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Rolex Air-King: Paying Tribute To The Pioneers Of Flight

Rolex Air-King: Paying Tribute To The Pioneers Of Flight

the Rolex Air-King wristwatch

The new version might be the popular one. But, the Rolex Air-King is not a newcomer in the Rolex catalog. In fact, the Rolex Air-King model remains one of the oldest names still existing in Rolex’s catalog today. 

With its roots firmly planted in the world of dress watches, it gets tricky to reckon this tool watch with the aviation world. So, here is an in-depth look at this often-overlooked Rolex timepiece with details on its distinguishing aviation features and origin. 

The Rolex Air-King: Reigning In The Air And Beyond

the Rolex Air-King; reigning in the air and beyond

This Rolex model witnessed a major redesign to be what it is today. Presently, the modern Rolex Air-King takes its place as one of the Swiss manufacturer’s professional tool watches. But, it has not always filled that position. 

Truly, this tool watch technically served in its early years as a pilot’s watch. Yet, changes made to it over time made it a more prominent option for entry-level Rolex collectors. This is because of its classic design and accessible price range. Over the decades, this tool watch became more of a cult favorite on the periphery. It never grew enough to be a mainstream piece adored and sought after by watch lovers.

More so, the presence of the Rolex Air-King in the brand’s catalog spans several decades. In fact, the very first instance of its presence dates all the way back to the 1940s. In all those years, this timepiece got some incredible iterations, upgrades, and innovations. So, this classic and elegant line never stopped to excite its lovers. 

In addition, there was a major shift in positioning by Rolex. After almost 7 decades of production, the brand stopped producing this line of tool watches. That helped Rolex to completely improve the design in favor of turning it back to its actual, tool-watch origins.

In this extensive post, we’ll walk you through the storied history of this tool watch and the significance it holds. Also, we will talk about its quality and value. Again, we will outline all of the features, options, and upgrades this watch experienced over the years. 

So, are you considering investing in a Rolex Air-King? Here is just about everything that you’ll need to make an informed decision compiled in this post. Dive in! 

Brief Rundown Of The Rolex Air-King Wrist Watch Specifications 

  • Case Size: 40mm
  • Dial Color: Black
  • Materials: Oystersteel (904L stainless steel)
  • Bezel: Fixed, Stainless Steel, Smooth Style
  • Features: Time + Running Seconds; Internal Antimagnetic Shield
  • Crystal: Sapphire (Flat)
  • Strap/Bracelet Type: Oyster bracelet
  • Movement: Rolex Caliber 3131
  • Water Resistance: 100 Meters / 330 Feet
  • Production Years: 2016 – Present
  • Reference Number: 116900

5 Things You Must Know About The Air-King Wristwatch

the Rolex Air-King timepiece

Your encounter with the Rolex Air-King wristwatch will be incomplete if you do not know these 5 things. So, before we plunge into the extensive history of the Rolex Air-King, here are 5 “must-know” facts about this tool watch.  

  • An Homage To WWII Pilots

While WWII raged on and directly after it, Rolex introduced a line of ‘Air’ watch models. This line of timepieces came in as an homage to the British Royal Air Force and its pilots. These models included the Air-Lion, Air-Giant, Air-Tiger, and Air-King, and many others. However, the Air-King model is the only one still in production to this present day.

  • Always A Lover Of The Big Sizes

In 1958, the Rolex Air-King had its first launch as a standalone collection. That year, the watch clocked in at a 34mm case size. By the standards of present-day watches, that is quite a small size. But, back then, it was quite the large size. 

Moving forward, after the remodeling of the watch and its re-release in 2016, it appeared in an entirely new form. Again, one of its most notable changes will be a larger 40mm case size. Obviously, the Air-King loves to do it big regardless of the standards of the time. 

  • As Old As Methuselah 

Truly, the very first call of the Air-King as a name dates back to 1945. Yet, the Air-King wrist watch collection as we know it presently, did not join Rolex’s lineup until 1958. According to Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex founder, he initially introduced the Air-King line as an homage to pilots. There is that high likelihood that he had no idea it would evolve into one of the brand’s most enduring watch models.

  • 2016: A Year Of Revival For The Air-King Model

Not many Rolex lovers know that the Air-King model had a brief period when it was discontinued. This period lasted a couple of years from 2014 to 2016 when Rolex reintroduced the Air-King model. This time, the watch model came in the form of the reference 116900. 

What was the key difference this time? The new version dumps its previous affordable and classic entry-level Rolex with a 34mm case reputation. It is now an acceptable aviation tool watch with a 40mm antimagnetic case adopted from the Milgauss design. 

  • An Anti-magnetic Air-King

The powerhouse of the new Air-King ref. 116900 is the Rolex Caliber 3131. This movement equips it with a technical internal shield that protects it from magnetic fields. Therefore, both the case and the bracelet of the new Air-King model are replicas of the ones found on the Milgauss. So, just like the Milgauss, this Rolex’s aviation watch model boasts the same legendary antimagnetic qualities as its scientists’ version.

History Of The Rolex Air-King Model 

From the various titbits we provided so far, you already know the first appearance of this watch model came in 1945. Then, the Air-King model was part of a bigger collection of watches from Rolex to respect the RAF pilots of the Battle of Britain. This collection of watches earmarked various Air-themed watches as listed above. 

Notably, the Air-King model remains the only part of this collection that is still in production today. Another interesting fact is that Rolex does not consider these early versions as the official start of the Air-King model.

the Rolex Air-King model

Specifically, the first references to carry the “Air-King” name were the ref. 4925, ref. 4499, and ref. 6652. All of these references are relatively limited and sought-after presently. Nevertheless, not all of the examples of this reference featured the Air-King name on their dials. 

