Watches and Wonders 2022 - The Rolex Air King

Watches and Wonders 2022 - The Rolex Air King

The Air King has always had a special place in my heart. A reference 5500 Air King was my first vintage Rolex, and it’s still a watch that I cherish and wear regularly. Many years ago, the Air King was viewed as an entry level to the Rolex league, but over the past few years, the watch has been given a new lease of life with collectors appreciating the watch as a classic Oyster of classic proportions. It is a particularly fun watch to collect due to the plethora of dial variants that the watch has taken on over its lengthy lifespan. And many view the latest iteration to be something of a future classic.

This year, Rolex truly gives the Air King its professional credentials with the addition of crown guards and a flat-sided case. These two attributes are always the hallmark of the sports line and replace the outgoing classic rounded case sides and no-crown-guards that the Air King shared with the Milgauss. Also for 2022, the new watch has larger Mercedes-pattern hands and a glossy dial, as well as an additional “0” at the five-minute marker. The clasp has also been updated and is now a flip lock, rounding up its professional tool-watch credentials.

The Air-King finally joins the Rolex line-up of Professional sports watches. (image: Rolex)

The Air King name was first used in 1945 and, but for a short break in 2014, it was a constant presence in the Rolex line up until 2014, making it one of the most enduring Rolex models, thanks to its near 70-year long run. Hans Wilsdorf created the “Air…” series to celebrate the heroic pilots that took part in the Battle of Britain. Names used included Air Lion, Air Giant, Air King, and on Tudors, the Air Tiger. Ultimately only the King survived with its unique font and decades of variations, double-signed dials and forays into the super league of sports watches.

Flat sides of the Air-King's new Oyster case. (image: Rolex)
Just by adding a "0" beside the "5" minute marker, the dial appears more symmetrical already. (image: Rolex)
The Air-King's Oyster bracelet gets a Fliplock upgrade. (image: Rolex)

The longest reference run was the 5500, which was introduced in 1957 and stayed in the catalog until 1990 as a 34mm Oyster. The 5500 was always badged as a Precision or Super Precision watch, chronometer rated, due to the fact that it relied on the caliber 1520 and then 1530 movements.

The new Air-King houses Rolex's caliber 3230 movement with the Chronergy escapement. (image: Rolex)

Tech Specs

Rolex Air King Ref: Reference 126900

Rolex Air-King reference 126900

Movement: Self-winding caliber 3230; 70 hours of power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, stop seconds
Case: 40mm; Oystersteel; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Black with applied Arabic quarters
Bracelet: Oyster bracelet in Osytersteel
Price: CHF 7,000

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Ross Povey

Ross Povey, the founder of TudorCollector.com is regarded as the world’s leading expert on vintage Tudor watches. Although an expert on Rolex and Tudor watches primarily, Ross’s work covers the entire field of horology and he is currently Editor-in-Chief of Revolution magazine in the UK. He writes for and has contributed to some of the most influential horological publications, including; The Telegraph, The Rake, Bulang & Sons, Watchonista, Hodinkee, QP and is the co-author of the book Daytona Perpetual, a celebration of the automatic Rolex Daytona released through Pucci Papaleo Editore. Ross is also an international speaker and regularly hosts watch events in the UK and Europe.

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