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The Datejust has been a mainstay of the Rolex catalog since its debut in 1945. Offered in a bevy of styles, sizes, and metals–not to mention available with a wide assortment of dial, bezel, and bracelet designs–the Datejust is Rolex’s most diverse collection. Regardless of the exact configuration, the Datejust is instantly recognizable thanks to its round case, date window at 3 o’clock, and bubble-like date magnification protruding from the crystal called the Cyclops. It can be argued that the Datejust is the most Rolex of all Rolex watches. However, there is one particular Datejust model that does not get nearly enough of the attention it deserves–the Turn-O-Graph. Specifically, the Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264, which regretfully is no longer in production but thankfully, still available in the pre-owned watch market. Let’s jump in and get a closer look at the Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264 and discover this often overlooked Rolex reference.

Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264

The Origins of the Turn-O-Graph

Before there was the Submariner, GMT-Master, Yacht-Master, or any other famous Rolex watch with a turning timing bezel, there was the Turn-O-Graph. Rolex released the Turn-O-Graph ref. 6202 in 1953 (predating the Submariner by a few months,) as its first serially-produced watch with a rotating bezel.

Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264
The Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264

The bezel, which featured a black aluminum insert at the time, was graduated to 60 units to allow wearers to time an event. All the wearer had to do was turn the bezel to align the zero mark with either the hour, minute, or seconds hand as the starting point. Then the watch could record how many hours, minutes, or seconds had elapsed since the start of the event.

While the maiden reference was a stand-alone model, the Turn-O-Graph became a part of the Datejust family the following year when Rolex released the ref. 6309. As such, a metal bezel replaced the aluminum one and the dial benefitted from the addition of a date window and customary accompanying Cyclops lens. The name “TURN-O-GRAPH” was dropped from the dial, giving prominence to the Datejust moniker. Since then, the watch became officially known as the Datejust Turn-O-Graph. In the U.S. the watch also picked up the “Thunderbird” nickname thanks to its association with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron in the late-1950s.

Rolex Thunderbird Turn-O-Graph ref. 16253
Turn-O-Graph ref. 16253

Rolex continued to produce the Datejust Turn-O-Graph, releasing a new generation every decade or so.

  • 1959 – Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 1625
  • 1977 – Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 16250, ref. 16253, and ref. 16258
  • 1988 – Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 16264 and ref. 16263
  • 2004 – Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264, ref. 116263, and ref. 116261

The Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264

In 2004, Rolex released the Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264, which would turn out to be the last generation of this particular model. As is tradition for all Datejust Turn-O-Graph watches, the reference 116264 sports a 36mm Oyster case. On top of that case is the characteristic turning bezel with a 60-unit scale after which the watch is named. This particular variant pairs a stainless steel case with a white gold fluted bezel. The 11626x generation of Turn-O-Graph watches was the first to include fluted bezels, which look more like the ones found on standard Datejust watches–but retaining the necessary markings for timing.

Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264
The Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264 with steel case and white gold bezel

As a Datejust watch, the dial of the ref. 116264 of course includes the signature date window at 3 o’clock. A great design touch is the matching red date wheel and red seconds hand. Also new to this reference family is the return of the “Turn-O-Graph” name to the dial, also in red, naturally. Shielding the dial is a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, complete with the obligatory Cyclops bubble lens.

The watch comes with the choice of the sportier three-link Oyster bracelet or the dressier five-link Jubilee bracelet, both improved with solid end links. The Oyster bracelet further benefits from the Easylink extension system for quick micro-adjustments without the need for tools.

The Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264 runs on the ultra-dependable Rolex Caliber 3135 automatic movement, manufactured in-house, with around 48 hours of power reserve. Like all modern Datejusts, this Turn-O-Graph is water-resistant to 100 meters thanks in part to the screw-down winding crown and screw-down caseback.

Aside from the Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264, there’s also the two-tone Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 116263 that combines yellow gold and stainless steel and the two-tone Datejust Turn-O-Graph ref. 116261 that combines Everose gold and stainless steel.

The End of the Turn-O-Graph

As mentioned, Rolex no longer produces the Turn-O-Graph, dropping it from its catalog in 2011. Current-production Datejust watches are now only available with fixed bezels.

However, if you’re looking for a Datejust watch that offers something a little different than the standard models, then a pre-owned Turn-O-Graph may be just what you need. By combining the dressiness of a fluted gold bezel with a turning timing scale and sporty dial, the Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264 offers a bridge between a classic Datejust and a Rolex tool watch.

Written by

Celine Simon

Celine is a freelance luxury watch writer who has enjoyed working in the horology industry for over ten years. Like many of the high-end timepieces she writes about, she comes from Switzerland—the heart of fine watchmaking. From Singapore to Montreal to Geneva to Dubai, Celine has lived all over the world but now calls Southern California home.