after the Formula One Racecar from the 1970's and of course Paul Newman who championed the 3 dial stopwatch during his lifetime.
Example of the John Player Rolex Daytona with Gold band and inner gold ring on the bezel

Unique features of this timepiece include a top left dial that has a 60, 15, 30, 45 rather than 60,20,30,40 on the dial.  The case is yellow gold with gold pushers and a large winding crown.  This timepiece is not automatic as so many Rolex timepieces are.  The early Daytonas were all self-winding.  However, the pushers allowed racecar drivers or their fans or pit crew to accurately estimate their speed between laps.

The black tachymeter around the edges went to a vintage speed of only 200 mph since racecars hadn't broken the 200 mph barrier during the 1960's.  Modern Daytona's are equipped with a tachymeter that goes to 400 mph or kph.

The yellow gold is beautifully complimented by the black dial and black bezel.  The 3 inner dials are gold with black markings.  The actual timepiece has simple black dots with gold tips acting as the hour markers around the entire edge of the timepiece at standard hour positions 1 through 12 o'clock.

Clearly this is a more elegant example of the tool watch.  The combination of Gold and Black coloring throughout is Rolex artistry at its finest and clearly something Ellen would admire.  Although she owns steel versions of the vintage Rolex Daytona, when you are a superstar celebrity, wouldn't you rather wear the gold and black version?  Although it has elements of a new Rolex, Ellen would know that her timepiece is nearly priceless in comparison.

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