When looking at the history of Rolex, it is important to note that this is the history Rolex portrays, rather than their actual history. Rolex is one of the world’s more valuable and successful brands, and a big part of that is taking extreme care of their image. This results in a history both selective and secretive in nature.
One watch that you can’t find in the history section of the website, for example, is the Rolex Turn-O-Graph. A shame, because the Turn-O-Graph turned out to be one of the most significant watches for the brand, by shaping the future of the brand identity. The Turn-O-Graph was Rolex’ first tool watch.
An original ad for the Turn-O-Graph, marketed in the USA as the Thunderbird
The idea that drove the watch was, as so many great inventions, very simple. A rotating bezel with 10-minute increments. Upon release, Rolex marketed it as the “simplest stop-watch ever”, and functioning “as a reminder of times past, for phone calls, conferences, timing, parking, and countless other ways“.
Considered clunky at the time, and only offered on a leather or a jubilee bracelet it was not much of a commercial success and discontinued soon. A big part of why it didn’t sell well was due to the watches it fathered inspiration to, the Rolex Submariner, and the Rolex GMT-Master.
A Rolex 6202, does it remind you of another watch by chance?
As the years went by the Turn-O-Graph got faded out, re-introduced, and faded out again. One thing that never left though was the impact of the Turn-O-Graph. Tool watches with a bezel became the speciality of the brand, and to this date, the submariner is the most famous watch of the brand.
The Rolex Turn-O-Graph is an interesting watch for so many reasons. It is a great balance between a tool watch and a dress watch, it helped shape the brand identity of Rolex, and it aged greatly. Underappreciated, the Turn-O-Graph remains close to my heart for what it did for my favourite brand.