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  • Manufacturer: Rolex
    Year: 1957
    Reference No: 6605
    Movement No: N739368
    Case No: 308’931
    Model Name: Datejust “Thunderbird”
    Material: 18K yellow gold
    Calibre: Automatic, cal. 1065, 23 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: 18K yellow gold Rolex Jubilee bracelet, end links stamped 53, max length 225mm
    Clasp/Buckle: 18K yellow gold Rolex deployant clasp, stamped 4.72
    Dimensions: 36mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial, movement, and clasp signed. Dial further signed with Thunderbirds emblem.
    Accessories: Accompanied by original box, original chronometer certificate dated 20 September 1957, original guarantee card dated 29 October 1958, receipts for factory service from 1958, 1975, and 1981. Additionally accompanied by scanned and original press and personal images of the 1958-1959 Thunderbirds and original Thunderbirds plaque.

  • 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. Established in 1953 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, in close proximity to many reservations and where indigenous cultures of the Southwest left an indelible mark, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are one of the oldest air demonstration teams in the world.

    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 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 a small handful of other Datejusts with the actual Thunderbird emblem have ever been seen publicly, with two having been sold by Phillips in 2018 and 2020 respectively.

    The present reference 6605, in 18K yellow gold with Jubilee bracelet, is the first ever offered publicly, consigned directly by the family of the original owner, Captain Gayle Williams, who flew in the left wing for the Thunderbirds between April 1958 and August 1959. Captain Williams, also known as “Willie”, was part of the Thunderbirds’ first East Asian deployment, a tour including Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hawaii. During the 1959 deployment, the team flew F-100Cs, also known as Super Sabres, the Air Force’s first aircraft capable of flying faster than the speed of sound. 1959 would be the last year the Super Sabres were flown by the USAF. The caseback is engraved with Captain Williams’ name and “The Thunderbirds” written in charming period script. As a pilot and mechanic, Williams cherished the Datejust as a precision instrument, having it serviced regularly by Rolex. During one of these factory services, Rolex painstakingly restored its dial. Williams went on to serve in Vietnam, achieving the rank of Major in the U.S. Air Force.

    The watch itself is offered with a treasure trove of Thunderbirds memorabilia, as well as its original guarantee and chronometer certificate. With its extraordinary provenance, and coming from the family of a Thunderbird pilot, the present reference 6605 is an exceptionally rare opportunity to possess a piece of American history, and is sure to delight Rolex aficionados the world over.

  • Artist Biography

    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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Ref. 6605
An historic, very fine, and exceptionally rare yellow gold wristwatch with bracelet, emblazoned with U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds logo, with extensive provenance material, guarantee papers, and chronometer certificate

1957
36mm Diameter
Case, dial, movement, and clasp signed. Dial further signed with Thunderbirds emblem.

Estimate
$25,000 - 50,000 
CHF22,900-45,700
€21,200-42,300
HK$194,000-388,000

Sold for $44,100

Contact Specialist

Paul Boutros
Head of Watches, Americas & International Strategy Advisor
Senior Vice President
+1 212 940 1293
[email protected]

Racing Pulse

New York Auction 12 December 2020