Style / World of Watches (WOW)

High Times: Rolex Air-King Watch

In a larger size, with a distinctive new dial, the legendary Oyster Perpetual Air-King is one of the hottest watches of 2016.

Jun 20, 2016 | By Staff Writer

Swiss watchmaker Rolex made waves this year at BaselWorld 2016 with the Cosmograph Daytona but we will not be letting the Rolex Air-King slip by without a discussion. On the face of it – and what a face it is – the Air-King is deceptively humdrum. The watch doesn’t have use any special materials and it is not using the siloxi hairspring here. Nevertheless, the Air-King is notable for its sensory-overload dial, which might be the busiest the brand has ever introduced.

As usual, the devil is in the details for Rolex so even such matters as the fonts and hands used are worth scrutinizing. The new Oyster Perpetual Air-King comes with a black dial as standard, a surprise for fans of this model which typically was available with a choice of white or black dials. The action on this standard dial is thick, with a Chromalight triangle marker at 12 o’clock, white gold applied Arabic numerals at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions. The rest of the markers are in a graduated 5-minute scale, from 5 minutes to 55 minutes, making for a hodgepodge of numeral styles. Finally, the text Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified is spelled out on the dial, as you can see above.

Other very obvious changes include a new size, with the 2016 model coming in at 40mm. Considering that the older models were a mere 34mm, this change is immediately obvious, even if it might get lost amidst all the upsizing ongoing in many of the models. Instead of the old baton hands, Rolex introduces white gold so-called Mercedes hands to aesthetic changes are meant to more closely evoke Rolex’s aviation heritage, which of course is reflected in the GMT Master series too. For the Air-King, the inspiration comes from the watches supplied to the aviators on the first flight above Mount Everest in the 1930s and the first London-Melbourne flight. In other words, that luminous triangle at 12 o’clock is not merely a casual link to the world of aviation of some Johnny-come-lately watch firm. Now, the first Rolex Air-King watches appeared in the 1950s, with the distinctive “Air-King” lettering still displayed on the dial so don’t get confused about the specific heritage of this model.


As always with aviation-minded watches, the movement is impervious to magnetic perturbations…well the automatic calibre 3131 (common to the Milgauss) uses the parachrom hairspring which is antimagnetic, to be a little clearer. The new Air-King joins all current models in being exceedingly precise, to the tune of +2/-2 seconds per day, a performance that is guaranteed by Rolex for five years. Finally, the solid links in the Oyster bracelet all sport a uniform brushed finish for a proper tool watch look. The old Rolex Air-King, you might recall, had polished bits in the bracelet.

The Air-King of 2016 will have a long climb ahead of it to reach the heights some other watchmaking brands occupy. Looking at the unusual aesthetic choices Rolex has made here, adopting both the vintage look of tool watches of the past and the busy style popularized more recently, it may be that the brand is looking at a totally different audience segment. We think though that the aesthetics will see refinements in the years to come so try to remember all the details in this starter model because the clock has well and truly been reset for the Rolex Air-King.


  • Dimensions: 40mm
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, central seconds
  • Power Reserve: 48 hours
  • Movement: Automatic Rolex calibre 3131
  • Material: 904L steel
  • Water Resistance: 100 meters
  • Strap: Oyster bracelet, flat three-piece links


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