GQ says a Rolex Air King is the only watch a man needs to own
Rolex Air King Review: Gentleman’s Quarterly Watch Columnist States That The Venerable Rolex Air King Is The Only Watch A Man Needs To Own.
The Air King is strong, water-resistant, and understated. This is a very European quality. When discussing Rolex Air King reviews, Ken Kessler, GQ’s watch columnist speaks from experience with over 35 years discussing and collecting timepieces. He is the editor at large for the UK version of Revolution Magazine and has pieces published in the Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, QP (British watch magazine) and the Financial Times. The Rolex Air King review points to a classic timepiece and popular collector’s piece.
The Air King Evolved From The Oyster Perpetuals Of The 1950’s.
In fact, it’s a slightly smaller watch at 34mm versus the standard 36mm. The Air King size keeps the watch understated yet elegant. Our Rolex Air King review implies that the beauty of the Air King is its simplicity. The Air King has no date and subsequently, a flat sapphire crystal with the older models possessing an acrylic crystal. New sapphire crystals are less scratch resistant. However, the older acrylic crystals are easier to polish out scratches with simple whitening toothpaste or PolyWatch acrylic crystal polish. There are varying styles of watch faces ranging from simple stick dials and hands, to the Rolex Explorer I style of 3-6-9 on hour markers, to the Roman numerals at each hour marker. The newer Air Kings have plenty of Chromalight luminescence placed on the hour markers and slightly larger hands for easier reading at night.
Vintage Air King Difference
Of course, the monobloc Oyster Case seamlessly blends into an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. Definitely, this adds to its simple elegance. Vintage Air king watches are available in all gold, two-tone stainless, yellow gold, and all stainless cases. Newer Air Kings are only available in Rolex’s blend of 904L stainless steel. In addition, the Rolex standard Oyster case, complete with screw-in caseback, is found on the rest of the Rolex line. Also, the patented Oyster Twin-loc submarine hatch type of winding crown keeps the watch water resistant to 100 meters. All Rolex Air King watches have a domed bezel keeping to its simple elegance design.
Also, these timepieces are durable and rugged. However, they never look out of place with a blazer or dinner jacket. This is also true for the the older vintage Air Kings. They possess Rolex fine 27 jewel automatic movement. However, the newer Air King movements are COSC Officially Certified Chronometers with a daily range of -4 to +6 seconds a day.
A Great Start
Kessler conveyed a good story of a 27 year old looking to buy his first serious watch. He was squirming over the price of an Air King. The salesman assisting the twenty-something said this, “You are 27. You will probably live to 80. Thus, you will have this watch for 53 years. No doubt, you will leave it to your child. As a result, all it will cost you over your lifetime is the equivalent of £1.20 a week.” Not a bad way to justify a Rolex, and the Air King is a great way to start. Needless to say, BeckerTime has plenty of used Rolex Air King watches in stock.
Brief History of the Rolex Air-King
First introduced in 1945 with the reference 4925 there were subsequent references in this order, 4499, 6552, 5500,14000, 14000m then last but not least the 114200. The 4925, 4499 used Hunter movements. 1953 saw the introduction of the 6552 which is seen to be a transitional model to the later 500 reference as they do appear very similar.
The 5500 was released in 1957 and used one of two movements, the 1520 or the 1530. At the time, there were 3 different jewel counts all due to import laws. The 1520 either had 17 jewels or 26 jewels and the 1530 had 17, 25, or 26 jewels. The only way you can tell the difference by looking at the watch itself and not the movement was the use of ‘Precision’ or no text on the dial for a 1520 calibre. Or the words ‘Super Precision’ for the 1530.
Being a popular Rolex watch and being produced for 37 years, it means there were plenty of dial variants that were produced for the 37 year production of the 5500. The rarest being the ‘Double Red’ where the words ‘Air-King’ and ‘Super Precision’ were all in red.
The Rolex Air-King was so popular there were different model lines for specific international markets that were introduced in 1958. Specifically the Air-King Date and the 550X models for the Commonwealth. Strangely there was a crossover with cases between Air-King and Explorer, just to muddy the waters even more. So in 1958 the 5504 Explorer 35mm case was also used for the Air-King, this being the only ever 35mm Air-King.
New and Improved
After all that time of the Rolex Air-King 5500, the model was updated and upgraded inside and out. With the new reference 14000 it sported a sapphire crystal and a new calibre 3000 movement under the hood. It was with this reference that the engine turned bezel was first introduced. The reference was changed to 14010 to reflect this modification.
In the year 2000, the 14000 series received the calibre 3130 and this change was also changed in the reference with the letter M signifying Modified.
After a relatively short stint the 14000 series was succeeded by the 1142XX in 2007. This change in reference also meant a full face lift for the Air-King. New dials were added, the case was now thicker at the lugs. Most significantly the new machined Oyster bracelet replaced the 78350. It was also during this overhaul the white gold fluted bezel became an option in the line for the first time. Most significantly is the receipt of COSC certification to put it firmly in the modern Rolex catalogue.
End of the Air-King Era
As of 2014, the Rolex Air-King was dropped from the Rolex Oyster lineup. Air-Kings are readily available in the pre-owned market, and the model has been replaced in the Rolex line with the Rolex Oyster Perpetual. The Oyster Perpetual is a watch that has the same three-handed, simplicity as the original Rolex Oyster Perpetual from the 1930’s.
The 2014 Oyster Perpetual possesses the same durable Oyster case, but now has a Parachrom hairspring with Breguet overcoil, 904L stainless bracelet and case, Chromalight lume, a variety of watch faces, and available in 26mm, 31mm, 34mm, 36mm sizes. Suitable for both men and women with countless combinations to suit every taste.
Rolex Air-King Milestones
||The 2 original references are released this year, the 4925 and 4365.
||The next reference 4499 is released this year, still using the Hunter calibre.
||Reference 6552 is released with the new Calibre 1030 .
||2 different movements (the 1520 and 1530) with different jewel counts are found in the new reference 5500.
||This year sees the variant 5504 released with the same case as the Rolex Explorer with a cal 1530.
||Major overhaul with the release of the 14000 reference and the 14010 both fitted with the Calibre 3000
||New calibre 3130 under the hood.
||Release of the neww 1142XX line of Air-Kings, with sapphire crystal glass and COSC certification. Some engine turned bezels were available in the beginning but eventually discontinued. Still equipped with the workhorse calibre 3130.
||The end of the Air-King era and the beginning of the New Rolex Oyster Perpetual line.
||Rolex reintroduces the Air-King in 40mm.