‘Thunderbird’ 6609 Rolex Datejust
If you love a good mystery thriller with countless loose ends, this your kind of Datejust. No one knows precisely how the Turn-O-Graph bezel wound up on the wrists of the USAF Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Thunderbirds. Lore holds that one pilot previously bought one for himself on his wedding, and, after discovering how useful the rotating bezel was, the US government placed an order for the team. Others say the government asked Rolex for watches at a discount, and this was what they got. What is known is that by the mid-1950s, the whole Thunderbird squadron had them on wrist and had put in an official request to Rolex to supply Thunderbird pilots with Datejust Turn-O-Graphs. An unlikely, but nonetheless very real partnership.
When a watch person thinks of aviation timing, Breitlings, Speedmasters, and IWCs come to mind. You want high legibility, countdown bezels, and chronographs. Not a Datejust or Sub. Which makes this alliance all the more charming, there’s really not a lot technical merit to it. Which isn’t to say that Turn-O-Graph isn’t a fantastic watch, it is. Just not an aviation watch from birth. It’s a bit like taking a Lamborghini LM002 on a track day, which I once saw some guy do at Spa (Francorchamps) about four years ago. Yeah, it says Lambo on it. But Sant’Agata makes about a dozen different loud wedges very well suited to this job. And this legend decided to take a tractor of an SUV from the 80s and wring its neck instead. This was a tool very unsuited to its job, but the whole scenario was memorable, hilarious, and just fun precisely because of the mismatch. That’s what the Thunderbird is: a tool not fit for its role, but made even more magnificent because it did the job nonetheless.
But as you might expect of this feed by now, it’s no ordinary Thunderbird. This ref. 6609 is amongst the very earliest Datejust Thunderbirds, and as such displays ‘Turn-O-Graph’ nowhere on the dial. The name wan’t around yet, just on the 6202. It was a watch just like this that we know for certain those original pilots wore. And, I mean, look at it: black gilt dial, red (RED!) Rolex text, dagger indices, red date, and early alpha hands. It’s totally unassuming, not really sporting, and yet one of the most accomplished aviator’s references of any manufacture. And this is not even to mention, a total watch enthusiast’s pick today. Sure, we’ll probably never know precisely how this unlikely partnership came to be. But maybe the extra degree of intrigue just makes this 6609 all the more alluring. And if you want a loose thread to end on, there are even a handful of known Thunderbirds with the squadron’s insignia at 6, only given to pilots, and believed to be one of the rarest Rolex dial signatures ever. But good luck finding one. Until, you could do worse than pick this beauty up . . .you could buy a Navitimer (relax, I jest).
As if that weren’t enough, this is by far the best example I’ve seen in years. The 18k yellow gold case is proud, with light signs of oxidation on the cuts of the bezel that are just great. The lacquer on the dial is even and not damaged. Its lume is all there and seems original to my eye. Even the Rolex red is ghosted a little. It’s just too good for words. This one comes from a well-regarded German retailer.