About Rolex Air-King Watches
The Rolex Air-King was released amongst a few other air-borne Rolex models immediately following the Second World War. These models were designed with the British Rolay Air Force in mind, all situated as stunning and practical timepieces for pilots. The Air-King, released in 1945, was part of a broader Air collection including the Air-Lion, the Air-Giant, and the Air-Tiger. The Air-King was superior to them all, and its reign is proved through its longevity.
The first Air-King, holding reference 4925, is currently a rare vintage timepiece. Its visual details reflect many of the other Rolex models of the time. It features a cream-colored dial and Arabic numerals on the even numbers.
The Air-King deviated from other watches’ aesthetics in 1953, with the Reference 6652 featuring a silver dial and stick hour markers. These features were then integrated into the Reference 5500 in 1957, which is the model that defined the line over the next nearly four few decades. At 34mm, the case was smaller than was typical. Unlike modern variations, this particular Air-King was not chronometer-certified. It has the words “precision” at 6 o’clock. One of the most sought-after vintage editions is the “double-red,” so-called because the text “Air-King” and “precision” or “super-precision” is presented in red.
While there were consistencies in the model, there were variations over the course of the piece’s 37-year reign. There was a slate-grey dial, as well as a black one. In addition, the Air-King came with various dials stamped with a corporate logo. These were often given as company incentives to employees.
The most drastic changes to the model came in 1989, with the Reference 14000. It posted Arabic numerals at the numbers 3, 6, and 9, positioning stick markers between them. The upgraded timepiece also featured more modern characteristics such as a sapphire crystal and a caliber 3000 movement.
The Air-King was briefly discontinued in 2014, just a year before a new Oyster Perpetual timepiece was released. As a result, many felt the Air-King would discontinue in favor of a focus on other watches. In 2016, however, Rolex introduced a new Air-King with a 40mm Oyster Steel case and anti-magnetism features. In addition, the timepiece surprised audiences by including green text and with one hand containing the Rolex green boxes. While this design choice was a surprise to some, Rolex felt they could take a risk on the Air-King because of its slightly smaller following and lower price point.
The oyster case, although initially designed to protect the watch from water, also serves to protect the watch from changes in pressure — an important component for pilots. In addition, the piece comes with a Parachrom hairspring meant to offer shock resistance and protection from extreme temperature variations.
Despite its more entry-level price point, the Air-King is well-made and loved. Celebrities, including Ryan Gosling, have been seen wearing the timepiece. It is the only watch from the original Air series that remains in production, likely because of its fine aesthetics and excellent construction.