About two weeks ago, during Watches and Wonders, Rolex debuted its new 2022 lineup... Something I thought you would barely have missed. The Crown, like usual, released a mix of new and updated models, with the Air-King and Lefty GMT-Master II serving as the standouts. Overall, it's classic Rolex, with a focus on gradual refinement rather than radical reinvention. However, this year's Crown seemed to me to have a little more creativity than usual, at least in comparison to previous years. One side has a Destro GMT, while the other features a redesign of the most divisive model. We'll be taking a closer look at the new Rolex Air-King 126900, a model that continues to stand out from the rest of the collection yet fitting in visually.
History of the Air-King
The Rolex Air-King, like the Explorer, is often passed over in favor of more popular models like the Submariner, GMT-Master, and Date just. The Air-King was introduced in 1945 as a more affordable entry-level model after Rolex created many "Air" watches for pilots during WWII. It was a huge watch for its time (thus "King") at 34 millimeters in diameter, but other than that, it was just a timepiece.
Several of the original references will be mentioned (4925, 4499, or 6652), but the success of the watch ultimately comes from the reference 5500, which was introduced in 1957 and remained in production for more than 30 years. Oyster casing, 34 mm in diameter; automated calibers 1520 or 1530; traditional dial layout with baton hour markers; no-frills construction... Some people think of the Rolex Air-King 5500 as a more compact version of the Explorer 1016, which is a more robust instrument. The Air-King 5500 has been around for quite some time, and over that time it has seen a few different iterations before finally settling on the same straightforward, value proposition Rolex Oyster watch we know and love today. Also debuting in 1958 was the reference 5700, a Rolex with a date window in addition to the standard time display.
As the 1980s came to a close, Rolex gave the Air-King a facelift with a new case, a new movement, and a redesigned dial. Some models of the reference 14000 did in fact have markings applied at the hours of 3-6-9 (similar to the Explorer, but without illumination) and stick markers between them. There were other dials that were simpler in design, using simply baton markers. The advent of the Calibre 3000 and of sapphire crystals are among the new developments. Its original 34mm diameter, however, remained unchanged. For an even higher level of refinement, the reference 14010 has an engine-turned bezel. There will be a mechanical upgrade to these watches in the year 2000, when the calibre 3130 is released.
There were two new Air-King models released by Rolex in 2007: the 114200 (with a smooth bezel) and the 114210 (with a textured bezel) (engine-turned bezel). The 3130 was still used as the basis for the movement, but it was upgraded to chronometer standards. With 2014 coming to a close, we will no longer be carrying this entry-level collection in 34mm. And what happened next will shock you. Here at wristaficionado.com, we have an in-depth piece on the Air-history King's that you may read.
The Air-King 116900
After a hiatus of two years, Rolex returned with one of its most innovative models to date: the Air-King. And it's a big departure from the earlier timepieces. The introductory concept has disappeared. The previous inconspicuous expression was no longer present. The 34mm casing was no longer available. The Rolex Air-King 116900, released in 2016, was the largest, flashiest, and most unconventional watch the company has ever made. And now, without a doubt, the most divisive Rolex timepiece ever made is available to the public.
The goal was very clear: to create a watch worthy of the title "pilot's watch." Contrarily, the 116900's unconventional dial wasn't an afterthought. It was inspired by the instruments on the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car's dashboard, which Rolex collaborated in developing. Since the automobile failed to set any new benchmarks, Rolex eventually pulled out of the project. The Air-King is now 40 millimeters in diameter, but the dial design has remained same and makes it a standout timepiece for the brand.
Since pilots need antimagnetic timepieces, the 116900 is based partly on the Milgauss and shares its 40mm case, movement (calibre 3131), and blue paramagnetic Parachrom hairspring. It has a glossy black background with attached 3-6-9 numerals and a huge triangle at 12 o'clock, as well as Mercedes hands, a green lollipop seconds hand, a yellow Coronet logo, and enormous Arabic numerals every 5 minutes. It's hard to imagine anything more divisive than this.
126900, The New Air-King
Our gut told us that the Air-King needed an upgrade after perusing the current Rolex lineup. Because the company no longer had any ties to Bloodhound SSC, this was one of the final watches to have a 31xx movement. And to be honest, this watch wasn't exactly a commercial smash hit and was seen by many as a curiosity at best... Call it the "ugly duckling" of Rolex collections... Therefore, we made up a scenario in which the watch was completely redesigned.
That's right, we erred. In 2016, Rolex has remained true to its original vision and produced yet another divisive timepiece. Though similar to previous Air-King models, the 126900 has a host of revisions that effectively render it an all-new design. Even though it has evolved in a Rolex-like fashion, many would argue that it is essentially the same watch. But if you hold it up to Rolex standards and inspect it closely, you'll see that a lot of the components have been improved.
