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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
If there is a modern Rolex reference which evokes “the love that dares not speak its name” it is the Rolex DateJust Turn-O-Graph. It represents the sports watch missing evolutionary link in the Rolex line; revolutionary upon introduction, then obscure through much of its life, and arguably neglected today. I, however, am just finishing up 3o years happily together with mine. I explain why this has been a happy union below.

First, a little bit of history
The Rolex Oyster, the first waterproof case, was introduced in 1927. The Datejust, the first window date automatic watch, was introduced in 1945.

In 1953 a bidirectional, friction, 60-minute, timing bezel was added to the Datejust case, creating the Turn-O-Graph. It was Rolex’s first watch with a rotating timing bezel. A couple of years later the model was adopted by the USAF Thunderbirds precision acrobatics aerial team; new pilots were given Turn-O-Graphs upon selection. Thereafter, with USAF approval, Rolex marketed and advertised the Turn-O-Graph as the “Thunderbird” in the US market. It has variously been marketed as the Turn-O-Graph, the Thunderbird, and the Datejust with Thunderbird bezel (the way my AD pitched it to me).

The TOG’s successes within those first few years of introduction were tectonic for the brand: It created the modern Rolex “tool watch” category, from which models like the Submariner, GMT Master, Sea Dweller, and Yachtmaster later evolved, and which are such a big part of the brand DNA (and sales) today. It was Rolex’s first purpose built pilot tool watch. It was one of Rolex’s earliest watches with deep military connections.

So the TOG: Rolex’s first rotating bezel, first tool watch, first pilot’s watch, arguably the father of the Sub, a pretty impressive early record.

The TOG had other distinctions as well. It was the first Rolex offered in steel and gold, and it was the first Rolex (along with the regular DJ) to sport the Cyclops date window.

The first generation TOG is strikingly like the original Submariner, with a black, reversed out, numbered, bezel, a black dial and Mercedes hands. The next year, 1954, the Sub was introduced, taking the first gen TOG functionality, bezel, dark face and hands, and putting them onto a beefier, larger (40mm vs. 36 mm), case.

After the Sub’s introduction in 1954 the TOG evolved in a different direction, with a light, solid color, metal timing bezel with raised numbers and indices, still on the standard 36 mm DJ case, and typically with a lighter dial, stick indices, and baton hands. This watch continued to be used by the Thunderbirds, but became a good deal dressier over time than the first TOG’s or the Sub.
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The Submariner moved into the tool watch niche that the TOG had created in the Rolex line. Turn-O-Graphs continued in production through the late 1970’s, were then discontinued, re introduced in an updated version in 2001, and discontinued for good in 2011. After its early days it was never a high selling model, a tweener caught in the gulf between the more formal, versatile, regular DJ, and the more tool like Sub.

How I got into the game
I moved from a job in consulting in Chicago to a financial services VP of marketing position in San Francisco in the late 1980’s. The company had recently gone through a successful IPO, and many of the company’s officers sported Rolex.

I was interested in a Rolex as the traditional milestone of success; I’d worked obsessively for a decade to get to the VP Marketing level. But there was an additional motivation for me. I was a little young for the job, and looked younger still (I was 34 but looked about 28). I was unknown, from outside the company and industry. The Rolex provided a useful, short hand, code/signifier that I was a department head, within the informal style hierarchy of the company.

Then there was the question of which one to get. Top management favored gold Presidential Day/Dates. VP’s tended towards DJ’s and Subs. I was attracted to the functionality of the Sub, but somewhat preferred the looks of the DJ. The Sub was also a little big to fit under my shirtsleeve. The Datejust Turn-O-Graph, with the bidirectional 60 minute timing bezel, proved the ideal compromise for me; an understated, discrete, functional, dressy, tool watch.
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Watch Review
But I digress; enough about me, let’s review the watch:

Case, dial, case back, and caliber: classic Rolex
I bought my watch in 1986, it was NOS late 1970’s production. The watch has the classic DJ case, with polished sides, and brushed and polished top. The dial is the sunburst champagne color with simple stick markers and baton hands, Rolex’s simplest, and to me, most classic, dial configuration. It stands out because of its proportions, and the classic attention to detail, with every feature of the dial hand applied, from indices to the crown, in 60 individual operations.

The case has the traditional Rolex solid steel back, and within is the stalwart Rolex auto caliber 3035, used in DJ’s from about 1977 to 1988.

