Rolex Decades: The ‘50s Turn-O-Graph Versus the ‘60s Turn-O-Graph -

Rolex Decades: The ‘50s Turn-O-Graph Versus the ‘60s Turn-O-Graph

For this edition of our ‘Decades’ series, we are going to focus on a Rolex model no longer available in the current collection.

The Turn-O-Graph was always a bit of an oddity in the lineup, one which struggled to find its place amidst other, more focused watches.

However, as ill-fated as it ultimately was, there are a number of firsts attributable to the model which have gone on to become hugely successful elsewhere. It is, in fact, best remembered for the other timepieces which took their inspiration from its design.

Below then, we take a look at the opening decade in the life of the Rolex Turn-O-Graph.

The ‘50s Turn-O-Graph Versus the ‘60s Turn-O-Graph: The Debut Turn-O-Graph.

Turn-O-Graph Ref. 6202
Key Features:
Production: 1953-1956
Case Size: 36mm
Materials: Steel.
Movements: Cal. A.260
Bezel: Bidirectional. Engraved 60-Minute Scale
Crown Guards: No
Dials: Black/White
Crystal: Acrylic

The Rolex Turn-O-Graph made its debut in 1953. At the time, much like the Datejust (a family of watches the Turn-O-Graph would eventually join) it was a revolution.

It can lay claim to being the first watch Rolex ever serially produced to feature a rotating bezel. That innovation gave it the ability to easily keep track of elapsed time, and in so doing, made it the brand’s first ever tool watch, having launched a matter of months before the all-conquering Submariner.

The original reference, the ref. 6202 could quite easily be mistaken for an early Sub. A 36mm, steel, time-only piece, its bezel was fitted with a black aluminum insert, marked for 60-minutes and its dial (the black version, at least) included the mix of dots and batons with a triangle at the 12 which would go on to become a signature of the famous diver as well.

However, unlike the Submariner, the Turn-O-Graph was also released with a white dialed option, and both versions incorporated honeycomb patterns.

Inside was Rolex’s second automatic caliber, the A.260. An obscure movement, it was repurposed for the job from earlier Oyster Perpetual models, and would go on to power the initial Sub references too. Beating at 18,000vph, it was a fairly rudimentary mechanism, but a step-up from those found in the old Bubbleback watches.

Interestingly, it is only this first generation and the final one from the 2000s that actually have the word ‘Turn-O-Graph’ inscribed on the dial. And just to be more confusing, the reference number 6202 was shared with another watch, functionally and visually identical to the Turn-O-Graph but known as the Monometer.

The ref. 6202 would stay in production for just three years, with only around 1,000 units being made, but Rolex had clearly decided to take it in a different, more dressy direction before even that short space of time was done. The follow-up model, which ran concurrently with it for its last two years, was poles apart in its styling.

The ‘50s Turn-O-Graph Versus the ‘60s Turn-O-Graph: The Second Generation

Turn-O-Graph Ref. 6609/6309
Key Features:
Production: 1954-1959
Case Size: 36mm
Materials: Steel (ref. 6609). Rolesor or Solid Yellow Gold (both ref. 6309)
Movements: Cal. 743/Cal. 1065
Bezel: Bidirectional. Engraved 60-Minute Scale
Crown Guards: No
Dials: Black/White/Silver/Gold
Crystal: Acrylic

With the spectacular release of the Submariner in 1953, the Turn-O-Graph suddenly found itself surplus to requirements. Although it shared the Sub’s talents, it was marketed as a more general sports watch rather than one designed for a specific activity.

So the second iteration was moved firmly into the Datejust camp, and was a complete departure from the first.

Gone was the black bezel insert, replaced by a solid metal surround with an engine-turned finish. The gradations changed too; where they had been marked with dots for every minute before, now there were bars every five minutes, with Arabic numerals every 10.

In came a date display, as you would expect, along with the magnifying Cyclops over the top. That, of course, necessitated a swap in movement, with this generation powered by either the Cal. 743 or the Cal. 1065.

Also not a surprise was a (slightly) greater choice in dial color, with silver and gold joining the standard black and white.

And there were now three metal options available, although two shared a reference number, this being in the days before Rolex became rigidly organized in every department.

So the ref. 6609 was the full steel version, and the ref. 6309 number was used by the solid gold model and the Rolesor variant—making it the first Rolex sports watch to be offered in two-tone.

Yet even with all these modifications, the Turn-O-Graph was still something of an aberration. Not as toolish as the likes of the Sub or GMT-Master, nor as chic as the recently introduced Day-Date or, indeed, the rest of the Datejust collection, it existed on the periphery in a sort of limbo.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the model. Before the end of the decade, it had found at least one group of high profile admirers.

The ‘50s Turn-O-Graph Versus the ‘60s Turn-O-Graph: The Thunderbird is Go

With its robust build and undeniably useful functionality, it was really only a matter of time before the Turn-O-Graph found a military application.

As the story goes, a pilot from the USAF’s elite aerobatic team, the Thunderbirds, established in the same year the ref. 6202 debuted, wore a solid gold ref. 6309 as his personal watch while on duty. It’s utility obviously impressed the higher ups in the squadron and the request was submitted to Rolex for them to supply the Turn-O-Graph as their official timepiece.

With the brand’s usual reticence when it comes to marketing, they changed the name of the model to the Thunderbird for the U.S. market and furnished the unit with steel ref. 6609s, complete with regimental insignia at the 6 o’clock. The name continued to follow the watch over all of its subsequent generations, especially in the States, long after it ceased to be standard issue.

The ‘50s Turn-O-Graph Versus the ‘60s Turn-O-Graph: The Turn-O-Graph Settles Down

Turn-O-Graph Ref. 1625
Key Features:
Production: 1959-1977
Case Size: 36mm
Materials: Steel. Rolesor. 18K Gold
Movements: Cal. 1570
Bezel: Bidirectional. Engraved 60-Minute Scale
Crown Guards: No
Dials: Black/White/Silver/Gold/Blue
Crystal: Acrylic

In 1959, Rolex upgraded the Turn-O-Graph with their new Cal. 1570 movement, increasing the frequency to 19,800vph for the first time.

The new reference, the ref. 1625, would carry the Thunderbird all the way up to 1977 with little interference.

This third iteration also offered an ever-so slightly greater selection of dial choices, but still nowhere close to that of the standard Datejust.

Materials were the same as with the previous series’, with solid gold and Rolesor the more luxurious choices, and the steel cased, white gold bezeled model the most accessible.

But the Turn-O-Graph still suffered from its outlier status, something of a neither here nor there creation which languished in the wake of more recognizable watches.

Rolex would persist with their Turn-O-Graph for several more decades, but as that takes us way past the end of the 1960s, we will have to dedicate separate articles to the later versions.

As it is, the ref. 1625 was essentially another Datejust variant but with the functionality of a tool watch. So why it never really caught on is something of a mystery. By combining the functions of two of the brand’s most successful pieces; the Submariner and the Datejust, it should have appealed to fans of either. In reality, it seemed to alienate both.

Check back in with us soon to find out how the Turn-O-Graph evolved throughout the 1980s and beyond.

Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive

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