A Quick Look at the Rolex Turn-O-Graph

Above Photo Courtesy of Philipps

The first Rolex Turn-O-Graph was launched in 1953 with reference 6202. It was innovative in many ways; for starters it was the first serially produced Rolex to have a rotating bezel. The bezel, which is calibrated to 60 minutes, allows the wearer to measure and record time. As a result of this feature it was classified as the first tool watch serially produced by Rolex and paved the way for this exciting new genre of watches to enter the market. This model signified that Rolex had developed watches beyond simply being a means of telling present time, they could now be an aiding tool too.

Vintage Rolex Adverts

A year later in 1954, the release of the Submariner and GMT-Master marked Rolex’s initiation of a sub-genre of watches known as sports watches. What many aren’t aware of, but which is plainly obvious, is that the Turn-O-Graph was the inspiration for the Submariner (see below): similarities can be drawn between their black rotating bezels, black gilt dials and Oyster bracelets. In many ways the Turn-O-Graph acted as a testing ground for the Submariner, and even the GMT-Master, which also featured a rotating bezel.

The Rolex Turn-O-Graph Ref. 6202 on the left and the 1954 Submariner Ref. 6205 on the right, Photo Courtesy of Collectors Square (Left) & Hodinkee (Right)

However, despite initially aiding sports watches’ entry onto the market, the similarity between them eventually became problematic and unfavourable for Rolex, as it saw their watches compete against each other. More so, the extremely positive reception of the Submariner and GMT-Master which both conquered the market of tool watches would have exacerbated the struggle of the Turn-O-Graph. It was the fact that the two sports watches had been specifically designed to cater to sporting industries, with the Submariner targeted at divers and the GMT-Master at Pilots, which destined them for success. This concentration on perfection for individual professions was a triumph for Rolex, but also left the Turn-O-Graph awkwardly in the middle with its purpose in question.

It was then that Rolex decided they had to rebrand the Turn-O-Graph in order for it to survive. So in 1954 reference 6202 was revamped, what resulted was reference 6309. The biggest change to the model was that it was now part of the DateJust family; a date complication was added that appeared in an aperture at 3 o’clock, a cyclops was also added to emphasise this and the bezel now had hour markers every 5 & 10 minutes rather than every minute. Rolex now marketed it as a watch for businessmen and professionals so it wouldn’t have to compete with the specialised sports watches; adverts of the period described it as “a reminder of times past, for phone calls, conferences, timing, parking and countless other ways“. They had now built a niche consumer market for the Turn-O-Graph which would persist until 2011.

Turn-O-Graph 6309 in 18K Yellow Gold, Photo Courtesy of Philipps.

A stroke of marketing genius came when Rolex capitalised on a member of the USAF Air demonstration squadron wearing the model. The group which was nicknamed The Thunderbirds were the United States’ elite aerobatic squadron. Each member was eventually gifted a Turn-O-Graph which they used to guide them on their pilots’ journeys. Period adverts helped establish the “Thunderbird” as the official nickname of  the Turn-O-Graph. By focusing on this partnership Rolex helped propel the watch to new (pardon the pun) heights of success.

In 2011 production eventually ceased on the Turn-O-Graph. Why was this? As one blogger suggests, perhaps “the world [was] not ready for the Turn-o-graph or was the Turn-o-graph answering a question no-one was asking?”. Despite its discontinuation, there is no doubt that its influence endures today and that it was the start point which initiated a more than 60-year line of sports watches produced by Rolex which continue today. Many hold the watch even more valuable for the fact that it has been discontinued, and more so for what it represents in the timeline of Rolex history. To see our current stock of Turn-O-Graphs click here.

Some of our current Turn-O-Graphs in stock.