The Rolex Datejust is, perhaps, the most iconic dress timepiece in history. Based on the original Rolex Oysters of the 1920s, the Datejust enhanced the Oyster Perpetual line with the added functionality of a date feature (visible through a window at 3:00). In continuous production since 1945, the Datejust has had countless variants of dial, bezel ornamentation, casing materials, and bracelet/strap pairings. A ladies version is also produced, and for a brief time in the 1970s there was even a quartz variant, the surprisingly cool Oyster quartz models.
Retailed alongside the regular Oyster Perpetual Datejust , the Turn-O-Graph was released around 1955, and despite its Oyster Case underpinnings, looks like an entirely different animal than its siblings. This is primarily due to the addition of a large rotating metal bezel surrounding the dial, which stands in stark contrast to the stationary slim brushed, engine turned, or grooved steel bezels, or the popular ornamental gold fluted bezels fitted to standard Datejust models.
The addition of the rotating bezel is probably what kept sales of the Rolex Turn-O-Graph Thunderbird fairly low, but is ultimately what makes it such an interesting and unusual timepiece to examine. Rotating bezels are of course commonplace on diver’s watches, aviation watches, and various types of chronographs and tool watches designed for event timing, but are not often found on casual/dress timepieces. Consumers at the time didn’t really know what to make of it, and more than one potential buyer was turned off by the unusual proportions of the bulky bezel.