A Brief History of the Rolex Air King
With one of the most complex histories of any Rolex model, the Air King Rolex watch has been with us for 70 years. Dubbed the Warrior Watch, the Air-King is known for its robustness and simple aesthetic. Unfussy, utilitarian and practical. The last of the original ‘Air-Series’ in honour of Britain’s Air Servicemen. The uncluttered dial and stick hands, powered by a 27 jewel automatic movement have made the Air King Rolex a watch that is always in demand.
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. Though there are 3 different jewel counts all due to import laws at the time. 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.
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.
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.
||Introduction of the 5520 the first gold filled case version of the Air-King, fitted with a cal 1520.
||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