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Rolex Air King

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Rolex SS "New Style" Air-King w/  Salmon Arabic Dial -... Rolex SS "New Style" Air-King w/ Salmon Arabic Dial -...

The All-Arounder: The Air-King

The Air-King is a simple Rolex with a long tradition. The Swiss manufacturer has produced it in many variants without straying far from its neutral, elegant core design. The watch is perfect for almost every occasion.


  • Entry-level Rolex watch
  • Developed in honor of British pilots
  • 70-year history
  • Reliable, precise in-house caliber
  • Rare special editions with the Pan Am logo on the dial

The King in the Air

Along with the Oyster Perpetual, the Air-King is considered Rolex's entry-level watch. Founder Hans Wilsdorf developed this timepiece in honor of the pilots of the British Royal Air Force. The RAF had used Rolex watches before the start of the Second World War. Their 34-mm watches were larger and more reliable than the standard models used by the Air Force. Towards the end of the 1930s, Wilsdorf developed a line of watches with the names "Air-Lion," "Air-Tiger," "Air-Giant," and "Air-King." After the end of the war, Rolex only continued producing the Air-King and made it available for the civilian public to purchase.
You can identify the stainless steel pilot's watch by the "Air-King" inscription on the top half of the dial, as well as its streamlined design. It tells the time traditionally, using three central hands for hours, minutes, and seconds together with indices or numerals. Rolex purposefully left additional features out, resulting in an easy-to-read watch. If you're looking for more features, however, then the Daytona chronograph or the GMT-Master II may be good options. The GMT-Master features a fourth hand which makes one rotation every 24 hours, helping you keep track of a second time zone. The Daytona is perfect for timing events and calculating speeds.

One Watch, Many Different Looks

Have you spent years searching for a Rolex that's perfect for almost any occasion? The Air-King is the ideal entry point into the world of Rolex. As the manufacturer has been producing the model for over 70 years, it comes in many different versions. Pre-owned models can be bought for less than 2,000 euros. New models, on the other hand, cost around 3,500 euros. Some vintage models from the 1960s and 70s (reference number 5500) can be found for under 2,000 euros. These watches are slightly smaller, making them ideal for thinner wrists. Since 2016, there have been larger, 40-mm versions of the watch available. The Air-King is comparable to automatic models from the Grand Seiko series. Special editions of the Air-King with company logos on the dial, such as Domino's Pizza, are beloved among collectors and can fetch up to 3,500 euros.

Buying Tips

  • Rolex Air-King available for under 2,000 euros
  • Rare collector's watches: Models with the Pan Am or Domino's Pizza logo
  • Mid-size case, classic Oyster design
  • Alternatives: Rolex Oyster Perpetual, Rolex Explorer, Grand Seiko

A Rich Variety of Options

The Air-King has had a diverse range of dials and bezels throughout its 70-year history. With bar indices, Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, rhodium-plated surfaces, and orange contrasts, the Air-King models have a wide variety of looks to offer. The dial is available in different colors, such as pink, blue, red, or green. Especially rare and valuable models are the so-called "double reds." These versions feature the words "Air-King" and "Super Precision" written in red on the dial.
However, the basic design of the watch remains consistent. It has a stainless steel Oyster case like almost all other Rolex models. The differences are in the details. The top surfaces of the case and the bracelet are satin-brushed, while the sides are polished. The case has a standard size of 34 mm, which is small compared to today's standards. The Luminor from Panerai, for example, can be as large as 47 mm. The Air-King didn't always have the Oyster case; in the 1950s, Rolex used the Explorer case for the Air-King, resulting in a 1-mm increase in size. Thanks to the Twinlock crown, the watch is waterproof to 100 m (10 bar).
You have three options for the bezel: smooth and polished, fluted, or a ribbed bezel with raised hour markers. Models with reference number 114234 feature a decorative bezel made of white gold. Newer models feature sapphire glass, giving the wearer a clear look at the dial.

