While there have been countless articles, books, and discussions dedicated to famous Rolex Professional watches like the Submariner, GMT-Master, Explorer, Daytona, and others, the tool watch that came before them all is often (unfairly) left out of the conversation. If you haven’t heard about the Rolex Turn-O-Graph yet, it is a watch worth discovering.
Brief History Of The Rolex Turn-O-Graph
While Rolex had experimented with a turning bezel on earlier “Zerographe” prototypes, the 1953 Turn-O-Graph was the brand’s first serially-produced model fitted with a rotating bezel. The first reference was the Turn-O-Graph ref. 6202, with a black bi-directional bezel calibrated to 60 minutes. It was the addition of this functional timing bezel that made the Turn-O-Graph Rolex’s inaugural tool watch.
So, if it was the first, why is this particular model relatively unknown compared to other Rolex watches? Perhaps because in the following year, Rolex revised the Turn-O-Graph to be a part of the Datejust collection and changed the bezel design to a metal one. Therefore, rather than pioneering a new range of purpose-built, functional watches, the Turn-O-Graph was unceremoniously positioned as a special Datejust with a rotating bezel.
In the late 1950s, the Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph became the official watch of the US Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron (aka the Thunderbirds), complete with the squadron’s crest on the dial. As a result, the watch quickly picked up the “Thunderbird” nickname and even Rolex referred to it as the “Oyster Perpetual Thunderbird” in their promotional materials.
Over the following decades, Rolex continued to produce different references of the Datejust Turn-O-Graph “Thunderbird” in a variety of metals and styles, but perhaps suffering from a slight identity crisis – a little too dressy for a sports watch and a little too sporty for a dress watch – ultimately Rolex decided to discontinue the model in 2011.
Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264
The Rolex Datejust ref. 116264 is part of the very last reference family of Turn-O-Graph watches. Similar to standard Datejust watches, the Turn-O-Graph 116264 sports a 36 mm Oyster case water resistant to 100 meters. On top of the stainless steel case is the signature rotating bezel—in fluted 18k white gold on this particular reference. The watch is fitted with the familiar steel Oyster bracelet, and as a modern version, it includes solid end links and solid centre links for a high-quality fit and feel.
The dial of the Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264 offers an appealing mix of smart and sporty touches from the dark matte background to the red accents to the white gold applied indices. Of course, as a Datejust model, there’s the date window at 3 o’clock along with the customary Cyclops lens on the sapphire crystal. Inside the case is Rolex’s famed in-house automatic Caliber 3135.
Given its interesting history, the practicality of a rotating timing bezel, and its distinct design details, the Turn-O-Graph is a fantastic choice if you want a Rolex Datejust that’s markedly different to all the rest. Moreover, with most other steel Rolex models rapidly rising to unaffordable prices, it could well only be a matter of time before the Turn-o-graph becomes the next watch collectors are clambering to invest in.
Words by Celine Simon
The Rolex Turn-o-graph 116264 is available to purchase here at Tempo & Time. Click here for further details.