Thunderbird! A Legend from the Sky!
I had always thought that the Rolex Thunderbird/T.O.G. is a wonderful watch which by some reason has never caught the attention it deserved from collectors and users of fine Rolex watches.
I wish to share with my friends at Purists, some pictures of my own watches (References 6609 y 1625) and a bit of their history.
These watches are generally known as Turn-O-Graph, though in some special references, are also known as Thunderbird model.
Both watches, reference 6609 and 1625 are actually a variant of the more well known and succesful Model Date Just.
To better understand the origins of the name Thunderbird, is necessary to explore a little of their story.
A few years after the creation of the U.S. Air Force, which occurred just after the end of Second World War, the new created Force decided to organize an special unit devoted to air demonstrations, which was formed with skilled and experimented pilots, specially trained in air acrobacy.
This special unit, was created on May 25, 1953, and the name chosen for them was: "Thunderbirds". The official name of the unit was " Group Number 3600 of Air Demonstration", and was based in the Luke Air base, at Arizona. Their airplanes were specially decorated with a very spectacular livery, which distinguished the planes, and made them very eassy to view on the sky.
It is interesting to note, that the name "Thundebirds" has its origins in some deep Old West tradition and mitology, coming from the original american people living in the South West region of the USA. One mitical animal in special, was the Thunder Bird, a very large falcon or eagle of great wing span, that, when starting its flight, moved its powerful wings so forcefuly as to making a high sound (thunder) which was heard at longe distances, and made the earth tremble.
The Thunder Bird was also chosen as the emblem of the acrobatic team.
We find the comparison between that mitical bird and the planes of the acrobatic team very appropiate, when we view and hear their jet airplanes crossing the sonic barrier at high speed, producing the big sound which resembles a thunder.
Through the following years, the Thunderbird squadron gain in fame, when their awesome demonstrations covered the whole American Territory, as well as visiting foreingn Countries in the rest of the Americas, and Europe.
Their breathtaking stunts, are never lacking in danger, and show the incredible skill of their crews, piloting their planes to their limits, in hair rising maneouvers which keep spectators on the edge of their seats!
I can well remember being very young, and having the pleasure to view the only visit they paid to Argentina, in the 1960´s, and I feel will never forget that incredible show in the air, carried in their North American F100 Super Sabres, which was the plane in use in those far years.
Through the years, the famous air demonstration team, changed their planes, as the new technologies were being adopted, with newer and more sophisticated aircraft. The changes occurred during the last 6 decades, and they are presently employing the F16 Fightin Falcon.
But now,we go back to the Rolex watches
In the year 1959, Rolex developed a watch, specially for the US Air Force Thunderbirds.
It was given the reference number 6609.
For this model, Rolex used as a base, a very popular and proved model, which was the Date Just. At the same time, this new model was related to the previous model Turn-O-Graph.
The original Thuderbird model, got a 18K case and was equipped with a turning bezel (turning in both directions)
In an announcement made in 1959, we can find some information of interest for collectors.
"The Rolex Datejust Thundebird with a 18K case, comes equipped with the "Turn-O-Graph" bezel. It has 25 jewels, so identified on its Red Seal, a Perpetual automatic movement, completely protected by its famous waterproof Oyster case. The new Cyclops crystal, maginfies the date for better reading. Pridce with leather band, US $ 550,00. A gold bracelet available at extra cost"
As a matter of fact, the gold case watch, came inside its original box, equipped with two leather bands, one of them, was an spare. Also provided with a gold buckle with the crown logo. If the owner desired a matching 18K gold bracelet, he could specially order it (Oyster or Jubilee style) from the AD.
The watch I show in this presentation, came equipped with one of these original croco bands, as shown in the photographs.
A PRESTIGIOUS PAST
To better understand the past of the Thundebird model, we need to remember the origins of this line of watches.
The first Turn-O-Graph was launched in 1953, and offered till approximately the year 1956, under the reference 6202, equipped with a movement caliber A-260.
Its original configuration, can be seen in an advertisment of those far years, and as we know, it clearly resembles the first Submariner, as this later famous model, can be considered as a descendant of the TOG.
As a matter of fact, both watches, the original TOG and the Submariner, were very similar watches thought for different types of users.
The TOG, for air plane travelers, scientifics, or profesionals requiring to control the pass of time in certain short periods, with the help of its rotating bezel.
The Submariner, was a watch dedicated to underwater use, specially for SCUBA diving, an activity which was growing in space and applications both in military, civilian and scientific uses, just after WW2. Its revolving bezel, was of help in determing underwater elapsed time, and decompression calculations and control.
The concept of a revolving bezel graduated in minutes, was just revolutionary. A truly new concept, the revolving bezel gave origin to the development of the profesional (or tool) Rolex watches, and the idea was quickly copied by almost every other Watch Making Company in the entire World.