Moreover, for Rolex, these watches never existed as part of the Air-King model. Instead, the manufacturer prefers to appraise them as just standard Oyster Perpetual timepieces.

Taking The Rolex Air-King Apart Bit By Bit

the Rolex Air-King in the slightest details

Take away a few vintage Rolex Air-King Date references, and you’ll discover how much of a straightforward time-only watch the Air-King is. In this section of this post, we’ll closely scour through the different parts and options available on the Air-King model. 

You will discover that dial styles have appeared in dramatically varying versions. From the stark black types to the silver dials with traditional stick indexes, then, the brightly colored diamond-set dials. Yet, the core functionality of the Rolex Air-King remains largely unchanged in all its years of production.

  • What The Rolex Air-King Is Made Of?

With the peculiarity of a tiny handful of vintage references, the Rolex Air-King mostly comes in stainless steel. Presently, Rolex utilizes its proprietary 904L stainless steel. This material is not merely incredibly strong but also highly corrosion-resistant. 

But, during the awfully long production stint of the ref. 5500, we noticed some solid gold, two-tone, and even gold-capped versions. Afterward, much later on, some models of the Air-King ref. 114200 were available with an improved fluted bezel. This bezel came in 18k white gold material.

  • Size Variants Of The Air-King Model Over Time

Specifically, the new Rolex Air-King clocks in at a 40mm case size. That is one large size compared to the 34mm sizing that the model used on the Air-King case from 1958 until 2014. 

Though, back in the day, the 34mm sizing was reasonably large for a wristwatch. Yet, presently, even the 40mm is still average. Interestingly, many watch enthusiasts and collectors now see Rolex’s 36 mm-sized watches as small. Funny how time flies.

  • Choice Of Bezels For The Air-King Wristwatch

The Air-King model popularly adopted the plainness of a smooth bezel. For decades, in fact, this bezel type is practically all you could get. The only exceptions were some gold fluted bezels. 

Finally, we arrived at the ref. 14000 era and we had an engine-turned bezel option. It came in as an addition to an 18k white gold fluted option. Presently, the new 40mm Air-King wrist watch only comes in a smooth, stainless steel bezel version.

  • Dialed In Varieties

In all its years of existence, the Rolex Air-King continuously offers several dial color choices. Among the earliest options were watches practically fitted entirely with either black, gray, silver, or blue dials.

the Rolex Air-King dial

And when the ref. 14000 displaced the precious ref. 5500, we got new colors. The new colors include white and salmon alongside the classic blue and black. Presently, the modern Air-King is only available with a black dial. However, it does feature a yellow crown and bright green printed Rolex label.

  • Classically Braced 

It has always been the classic 3-piece Oyster bracelet option for the Air-King wristwatch. Still, particular vintage varieties come fitted with the dressier Jubilee bracelet. Aesthetically, the bracelet always fits the Oyster case, as well. Plus, it is a product of the same solid and durable alloys. Meanwhile, the existing ref. 116900 also features Rolex’s latest Oysterclasp. This Oysterclasp comes finished with the easy-to-use 5mm Easylink extension system.

  • Rolex Air-King Movements

Note that the movements inside the Rolex Air-King only became COSC certified with the ref. 114200. This ref housed the cal. 3130 as well. 

Before that, other Air-King watches only had marks of either ‘Super Precision’ or ‘Precision’ on their dials. This was because they lacked chronometer certification. Over the years of its production, here are the movements used from the 1950’s version until now.

  • Caliber 1520
  • Caliber 1530
  • Caliber 3000
  • Caliber 3130 (with and without COSC-certification)
  • Caliber 3131 (with COSC-certification)

Styling Your Rolex Air-King Wristwatch

Most fans of Rolex watches admit that the Rolex Air-King wristwatch is such an easy one to style. The Rolex Air-King model presents watches that easily fit into your everyday wardrobe. Also, this Rolex model historically comes in stainless steel (with a few luxe varieties) making them a perfectly understated accessory. They can effortlessly switch from office wear to casual outfits for errands and weekend adventures. 

Below are a few ideas on how you can style your Rolex Air-King wrist watch exquisitely and flawlessly.

  • Weekend Adventures With Your Vintage Air-King

Try out the silver dial ref. 5500 (a casual and flexible option) as your companion for weekend activities. Is it brunch time or time for some rooftop drinks with friends, here is a faultless companion for you. 

Remember, it’s a Rolex. So, it’s always going to steal glances. However, the understated design permits you to match it with your favorite t-shirt and jeans. If you may, a fun-colored pair of sneakers can be the bold touch to your look.

  • Luxe Varieties For Luxurious Looks

Go for the luxe dial version for a luxurious appearance. Ladies, some diamond studs or a diamond tennis bracelet works well with such versions for a ladies’ night out. And the classic gents can pair a diamond-set Rolex Air-King wrist watch with a pair of dark wash jeans, a crisp white shirt, and a dark blazer. What you get is an effortlessly stunning and elevated outfit in all.

Conclusion: Variety And Flexibility As You Like It

Are you looking for a watch that turns heads and starts conversations despite an understated design? Then, the Rolex Air-King wristwatch is what you need. You can either strap this timepiece on with a suit and tie to work or with jeans and a t-shirt for the weekend. Regardless, it gives you that classic gent look. And for ladies, your styling options are limitless.

Variety and flexibility offered on a platter; this modern Rolex Air-King model is yours for the taking. Here is to paying tribute to the pioneers of flight. Cheers!


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