The Air-King has one of the longest standing histories of any Rolex model, with 70 years of continuous production. It first debuted in 1945, toward the end of WWII, with the Reference 4925. The model was part of the Air Series, which also included the Air-Lion, Air-Giant, and Air-Tiger. Rolex designed the Air-King with pilots in mind. The model paid homage to the officers in the RAF who served in the Battle of Britain during the war. Today, the Air-King is the only remaining model from the Air Series that Rolex continues to manufacture.
Over the course of its lifespan, the Air-King has remained largely unchanged until just a few year ago in 2016. However, in the early days, it saw a number of small modifications since the original model. One of the most notable variations is the 5500 series, which Rolex unveiled in in 1957. This iconic reference featured either a caliber 1520 or 1530 movement and remained in production for an impressive 37 years. Throughout its run, the 5500 was available in a number of dial options. Some of them are extremely rare like the double red, which features the words “Air-King” and “Super Precision” in red.
The Rolex Air-King After the 5500
Following the 5500 came the Reference 14000. This updated Air-King featured a new caliber 3000 movement and sapphire crystal. Rolex made a slight modification to the 14000 shortly after. The Reference 14010 came equipped with an updated engine turned bezel.
Rolex replaced the Air-King 14000 series with the 1142XX series in 2007. It marked the first major aesthetic change for the Air-King model. The 1142XX series featured new concentric dials, a thicker case, and machined Oyster bracelet. Although the original reference still featured the engine turned bezel, the brand removed it in later models. Instead, they offered the option for a white gold fluted bezel for the first time in the Air-King’s history. The 1142XX series was also the first to receive the coveted COSC certification.
In 2014, Rolex discontinued the production of the beloved Air-King. However, fans rejoiced when the model returned just two years later in 2016. Until then, the Air-King had always been an entry-level model and purist’s Rolex. With the most current variation, the Reference 116900, the brand finally decided to up the ante. They completely overhauled the dial and gave it a number of upgraded features. It boasts “Superlative Chronometer” certification and houses an all-new movement for the line. The caliber 3131 is in fact the same one found in the Milgauss. Still, despite the modern updates, the latest addition to the Air-King line maintains the same allure as its predecessors. For instance, the “Air-King” script on the dial is the same as the models from the 1950s.
The Air-King may be one of the simplest Rolex models on the market. However, this has become part of its charm and appeal. The Air-King is a no-frills timepiece. It doesn’t include any extraneous bells and whistles. It’s practical, strong, dependable, and classic. As one of the longest continuously produced models in the Rolex family, the Air-King lives up to its nickname: the “warrior watch.”