The Evolution of the Classic Rolex Air-King

We all know how popular and grandiose a Rolex watch could be. Each model portrayed features that no one can resist but give an intense look. Furthermore, the complications made by Rolex kept exceeding other brands. With the release of Air-King, the classic time-only feature dominated this collection. Inspired by the air warriors during World War II, Rolex developed this timepiece series to pay tribute to their courage. 

It may be simple when it started, but years of upgrading made Air-King a more coveted watch. With its history of more than 75 years, it had captured the hearts of those Rolex enthusiasts without a doubt. If you are after the classic watches, we bet you’ll mostly appreciate Air-King’s timeless designs. Let us have your attention as we reveal the evolution of this masterpiece. Keep reading!

1945, The Air-King History Began

In 1945, Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, produced Oyster Air timepieces in honor of the British Royal Air Force pilots. These pilots used Oyster watches in their struggle to fight during the war. The Rolex Air-King during those times featured a sleek stainless steel watch with a clear vision of the time-only dial. The initial watches of Air-King were References 4925 and 4499, ran by hand-wound 10.5 caliber movement

1953, Reference 6552

In this year, Reference 6552 emerged and possessed a self-winding 1030 caliber movement. This time, the text “Oyster Perpetual Air-King” came upon the dial, which is also seen up to date. Oyster refers to the water-resistant case to give further information, and Perpetual refers to the automatic movement. 

1957 – 1989, Reference 5500 and Its Iterations

Here came the Air-King 5500, the vintage model of Rolex Air-King. This 34mm stainless steel watch featured a domed steel bezel together with the luxurious Oystersteel bracelet. Reference 5500 uses an automatic caliber 1520 movement and has a three-hand dial with acrylic crystal as protection. This model stayed in the Rolex collection until 1989, but some upgrades happened before it reached this year.

Rolex released new references in 1958 for the US and UK, also for the Commonwealth market. They are the Air-King 5501 (two-tone with gold fluted bezel), 5502, and 5506 (gold-plated cases). Another addition to the family is the reference 5504, which comes in a larger case of 35mm with Arabic numerals on its dials. 

Since Air-King is known for time-only watches, Rolex produced some with variations. It added a date window at 3 o’clock with a Cyclops magnification lens. These references are Air-King Date 5700 and  5701 (two-tone). In the mid-1960s, another feature added more function to the watch, replacing radium luminescence with tritium. 

Some parts were added, such as the date window and more prominent cases, while exporting to other markets. In 1970, another iteration came – the gold-capped Reference 5520.

1989-2007, The Upgrading Reference 14000

Within the year 1989, two Air-King references came out, the Air-King 14000 and 14010. These two come in stainless steel with the 34mm Oyster case, Oyster bracelets, and time-only attributes. Rolex stopped producing the features like date, bigger cases, and two-tone or gold. 

!4000 is quite different from 14010 as it has a smooth steel bezel while the latter has an engine-turned steel bezel. More upgrades came to life upon starting these references, like the sapphire crystals and caliber 3000 movements. While carrying the former luminous tritium, Rolex switched to Luminova in the mid-1990s.

When the year 2000 approached, Air-King 14000M and 14010M arrived. The M, at last, signifies modification as they began using caliber 3130. Another upgrade was the new name SuperLuminova in exchange for Luminova.

2007 – 2014, The Six-Digit Reference 114200 

As we all know, every reference number always comes with five digits, so this was the first. Rolex remained with the Air-King’s features such as the 34mm Oystersteel case, sapphire crystal, and Oyster bracelet but began using it with solid end-links. Following the smooth bezel 114200, 114210 has an engine-turned bezel while 114234 has fluted white gold. 

An additional feature to this family was the chronometer certification or the Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified text on the dial. This reference collection was the first one that has been certified by the COSC using caliber 3130. Unfortunately, Rolex stopped releasing Air-King until 2014 and focused on the starting Oyster Perpetual edition.

2016 Onwards, The Rise of 116900

When the two-year break ended, Air-King came back with a significant transformation. The release of reference 116900 highlighted this model with its unique dial style and bigger cases while maintaining the time-only feature. Its case also changed from 34mm to 40mm. Unlike the previous models, 116900 only has one dial color.

This new release opted to have a black dial and the hour markers 3, 6, 9, with a luminous inverted triangle indicating 12. Another significant addition is the luminous hands like what we see in Rolex sports watches, including Explorer, Submariner, and GMT-Master. The black and white dial is emphasized with the green Rolex logo, green seconds hand, and the yellow Rolex crown.

The traditional design remained because 116900 still came with an Oyster bracelet with an upgrade – solid center and end links. These links help the Oyster bracelet become more durable on everyone’s wrist. The Oysterclasp presents the Easylink extension wherein the bracelet can have at least 5mm more length even without any tool. 

The Air-King116900 used caliber 3131, running like the antimagnetic automatic mechanism in the Milgauss edition. It has a 48-hour power reserve and is also COSC-certified with -2/+2 seconds per day precision.

The Takeaway

Air-King no doubt has a beautiful story like the rest of the collections of Rolex. The milestones and evolutions of this model truly showcased how Rolex has emerged from simple to more complex designed watches such as the Air-King. Plus, it is way more affordable than other sports watches in the Rolex line-up.

Our website, The Watch Company, has a vast collection of your favorite Rolex timepieces. Should you decide to own one, we will gladly assist you with the most suitable one. Get yours today!