An extremely rare and attractive stainless steel wristwatch with white gold revolving bezel and United States Air Force Thunderbirds emblem

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  • Manufacturer: Rolex
    Year: Circa 1958
    Reference No: 6609
    Movement No: N’866’524
    Case No: 388’431, inner caseback stamped II.1958
    Model Name: Datejust Turn-O-Graph "Thunderbird"
    Material: Stainless steel and 18K white gold
    Calibre: Automatic, cal. 1030, 25 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Stainless steel Rolex Jubilee bracelet, reference 6251H, end links stamped 55, max length 200mm
    Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel Rolex deployant clasp stamped 3.71
    Dimensions: 36mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial, movement, and bracelet signed

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Thunderbird, a mythical creature found in many American indigenous cultures, symbolizes strength and power and in some interpretations, creates the sound of thunder by flapping its wings. It is therefore fitting that the United States Air Force air demonstration team adopted the moniker ‘Thunderbirds’, as an obvious nod to their form of aerial acrobatics and their proximity to several Native American reservations. Established in 1953 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the Thunderbirds are one of the oldest air demonstration teams in the world. During the production of this particular wristwatch in 1958, the Thunderbirds flew the aircraft F-100C Super Sabre, and in 1956 they flew at a supersonic level.

    In an attempt to capture the American market with its booming post-war economy, Rolex aligned themselves with the Thunderbirds in their promotional materials, and nicknamed their reference 6609 Datejust Turn-O-Graph the ‘Thunderbird’, placing the team’s emblem directly on the dial. However, it is believed that these wristwatches with the Thunderbird emblem were never available in serial production and were instead only given to those who qualified to serve on the prestigious air demonstration team. Only one other Thunderbird with the actual Thunderbird emblem has ever been seen publicly, the other being a full 18K yellow gold version belonging to Captain Chares W. Maultsby, who flew in the right wing position for the Thunderbirds beginning in 1959, and is currently in a private collection.

    The immediate predecessor to the current reference 6609, the 6309, established what was once a watch oscillating between sports watch and casual dress watch into a definitive dress watch in the Datejust family. Advertisements of the era distinguish that the watch was only available cased fully or partially in precious metals, either yellow gold or white gold. The current example, a reference 6609 is featured with a stainless steel Jubilee bracelet and an 18K white gold engine-turned bezel separated into five minute designations. Additionally, this 6609 boasts a ‘roulette’ date wheel with alternating black and red date numerals, and a silver sunburst dial, both serving to enhance the vividly printed Thunderbird emblem at six o’clock. A beautiful patina has developed on the white gold bezel over time, so that it contrasts smartly with the stainless steel of the bracelet and silver of the dial.

    Produced only from 1956 to 1959, the present lot is an extraordinary example of the reference 6609 ‘Thunderbird’. The first and only steel reference 6609 with the ‘Thunderbird’ emblem to ever appear publicly, this is an excellent opportunity to own an important piece of both Rolex and American history.

  • Maker Bio

    Rolex

    Swiss • 1905

    Founded in 1905 England by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis as Wilsdorf & Davis, it soon became known as the Rolex Watch Company in 1915, moving its headquarters to Geneva in 1919. Like no other company, the success of the wristwatch can be attributed to many of Rolex's innovations that made them one of the most respected and well-known of all luxury brands. These innovations include their famous "Oyster" case — the world's first water resistant and dustproof watch case, invented in 1926 — and their "Perpetual" — the first reliable self-winding movement for wristwatches launched in 1933. They would form the foundation for Rolex's Datejust and Day-Date, respectively introduced in 1945 and 1956, but also importantly for their sports watches, such as the Explorer, Submariner and GMT-Master launched in the mid-1950s.

    One of its most famous models is the Cosmograph Daytona. Launched in 1963, these chronographs are without any doubt amongst the most iconic and coveted of all collectible wristwatches. Other key collectible models include their most complicated vintage watches, including references 8171 and 6062 with triple calendar and moon phase, "Jean Claude Killy" triple date chronograph models and the Submariner, including early "big-crown" models and military-issued variants.

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118

Rolex

Ref. 6609
An extremely rare and attractive stainless steel wristwatch with white gold revolving bezel and United States Air Force Thunderbirds emblem

Circa 1958
36mm Diameter
Case, dial, movement, and bracelet signed

Estimate
CHF20,000 - 30,000 
€17,100-25,700
$21,200-31,800

sold for CHF30,000

Contact Specialist
Alexandre Ghotbi
Head of Sale
+41 22 317 81 81
aghotbi@phillips.com

The Geneva Watch Auction: SEVEN

Geneva Auction 12-13 May 2018