The watch has a raised, slightly rounded, acrylic crystal with the Cyclops over the date window (incidentally, it’s called the Datejust because of the instantaneous hour change that snaps over at precisely (just) midnight).
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It’s all about the bezel
But this watch stands out because of the gold Thunderbird bezel, the only difference between it and a standard DJ. This functionality was key to my choice, as I use the timing bezel daily. The slightly larger bezel has a subtle effect; from 10 feet it looks just like a regular Datejust, from 5 feet it looks like a DJ with a slightly steroidal bezel, when worn the bezel creates its own little world. Let me explain:

First, the bezel’s polished Arabic numerals at ten second intervals, the alternating stick indices, and the V notch at 12 o clock are raised around a chapter ring on a slightly angled bezel with a lip on both sides. Second, the polished bezel numbers and indices are set against a finely striated bezel background surface for greater contrast. Third, this fine striation continues onto the easily grasped coin edge of the bidirectional friction bezel, which rotates smoothly, and which has neither slipped nor jammed in 30 years of use (!). The combination of the smooth polished numerals, striated texture, and coin edge of the gold bezel, iridescing as it moves through varying light create a subtle riot of pattern, color, and texture, which consistently mesmerizes.
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These effects are all understated; you have to be holding the watch within about 24 inches of your face to fully appreciate them. Once again, from distance, the watch just reads as a slightly beefier DJ, and not as a tool watch.

Gold is good, in moderation
Which metal to choose was a no brainer for me. If I was going to pay 10x what I had previously paid for a watch, I wanted some gold, but all gold on a bracelet did not fit my position, self-image, or social circle (then or now). The gold and stainless Jubilee bracelet proved the perfect combination for me. I don’t know if I like TT in general, it’s a tough combination to get right, IMO. I do know that I love the TT DJ on the Jubilee bracelet; it’s the archetypal gold and stainless watch to me.

It looks bigger than it is
The gold bezel actually protrudes beyond the edge of the curved Oyster case top, providing a continuous yellow field of dial and bezel that makes the watch appear and wear significantly larger than the traditional 36 mm DJ to me. Its 12 mm height undoubtedly adds to that impression.

On the flip side, the gold hands, dial, and bezel do cut contrast and legibility. That’s OK though, as it gives me a good excuse to spend more time lost in this gorgeous dial.

I wear the TOG in a six-watch rotation with other watches that vary from 38-42 mm, and this watch does not lack wrist presence versus those others due to its smaller size.

And there’s more!
The combination of the visually dominant gold bezel with the champagne dial and Jubilee bracelet cause the watch to read, from head on, as a gold watch with some steel on the bracelet, as opposed to a steel watch with a gold bezel and gold central links on a steel bracelet, as other TT DJ’s do to me.

In addition, the bezel striations and coin edge do a great job of hiding scratches, as do the complex curves of the gold center links on the Jubilee bracelet. There are plenty of fine scratches there, but I notice them less than I do on some of my year old stainless watches.

The Jubilee Bracelet-Rolex’s “Secret Sauce” ingredient
I love the Jubilee bracelet on this watch. Although introduced in 1945 for the 40[SUP]th[/SUP] anniversary of Rolex’s founding, the bracelet has always had a festive, 20’s Art Deco feel, which doesn’t get enough credit, IMO. It is one of the most “jewelry like” metal bracelets out there, and I think that is why it is the best selling upper end watch bracelet to women. The shimmering iridescence of the TT bracelet makes the DJ/Jubilee combo instantly recognizable from 30 feet, perhaps the most recognizable Rolex from a distance.
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Overall wearing experience (Spoiler Alert: Excellent!)
When worn the watch appears and feels substantial, comfortable, solid, simple, utilitarian, honest; all the factors that make a Rolex wear like the Rolex of wrist watches.

In addition, there is an intricate complexity to the TT Turn-O-Graph that creates delightful tensions when wearing it, contrasts between: the utilitarian, more modern case with simple indices and baton hands and the curved link decorative bracelet; tool watch functionality and a dress watch case, a tool watch in precious metal, and the gold and steel together. These contradictions make the watch what it is, and wearing it more interesting. It’s like wearing a little conundrum on my wrist.


The Value Proposition
Rolex arguably made its name as the premium, both dress and casual, one good watch, brand.

It’s tweener status probably caused the Turn-O-Graph to languish, but it’s the reason I bought it as an all around daily wearer.

The Sub seemed a tad too sporty, too big to fit under my shirtsleeve, and not quite dressy enough for a daily watch worn primarily in a (very conservative financial services HQ) office environment when I bought the TOG in 1986.

The Turn-O-Graph had the Sub’s timing bezel and was beefier, more complex, and visually interesting than the standard DJ to my eye. The TOG was more tool like, and has more wrist presence; it was, after all, an official issue military watch.

So the Turn-O-Graph seemed a bit more appropriate to me than the Sub for office wear, and a little more robust than the standard DJ as a casual, weekend, watch. (Since the Sub and the DJ outsold the TOG by ten to twenty fold, it is safe to say that mine was and is a minority viewpoint among Rolex owners).

