Simplicity, Thou Art a Jewel
The Rolex Air-King is arguably the simplest of the Rolex watches seen over the last sixty or seventy years – a three-hander with no date. (Before you protest, yes, a date version was introduced in 1958. That watch also made use of the 35mm Explorer case, the only Air-King reference larger than the standard 34mm.) The Air-King currently shares the honor for longest lasting Rolex model in production with the Datejust.
Rolex introduced the Air King, ref. 4925, in 1945. During World War II, RAF (Royal Air Force) pilots had been wearing Oyster Perpetuals in lieu of their officially-issued (lower quality) watches. When word of this fact filtered through to Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, he created a line of “Air-“ themed watches to honor those brave pilots. The watches featured names like Air-Lion, Air-Tiger, and Air-Giant. The Air-King was part of this line of “Air-“ named watches.
At 34mm, the Air-King was big when it was released. But these days commentators often maintain it’s sized more for a lady’s wrist than a man’s. Still, admirers are legion, especially those who cite the watch’s longevity on the Rolex roster and its pilot watch heritage.
Engine-turned bezels came and went. Numerous dials have adorned the watch, including an Explorer-like 3-6-9 dial, and various colors along with differing minute and hour markers. Movements were constantly improved (a longstanding Rolex habit). A sapphire crystal was added in 1994, the year that marked the first significant changes to the watch (besides ongoing dial variations) in 37 years.
1994 also saw the Air-King’s engine upgraded to the calibre 3000, which was switched out for the 3130 six years later. Finally, in 2007, the Air-King achieved what most of its brethren had achieved decades earlier: COSC certification.
The rumor these days is the Air-King has been discontinued, but there are numerous recent and vintage pre-owned examples available. In fact, owing to the less-than popular current status of the reference, you should be able to find new pieces at your local authorized dealer.
My advice to you? Get one before they get hot, now that they’re almost gone.
Ever wonder about the backstory of your favorite Rolex? Well, stick with us. This is the seventh in a series of posts featuring histories of significant Rolex models. In all, Rolex has introduced nearly three dozen models since 1950. Over the next several weeks, we’ll touch on each. You’ll find all the reference numbers connected with each model here.