Thunderbird! A Legend from the Sky!

Nov 15, 2021,21:15 PM

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.

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.
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

More posts: 162516520620263096609DatejustDaytonaSubmarinerTurn O Graph

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What a brilliant review, once again.

 By: amanico : February 27th, 2012-10:12
Nicely documented, with an interesting history ( I ignored all that, though ), and great pictures of nice watches. I have a big preference for the 6202, then for the 6609. What a collection you have, Amigo. Gracias para todo. Nicolas

Hello Nicolas!! Thank you so much! I´m so happy ...

 By: Subexplorer : February 27th, 2012-10:36
... to receive so kind comments from you, knowing you are a connosieur of great taste, and owner of a superb collection. Of course, the 6202 is the "Father" of all these references, and a great watch to own. I only saw a couple down here, but prices are r... 

Aaah, the infamous Honeycomb dial... This one is just sublime.

 By: amanico : February 27th, 2012-10:38
Now, to get an authentic one in good condition is like a miracle... Best, Amigo. Nicolas

Yes Nicolas, Honeycomb dial is the correct name for ...

 By: Subexplorer : February 27th, 2012-10:48
... the type of dial I was referring to. It is an exquisite dial indeed!! May be some day!! "You can have everything" used to tell me a very old and wise friend of mine! Thank you again mi estimado amigo!! Un abrazo, Abel.

A splendid post.

 By: grigo : February 27th, 2012-11:10
I learned a lot about the TOG that was virtually unknown to me. Keep these great posts coming because we all enjoy greatly. Best regards, George

Hello George! Thank you so much for your kind comments...

 By: Subexplorer : February 27th, 2012-12:42
... it´s wonderful to know you enjoyed reading, and found some information about TOG you didn´t know. It is very rewarding to me to be able to offer something of interest to this suberb Forum. I appreciate your words, and send my most cordial regards, Abe... 

Superb Forum

 By: grigo : February 27th, 2012-23:15
As you correctly point out this is a superb forum and it is contributions like yours that make all this possible. I honestly enjoyed your post on the TOG (the term TOG now seems so evident to me). I hope one day to contribute as extensivelyand indepth as ... 

Hey, George, congratulations on your 3000th post!

 By: amanico : February 27th, 2012-23:24
Do you see where your friendship, curiosity and love for watches has lead you? 3000 posts! It is time for you to prepare an on the wrist review of one of your favourite watch, my friend. All the best, and once again, huge congratulations! Nicolas. This me... 

Hello George! Congratulations on your 3000 post, and...

 By: Subexplorer : February 29th, 2012-05:02
... I sincerely appreciate your dedication to us. Thank you for your so kind words! I am so happy to receive kind comments like yours about my post, and it is so rewarding to write trying to return at least a bit of the great enjoyment I find in reading a... 

thank you! nice story & report! [nt]

 By: gensiulia : February 27th, 2012-13:30
No message body

Whoaaaa another superb post! [nt]

 By: Miranda : February 27th, 2012-14:01
No message body

HQ review.

 By: VMM : February 27th, 2012-14:51
Thanks for taking the time and share with us. Vte

Great review

 By: cisco : February 27th, 2012-15:02
A long time ago, I hated the Tbird, now this is by far my favourite Rolex watch with the GMT. I tried this one recently and got a big shook. A killer with a great story, thanks for this review, I love your full gold exemplary ! Francois...  

Thank you so much Francois! I´m glad you changed your mind ...

 By: Subexplorer : February 27th, 2012-15:28
... about the TOG! It´s truly a great watch! I regret I can view your picture. Will you please try again, to share the photo with us? Thank you so much for your kind message! Best cordial regards, Abel.

Hi Cisco! Yes, I can very well see your TOG, and I´m greatly impressed!...

 By: Subexplorer : February 29th, 2012-05:05
... surely a beauty! A great photographs too, which allows to view it in all its splendor! Enjoy it so much! Best cordial regards, Abel.

Not mine Abel, but a great moment on the wrist

 By: cisco : February 29th, 2012-07:17
I was not so far to get it, but I had to make a choice between keeping my GMT 1675 (cornino chapter ring) or parting with the GMT and getting this TOG... As I couldn't part with my GMT, I didn't get it, but in this red gold with the beautiful early thick ... 

A mesmerizing burning brunette!! Lol. I like that! Nice description, Francois!...

 By: Subexplorer : February 29th, 2012-13:23
... for a beautiful watch! Thank you again for your comments. Kind regards, Abel.

Gracias indeed, Abel. wonderful post.

 By: CaliforniaJed : February 27th, 2012-22:41
In truth, I had no idea the turn-o-graphs were used by the Thunderbirds--I did not know the source of the nickname for the watch. Thanks for enlightening me! Best, CaliforniaJed

Hello Jed! I´m so happy to know you enjoyed the reading...