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Collectible? Without Doubt. Someday.
Eventually the Turn-O-Graph should see it’s day as a collectible. It has provenance and is quite important to Rolex’s history. It’s rare, it’s rare because of a useful complication, and eventually all the other rare, useful complication Rolex tool watch references will be priced into the stratosphere (if that has not already happened). When that day comes I will doubtless feel vindicated, but I’m never gonna sell this watch, its been a faithful companion on too long a journey.

Summary
I had a long think prior to purchase. I really wanted the watch, but half the time it seemed madly extravagant; the price was about what I had paid for a used car less than a decade earlier. Once I took the plunge though I was enchanted by the watch and never looked back. I’ve had it about 30 years, half that time as my one good watch. Despite the initial price, it has produced as high and durable a payback in daily pleasure as any product I’ve bought.

And it’s rare in the wild. I’ve noticed perhaps a half a dozen out there in 30 years, and that’s living in the Rolex haven of Southern California.

It was the perfect watch for me when I bought it and for a long time thereafter. Not many agreed at the time, but to paraphrase Barbara Mandrell, if loving a Turn-O-Graph is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
 

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Beautiful watch no doubt... although you will be surprised to know that in India (where I am from) The DJ in dual tone sells more than any other Rolex that I have seen contrary to the Sub being the highest selling model across the world. Horses for courses as they say.. Fantastic watch and review is all I can say.

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Beautiful watch no doubt... although you will be surprised to know that in India (where I am from) The DJ in dual tone sells more than any other Rolex that I have seen contrary to the Sub being the highest selling model across the world.
Is that really the case though? I always thought that the DJ was by far the biggest selling Rolex model worldwide.
 

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The bezel is pretty cool. Certainly has style.


 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Is that really the case though? I always thought that the DJ was by far the biggest selling Rolex model worldwide.
The DJ is Rolex's biggest seller, but the Sub has won the hearts and minds of the WIS community. If I just read WUS I would assume that the Sub was Rolex's biggest seller. My post is a modest effort to try to redress this imbalance :).

I am not surprised by vishala's point though; I can believe that TT DJ's do better in some Asian markets than North America. Gold, or at least TT, is a little out of fashion in the US right now, i think. But men have lusted after gold for millennia. Never smart to count it out.
 

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Very nice watch and a very historical piece. Just one correction. The TOG and the Sub came out the first year. Custeau was wearing a sub dated april of 1953 and another one date september of 1953 sold at auction a few years ago. And there are many more. Here is Rolex passion report

Besides the in Basel 1953 introduced Ref 6202 ( Turn o Graph) the Ref 6204 & Ref 6205 for their first Submariner ( Including Ref 6200 for 200 meter) Rolex had yet another references ready to explorer the world as being part of Rolex tool watch introduction of chronometric precision & water resistance, Rolex developed professional watches that served as tools and whose function went far beyond simply telling the time….The ‘Missing Link TOG’ From left Ref 6202 – to middle Ref 6206 – and on the right the ref 6609 Turn O Graph “Thunderbirds” history…..
 

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Great watch and cool story. Thanks for sharing.
 

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Fantastic write up - and a really enjoyable, informative read! It touched on one of the reasons I really love watches - they can stick around for decades and really become a part of the owners life story. A small part to be sure, but not necessarily an unimportant one. You definitely get that sense with your TOG...

... on the downside, I'm now price out pre-owned Rolexes. Which is the absolute last thing I should be doing!
 

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Great watch. I love the bezel. Thanks for sharing.
 

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Sorry for the late reply... I did read somewhere that the Sub contributes to nearly 50% of Rolex sales ( was surprised myself). There is a high possibility that I may be wrong though.

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Sorry for the late reply... I did read somewhere that the Sub contributes to nearly 50% of Rolex sales ( was surprised myself). There is a high possibility that I may be wrong though.

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Chrono24 search shows : Datejust 28.385, Submariner 3,995, Turn-O-Graph 279 watches listed. So, with this database, DJ listed 7x that of Sub, and 100x that of Turn-O-Graph. No wonder the TOG is not seen much in the wild. I took mine into my (youngish) watchmaker recently and he said it was the first time he had ever held one.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Very nice watch and a very historical piece. Just one correction. The TOG and the Sub came out the first year. Custeau was wearing a sub dated april of 1953 and another one date september of 1953 sold at auction a few years ago. And there are many more. Here is Rolex passion report
Wow, very nice TOG pix on your link Stellite. Thanks for the 1953 Sub first production clarification. As with many things in early Rolex history, different sources have slightly different dates. My best understanding now is that the TOG was introduced at Baselworld 1953, and that the Sub went into production in 1953 (the point of your picture citations) and was formally introduced in the subsequent Baselworld 1954 show.

The key point to me is that the TOG was Rolex's first (series produced) rotating timing bezel model, and that it was very quickly followed up by the beefier, and much more successful, Submariner execution of the same concept.
 

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Very nice watch and great story. My question is, how many services has your watch had in the years since you've owned it? Thx
 
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