The first TOG reference 6202, offered an stainless steel case, with black dial, and black bezel. A special variant, offered a gold bezel and white dial, being this a very rare and coveted collectors watch today.
In the year 1954, Rolex introduces several changes in their TOG model, changing its overall aspect, and its movement, first for the A296 caliber, and later for the caliber 1065. The new TOG receives the reference number 6309, and was kept in their catalog till year 1959.
THE THUNDERBIRD IS BORN
Between the years 1956 and 1959, a new variant of the TOG is offered, under the reference number 6609, equipped with a caliber 1065.
This new version of the TOG, is selected as we already have seen, by the Air Demonstrations Team Thunderbirds.
While in Europe, the 6609 reference keeped being known as Turn-O-Graph, in the USA this particular variant is better known as "Model Thunderbird".
It is worth noting, that the special series sold officially to the members of the US AIr Force Aerobatic Team, included on its dial, a full color facsimil of the Thunderbird emblem, engraved at "6", which makes one of those originals, a much sought after, rare and coveted piece for dyed in the wool collectors.
Of course, it is very difficult watch to find in the market, and prices are accordingly high.
It is important to note, as per the above explanation, that the true "Thuderbird Model" should only be considered the 6609 reference, as this one was the similar one to the watches supplied to the Aerobatic Team.
This in spite of the fact that it is the extended custom, specially in the USA, to call "Thunderbird" to every TOG, incuding posterior references.
By the other hand, the Rolex official name for the line of wacthes hereby presented, is Date Just Turn O Graph.
This makes for a little confusing about the names of these models and variants, and I hope this helps to clarify this issue.
My Reference 6609 of circa 1959 (Real model name Turn O Graph, and true "Thunderbird Model")
This watch was made in 1959, and got a beautifully condition preserved 18K gold case, which I found almost unused by the previous owner.
The dial has a very difficult to photograph dial: it is white/silverish color (like a pearl), with gold arrow point indexes, and gold dauphine hands.
The rotating bezel, is also 18K revolving in both sides, with high relief numerals.
The date numbers are the "roulette" type, combining red (even numbers) and black numbers, a beautiful and interesting feature which was usual in 1950/60´s, and later abandoned by Rolex.
Fortunately, Rolex recovered this roulette date wheel for the present 116250 TOG, as well as in some other present lines. I find this characteristic, a very beautiful feature.
This watch came equipped with the original croco leather band, of Rolex brand, equipped with the original Rolex buckle.
As explained above, the original owner received his watch with an spare set of straps, in the same case, and could order a marching gold bracelet by special request.
It is ineresting tonnote, that in spite of the fact that the TOG is a variant of the famous Date Just, an it got the same markings under the Coronet, there is a difference in the options:
The TOG was never offered with a whole case AND bezel made of stainless steel (which the common DJ offered).
The TOG always included a "touch" of gold, being in the bezel (yellow or white gold) in combination with an steel case, or full gold case, and gold bezel, like this watch shown here.
The Model reference 6609 was the true Thunderbird (or T-Bird) was produced between 1956 and 1959, and was replaced by the following version, wich received the reference number 1625, and its movement was replaced by the calibers 1560/1565 and 1575, through the years of production of the new reference, which was made since 1959 through 1977.
The Reference 1625 Turn-O-Graph
The following watch in my collection, belongs to the reference 1625, and was made in 1966
This nice watch has an stainless steel case, with a yellow gold bezel, and came equipped with a two tone Jubilee bracelet, combining steel and gold central links.
As you can see, the dial is black colored, with gold block indexes and gold baton hands, which, together with the gold lettering inscriptions, make for a bold contrast and very elegant, specially with the silver colored steel case, and gold bezel. It is a most stunning contrating combination.
The Jubilee TT bracelet, fuly completes the assembly, in a very classic, elegant way, I feel.
This particular watch, was found also in excelent condition, with very few signs of being much used by its previous owner, and it is working perfectly with an accuracy you should expect from a Rolex.
It is very interesting to note how the case backs of these two references, changed through the years. It is very evident in the following photograph, marking the different eras of the Oyster case.
The steel 1625 case, of more modern make, is to the right, with its center rough polished, as it is offered in present made Rolex, while the older case at right, shows the full high polished finish of old Rolex watches, from the Big Bubbleback era.
To the Reference 1625 TOG shown above, followed several other references, which incorporated some subtle changes in the TOG model, following the 16520, and the present 116250, with more marked changed on its aesthetics, and of course, better movements, adoption of new type crystal instread of plexi, etc.
I wish you´ll like these watches, and that this presentation throws some light in the common confution the use of the TOG and Thunderbird denomination gets by users and collectors.
I thank you so much for your kind attention to this post.
Best cordial regards, Abel.
This message has been edited by DrStrong on 2012-02-28 00:26:34 This message has been edited by DrStrong on 2012-03-03 23:12:46