 By: Subexplorer : February 28th, 2012-04:17
... and so glad that I could bring here a piece of information about these watches. Thank you for your kind comments! Best cordial regards, Abel.

nice and educational post!

 By: MattS : February 28th, 2012-02:14
Thanks for the post and the story that I discovered. I didn't know anything about that, probably as I didn't pay any attention to these models which don't suit my tastes. But it is a very nice and educational post and it is always great to learn something... 

Hello Matts! Thank you so much for your kind comments...

 By: Subexplorer : February 28th, 2012-04:14
... it´s always so rewarding to know that you enjoyed reading. Every watch tells its story, or there is a piece of History behind. I also enjoy so much searching and writing about these things. Thanks again for reading and letting me know your though... 

Great story - May I join in

 By: Bill : February 28th, 2012-08:56
Here is my first Rolex owned since new in the 70's. The is a gilt T swiss T dial. Enjoy. Bill Rolex Thunderbird Rolex Thunderbird...  

She is the old lady of the set

 By: Bill : February 28th, 2012-10:58
I worn this one for at least 15 years everyday rain and shine sleep and shower. And... She is still running strong. Bill

That is what I call a ... Keeper. [nt]

 By: amanico : February 28th, 2012-11:09
No message body

Your are most welcomed to join the club Bill! Thank you for ...

 By: Subexplorer : February 28th, 2012-11:02
... sharing your own T-Bird! Beautiful watch! Will you please tell me the reference of this one? I wish you enjoy your TOG so much as I do! Best cordial regards, Abel.

My Pleasure pictures attached

 By: Bill : February 28th, 2012-11:13
Here she is ref 16253 The serial number puts her at +/- 1979. Bill Rolex Ref 16253...  

Thank you for your explanation and great photos Bill! I guess I now need to get ...

 By: Subexplorer : February 28th, 2012-13:43
... an example of your reference, to complete my collection! It´s so interesting to observe how this model has been changing with some subtle changes in his external cosmetics, through the years. Specially the design of its bezel, wich is similar in spiri... 

I had the 6202 but let it go

 By: Bill : February 28th, 2012-14:15
The size was an issue it felt small. I will post some pictures. Bill

Aaah, this one, my friend, this one, and specially yours, I loved a lot!

 By: amanico : February 28th, 2012-14:17
Too bad you couldn't live with the size... Best, Nicolas

Great post Abel, I love it. [nt]

 By: Jocke - Bad Santa : February 28th, 2012-12:42
No message body

Rolex Turn-O-Graph 6202

 By: Bill : February 28th, 2012-14:55
All original example with correct bezel insert. Enjoy. Bill...  

Wow!! That´s a Dream!! I´m speechless!! Thank you ...

 By: Subexplorer : February 28th, 2012-16:59
... for sharing such a magnificent piece Bill!! I woudn´t care about size with this one... but yet, that´s a very personal view! I´m sure you found a good home for it, after enjoying in your collection! A beautiful piece, which would make any Rolex collec... 

It was a tough decision...

 By: Bill : February 28th, 2012-17:22
It was a tough decision After spending so much time getting the watch. I found on my wrist it was a little small so I tried the bund strap to give it some volume. Alas no change. I did the same with a perfect 6536/1 white second hand magnificent dial like... 

Believe me I want to...

 By: Bill : February 28th, 2012-21:20
Believe me I want to ban myself for the heavy loss on each example.   I kissed many frogs to find these two Princesses. You me I have separation problems so I needed to pass then on regardless of the outcome and the emotional cost.

Hello Bill! Yes, I can well imagine it is a tough decision to make...

 By: Subexplorer : February 29th, 2012-05:11
... but it seems that definitively 36 mm is a small size for your personal taste, and personal taste has much to do with the enjoyment of a timepiece. It may be a very sought after piece, or a marvellous jewell loved by others, but if you personally don&#... 

Wow, thanks for the great job !

 By: DrStrong : February 29th, 2012-03:56
very interesting reading !

My pleasure Dr. Strong! I thank you very much for ...

 By: Subexplorer : February 29th, 2012-05:13
... your kind compliments, Jeff! It´s a great pleasure to be here and share these stories! I send my best cordial regards, Abel.

Great research

 By: Peppo : March 3rd, 2012-10:51
and great story, really a good job !! This is my small contribution, 1625 also surfaced as Fuerza Aerea del Peru', this one used to be mine long time ago. This message has been edited by Peppo on 2012-03-03 10:54:14...  

SyL also

 By: Peppo : March 3rd, 2012-10:56
Serpico y Laino also used to customize TOG dials in some pieces, mainly in gold. This 6609 also belonged to me. This message has been edited by Peppo on 2012-03-03 11:00:07 This message has been edited by Peppo on 2012-03-03 11:02:59...  


