The Rolex Air-King is one of the oldest watches in the brand’s catalogue that is yet in production today.
Rolex originally designed the model for World War II pilots. However, the Air-King has remained a mainstay of the brand’s collection over the years for its simple functionality and durability.
Rolex has upgraded the Air-King model dramatically throughout its production history. But it is something unusual for Rolex timepieces.
The manufacturer indeed refines and upgrades its watch models but retain the classic aesthetics that make them one-of-a-kind and recognisable.
Moreover, the Air-King initially came with an underrated design, but today, the watch flaunts dynamic and bold design.
Let’s delve into the intriguing history and evolution of the Rolex’s pilot’s watch – the Air-King.
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After WWII subsided, Rolex unveiled an Oyster “Air” collection for paying homage to the pilots of British Royal Air Force who had worn Oyster watches during the war.
However, the series included four models – the Air-Giant, Air-Lion, Air-Tiger and the Air-King.
Rolex produced all these models until the 1960s, but only the Air-King version persisted.
Following the reference 4925, Rolex released the Air-King ref. 4499 after a year.
However, both these earlier references were powered by the hand-wound Calibre 10.5 movement.
However, what does Oyster Perpetual mean?
In Rolex language, while the “Oyster” word refers to the water-resistant case, the term “Perpetual” signifies an automatic movement.
Moreover, the Air-King reference 6552 also featured the trademark Air-King script font. This detail continues to be on the modern Air-King watches.
With the Air-King Ref. 5500, Rolex cemented the watch model’s design pattern.
Introduced in 1957, the reference 5500 is considered as the archetypal vintage Air-King.
The Air-King 5500 also housed the same movement as in the iconic divers’ watch Rolex Submariner – the proprietary Calibre 1520.
Interestingly, the Air-King 5500 enjoyed nearly three decades of production run. However, Rolex made several upgrades to the model during this production period.
For example, the manufacturer replaced the radium luminescence with Tritium in the middle of 1960s.
Rolex also designed and developed many variations of the classic Air-king 5500. It included the Air-King 5501, 5502, 5504 and 5506.
While some versions were produced for export markets, others featured either an added date window or a larger case.
However, in about 1958, Rolex produced the Air-King references 5501, 5502 and 5506 exclusively for the UK, US and Commonwealth markets.
Indeed, Rolex Air-King is more popularly recognised as a time-only Rolex model. However, the brand also two Air-King Date versions – one is Air-King Date Steel 5700 and another, the bi-metal Air-King Date 5701.
In the mid of 1970s, Rolex also added another variation in the form of Air-King 5520.
Rolex unleashed the next generation of the Air-King collection in 1989 as the reference 14000 and 14010.
Both the references featured 34mm steel cases, steel Oyster bracelets and time-only dials.
So what’s the difference between the Air-King 14000 and Air-King 14010?
However, the Air-King 140xx family exhibited the significant updates that Rolex made to the Air-King collection. The upgraded features include Calibre 3000 and sapphire crystals.
In the mid of 1990s, Rolex began using Luminova rather than self-luminous Tritium found in earliest iterations.
Moreover, the Air-King reference 14000M and reference 14010M made its debut in 2000.
Here, the “M” means “modified”, and it signifies the updated Calibre 3010 movement that powers the watches.
The six-digit Rolex Air-King 114200 made its debut in 2007, replacing the earlier five-digit iteration.
However, the manufacturer retained the similar underrated silhouette of the Air-King, offering a steel Oyster 34mm case, steel Oyster bracelet and a smooth bezel.
The more significant fact is that –
The Air-King ref. 114200, as well as its variations, was the first watches in its collection that received chronometer certification.
Although they were still powered by Calibre 3010 movement, the references were COSC-certified flaunting the text “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” on their dials.
However, the Rolex Air-King reference 114200 was in production until 2014.
The Rolex Air-King reincarnated after a two-year interval, in an entirely refurbished style.
The Air-King reference 116900 appeared drastically different from its earlier siblings.
The ref. 116900 is a steel watch with time-only functionality. But the watch sports a bigger 40mm case and one-of-a-kind dial style.
Like all other Air-King watches, Rolex also fitted the reference 116900 with an Oyster bracelet.
However, the bracelet is incredibly upgraded with solid end & centre links and Oysterclasp with Easylink extension, making it sturdy, durable and comfortable.
Additionally, the Rolex Air-King 116900 watch runs on an automatic Calibre 3131 movement.
Interestingly, it is the same antimagnetic movement that Rolex houses in its Milgauss collection.
However, the movement offers a power reserve of nearly 48hours and a precision of -2/+2 seconds per day.
Overall, the Rolex Air-King is a versatile collection from Rolex that includes classic models with simple aesthetics as well as modern versions with bold style.
The brand has produced many popular Air-King watches over the years.
The Rolex Air-King has proved its strong appeal in its 75years of history. And the watch will indeed persevere to be a significant part of the brand’s history for much more years to come.
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