Evolving Caliber Technology

Rolex produced the Air-King under the reference number 5500 for about 37 years. Starting in 1957, they introduced new calibers, for example the 1520 and 1530. The American version of the 1520 movement only had 17 jewels due to import regulations, while in Europe it had 26 jewels. The 1530 caliber had versions with 17, 25, or 26 jewels. The dial inscription "Precision" (caliber 1520) or "Super Precision" (caliber 1530) signifies which movement powers the watch.
The automatic caliber 3000 later replaced the previously used movements in the 1990s. The 3000 vibrates at 28,800 alternations per hour with a bidirectionally winding rotor and a Breguet overcoil. The Breguet overcoil has an upraised final coil and reduced curvature, which results in improved precision. In celebration of the new millennium, Rolex fitted the Air-King with caliber 3130, the same movement which powers Submariner models without a date display. These Air-Kings with the 3130 can be identified by the letter "M" (for modified) added to the end of the reference number. The movement can be regulated via the Microstella nuts on its balance rim, typical for Rolex timepieces. Usually, a regulator is required. In 2007, Rolex began delivering the Air-King with a chronometer certificate, confirming it was certified by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC).

The Air-King's Makeover

In 2007, the Air-King received an extensive makeover. Concentric, rhodium-coated dials and colorful Arabic numerals are characteristic of some designs. The distance between the case and lugs was lessened, and the watch is now thicker at 11.5 mm. Furthermore, the timepiece comes with the new 70190 stainless steel Oyster bracelet with an improved clasp and 19-mm wide lugs. When viewing its profile, this Air-King model resembles the dome of a cathedral. This is due to the domed sapphire glass as well as the large bezel. Typical of a Rolex watch, the glass projects out from the case, giving it a more voluminous look. Connoisseurs call it a "Bubble-Back" case, as it resembles the first Oyster Perpetuals from 1931 due to its domed shape. Back then, the cases were round and resembled a bubble. Rolex's patented winding rotor was initially responsible for this shape.

The Successor to the Air-King

Rolex temporarily stopped producing the Air-King in 2014. It has been available again since 2016 as a new model with a 40-mm case, large Arabic numerals, and a black dial. Next to the Air-King, the Oyster Perpetual has functioned as Rolex's entry-level watch since 2014. This stainless steel watch is available in six different sizes: 26 mm, 31 mm, 34 mm, 36 mm, and 39 mm. The smaller sizes were designed with women in mind, with pink indices and red grape and blue sunburst dials adding a feminine touch. The larger models are also available with red grape dials, featuring small red squares above the indices. Blue or silver (steel or rhodium) sunburst dials are additional options. The Oyster Perpetual gives off a sporty-elegant look while remaining subtle. Whether worn with a suit at the office, or while swimming, this watch goes with everything. Thanks to its Twinlock crown, the watch is waterproof to 100 m (10 bar).
The in-house caliber 3132 powers the 39-mm diameter version. Unlike caliber 3130, the 3132 has a Parachrom hairspring made of a zirconium-niobium alloy. It's unaffected by magnetic fields and can better withstand temperature fluctuations and shocks and jolts than the conventional hairsprings. The Breguet overcoil ensures chronometer-quality precision, which is certified by the COSC. This movement also features Rolex's Paraflex shock protection system. Furthermore, it has the characteristic red minute wheels found in many Rolex calibers. The movement has a power reserve of 48 hours.

Features of the Oyster Perpetual

  • Affordable: pre-owned models starting around 1,000 euros, new around 3,000 euros; gold versions around 2,000 euros (pre-owned)
  • Pairs well with suits and polo shirts
  • Available in different sizes: 26 mm, 31 mm, 34 mm, 36 mm, and 39 mm
  • Precise and reliable in-house caliber

Rolex Air-King: The Watch for Every Occasion

Since its introduction, the Air-King has been the ideal entry-level Rolex watch. Thanks to its consistent design, it's developed into a Rolex classic. Any changes are to minute details and the watch is well-known for a variety of different dials and bezels. The Air-King has developed a large fan base over the years, including the American airline Pan Am. They gifted their retiring pilots Air-Kings with the Pan Am logo on the dial. These models are particularly treasured by collectors. Automatic watches in this collection combine the typical Rolex qualities of reliability, robustness, and precision with an aesthetically pleasing design. Therefore, it works well in almost any situation – as a dress watch paired with a tuxedo, or as a sport watch to accompany you while surfing or swimming.