 By: amanico : January 19th, 2022-03:43

Great watches Peppo! Thank you so much for sharing with us!

 By: Subexplorer : January 29th, 2022-22:18
As Bill well say they deserve a post from you telling more details! Cheers! Abel

and last one .....

 By: Peppo : March 3rd, 2012-11:02
........... the black dial steel version 6609 is the one I'm wearing today....  

My God! This is my favourite one, Peppo.

 By: amanico : March 3rd, 2012-14:59
Is there any cool watch you don't have, my friend? Best, Nicolas

Thank you Nicolas

 By: Peppo : March 3rd, 2012-23:33
but I'm just trying to do my way. Beside kidding, TOG is a reference that always intrigued me a lot, easy to wear and in the same time "complicated", not only a DateJust but a little more a "Sport model" too. This is a good research very helpful in order ... 

I do agree with you. I under appreciated this model a lot, at the exception of the 6202

 By: amanico : March 3rd, 2012-23:58
Because of its mannered bezel... But when I see one like your black one, or some others mentionned by our friend Abel, I must confess that I think I was wrong... Best, my friend. Nicolas

Hello Peppo! Your collection of TOG leaves me speechless! ...

 By: Subexplorer : March 4th, 2012-12:36
Both FAP version or the S&L variants are the joy and pride of any collector, be it a Rolex collector, or a specialist in TOG variants. Those you show are wonderful examples. I specially appreciate the rare examples showing the name of a famous watch d... 

Tks Abel

 By: Peppo : March 5th, 2012-22:45
......... but the two you like are gone, sacrificed for other pieces....  

Indeed a bigger fish it is Peppo! This is collecting!!...

 By: Subexplorer : March 6th, 2012-06:14
... some new enters, and sometimes another have to go! Enjoy this magnificent Milgauss! Thanks for sharing these awesome pieces! Cordial regards, Abel.

Great review on an almost forgotten variant..

 By: hans_jorgen_1968 : April 7th, 2012-15:24
.... I have only a modern one with white dial, as my daily beater. I love the turning bezel an the roulette calendar Best Hans

Thank you for your kind comments Hans! A new TOG is in my wish list...

 By: Subexplorer : April 7th, 2012-17:46
... since long ago. Now that the modern reference was discontinued, I will have to look for one before they dissapear from the brand new market, or wait till one second hand one appears. Thank you again, and best cordial regards, Abel.

TOG THunderbirds

 By: maxbliss888 : July 19th, 2012-20:49
A great post! My 1957 (Ref 6609) & 1966 (Ref 1624) ...  


 By: FremStar : September 27th, 2012-12:07
I am totally speechless!!!! Just Incredibly Insane write up on one of my FAVORITE Rolex references behind the 1655! Just outstanding review and references!!! Really glad to see TOG enthusiasts here! BRAVO!!!!!

Thank you for your kind words FremStar! I´m glad...

 By: Subexplorer : September 27th, 2012-12:51
... you enjoyed reading this post. I will be posting some pictures of another example of a vintage TOG I got some time after posting that thread. Enjoy your TOG in good health my friend! Cordial regards, Abel.

Great post!

 By: Cozmopak : November 15th, 2021-21:23
My thunderbird says hi: ...  

Hello Cozmopack! Beautiful TOG you share here. Thank you for refloating this old post I published about nine years ago. I was really surprised to find it today!

 By: Subexplorer : November 16th, 2021-14:06
A few days ago our dear Bill shared a new great and informative post about these interesting model of Rolex. It´s well worth viewing it. Best cordial regards, Abel Find bellow link to Bill’s post.

Amazing post. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

 By: RabidManatee : November 15th, 2021-23:51
I’ve always thought these were cool references which straddle the DJ and Sport lines.

Thank you so much dear RabidManatee! Actually this is an old post of year 2012.

 By: Subexplorer : November 16th, 2021-14:08
You’ll enjoy so much a recent interesting post shared by Bill a few days ago: Here the link: Cheers! Abel

Excellent review …

 By: Cpt Scarlet : November 16th, 2021-15:26
Good to read your excellent review Abel and to see the photos of your beautiful 6609 “Thunderbird”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Rolex revived this watch with very subtle updates. Sadly little chance of it and probably pointless if they can’t deliver them ... 

Thanks a lot dear Captain! I was surprised today when I view this old post from 2012 resurfaced.

 By: Subexplorer : November 16th, 2021-16:05
The TOG/T-Bird is a very interesting model. About ten years ago Rolex tried to refloat the model again within the Date Just model offering it with black or white dial and Oyster or Jubilee bracelets. The nice detail was a red seconds hand and a roulette d...