Let's go into the case right now. The new Air-King 126900 has a 40mm diameter like its predecessor, but its casing has been completely rethought in terms of design and size. Forms first, the case's once rounded corners and domed edges are now abrupt and angular. This is most obvious in the casebands, which are now perfectly straight and flat. Second, because of the increased size of the dial window, Rolex has modified the proportions of the watch by making the bezel smaller (about 0.8mm). Flat sections are still brushed, but the bezel and sides are polished. As a result of these two improvements, the watch seems thinner and more streamlined while also being more modern and lightweight. Also, although the Air-King 126900's casing is still water-resistant to a depth of 100 meters, I had the impression that it was a little thinner than previously. This will be verified when we get the chance to properly measure the watch at our office.
Aside from the smaller lugs and wider bracelet, another change is the wider lugs, which can be observed in newer models like the Submariner and the Explorer II. Another plus for the watch is that it is rather slim. Even while the Air-King still features a twin-lock crown and a screwed caseback, its flat sapphire crystal is now treated with an anti-reflective coating. This is the first Rolex Air-King to have a crown guard module, which is the most noticeable difference. This little adjustment makes a big difference in how the case wears on the wrist and enhances the utilitarian vibe of this pilot's watch. It appeals to me, and I think it gives the 126900 a refreshingly original vibe.
Changes of a same kind are seen on the Rolex Air-King 126900's face. At first glance, it may seem like just modest tweaks were made from the previous 116900 generation, but in reality, numerous features have been upgraded. For starters, the dial is bigger than before, and considering how many markers and indices are included on this dial, that's not a terrible idea at all. The readability and readability of the display as a whole are improved by this. For another, all of the sizes and shapes have been altered. Similar to the Explorer, this watch also has attached white gold 3-6-9 markers that are filled with Chromalight bright material. As for the triangle at 12 o'clock, it also shines brightly even if it was there in the 116900.
The minute track around the outside of the dial is stronger than it was in previous generations, and the 5-minute markings have been redesigned as well, with a smaller typeface. And there is a greater sense of unity. Marker at 1 o'clock no longer displays "5" but rather "05" to better balance the dial and to reflect the 55 on the other side of the triangle marker. Even while it is still different from the rest of the brand's offerings, the dial has been updated to seem more modern and well-designed. It's still divisive and daring, but the lines have been drawn more precisely.
Next, the hands have been resized to better complement the dial; the Mercedes hour hand, in instance, is longer and somewhat thinner on this 126900. Notable features are the yellow Coronet, green Rolex brand with white "Oyster Perpetual" mention, white Chronometer indicator, vintage-style Air-King logo, and green lollipop seconds hand. While it's true that many in the watch collecting world don't approve of the current Air-King, its boldness is precisely what draws in certain consumers. All right, the Air-King is unabashedly unique.
The Rolex Air-bracelet King's was updated to coincide with the release of the new reference 126900. The space in between the lugs has enlarged. All the same, it's crafted from Oystersteel and brushed on the flat sides and polished on the angled ones. The build quality and wearability are... very Rolex. The bracelet may now be expanded by around 5mm thanks to the new Oysterlock folding safety clasp with Easylink comfort extension link; this is especially convenient during the warmer months. Similar to other 40mm Rolex watches, the Air-King 126900 feels at home on the wrist because to its combination of bold looks and wearability.
Changes to the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 126900 are mostly hidden to the naked eye. The old Calibre 3131 has been replaced with the more up-to-date Calibre 3230, which can be found in most time-only watches produced by Crown (Explorer 36mm, Submariner No Date, Oyster Perpetual). It is a Superlative Chronometer because of its -22/+2 accuracy and its Chronergy escapement, a revolutionary geometry that, when added to the watch's improved barrel and more efficient gear train, allows for a power reserve of 70 hours. The blue paramagnetic Parachrom hairspring, nickel-phosphorus pallet fork, and escape wheel all contribute to the movement's continued 4Hz frequency.
The new Air-King 126900 is an improvement above the previous model in every measurable way. This new model has a casing that is more in line with current trends and is sharper, more comfortable to wear, and more streamlined. The dial is similarly enhanced, with more contrast, legibility, and clarity. The bracelet/clasp, the mechanism, and the augmented reality coating on the crystal are all enhanced in various ways. So, you receive more for your money—or, to be more accurate, for the same amount of money (+200 Euros).
Now, I have to state this more subjectively: despite the fact that many things have improved, I'm very certain that it won't be enough to win over people who disliked the previous generation. To this day, the Air-King continues to be a controversial timepiece due to its unconventional design and edgy aesthetic. Although it was criticized by some, it was also supported by many others. They will be even more delighted with the revised version. Finally, for those who, like me, were drawn to the dial but turned off by other aspects of the watch's case, I should note that the watch's newly defined proportions, sharper and more angular lines, new crown guard, and larger, better-defined dial are all compelling arguments to convince me to reconsider my stance on the most outlandish Rolex watches. It used to be strangely appealing, but now it's just amazing, so much so that it's a "watch to consider."
Rolex Air-King Availability and Cost
The new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 126900 has already replaced the previous version and is currently available from shops (with waiting lists, of course). It costs either 6,950 Euros or 7,000 Swiss Francs. More information may be found at