Rolex Air-King New vs Old

rolex airking old vs new

In a sea of hundreds of models, choosing a Rolex can be daunting. If it’s an entry-level Rolex or a perfect “one watch” you’re looking for, then look no further than the Rolex Air-King.

One of the less discussed watch lines of Rolex, the Air-King has been ticking since the 1940s and has largely remained the same, until its relaunch in 2016. What makes the current Rolex Air-King different from previous models on the pre-owned market — and which one should you get?


Check out our quick guide to the old and new Rolex Air-King.


Rolex Air-King: A Pilot’s Watch

It may be hard to believe today, but the clean and uncluttered Rolex Air-King was first developed as a pilot’s watch.

Launched in 1945, the Rolex Air-King was part of a collection of watches that Rolex made to honor the RAF pilots of the Battle of Britain. The rest of the series – Air-Lion, Air-Giant, and Air-Tiger – were phased out in the 1960s, but the Rolex Air-King lived on.

It is without the bells and whistles of today’s aviation watches, but pilots back then loved the uncluttered and easy to read design of the Rolex Air-King.


Rolex Air-King Domed Bezel Blue and Silver Dial Watches, ref 114200
Rolex Air-King Domed Bezel Blue and Silver Dial Watches, ref 114200

Since then, the Rolex Air-King has been a time-only watch, and measured 34mm. Its dial only had a mix of Arabic numerals and baton hour markers, plus some very discreet minute markers.

Over the years, some design variations were introduced: the engine turned bezel,  concentric dial, and roman numeral markers.

The latest model from the pre-revival era, the 1142XX series, introduced the new Oyster bracelet, 18k white gold fluted bezel, and Calibre 3130 — all of which gave a more modern look and improved accuracy to the Air-King.


Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King with salmon dials, ref 14010 and 14000.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King with salmon dials, ref 14010 and 14000.
The said model would close out an era, as the Air-King line was discontinued in 2014.



Rolex Air-King Redesigned

Many watch fans did not anticipate the return of the Rolex Air-King in 2016, and an even bigger surprise came, when it was revealed that it would look nothing like the previous Air-King models.

Rolex took a two-year hiatus to revamp the Air-King, with influences from its other lines: the Explorer and the Milgauss.


Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref 116900
Current Air-King: Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref 116900

The new Rolex Air-King ref 116900 now measures 40mm – the same case size as the brand’s most popular sport watches, namely the Submariner, GMT-Master, and the Daytona. The acrylic crystal was also replaced with synthetic sapphire, which is more robust.

Moreover, gone were the simple dial designs. They were replaced by just one dial design, which had a mix of various details.

There are the Arabic numerals put in place of the baton hands; the Explorer-style 3-6-9 numbers and inverted 12 o’clock marker, plus the brightly-colored Rolex logo and coronet. Rolex retained the Air-King font, but this time, placed it above 6 o’clock.


Bloodhound SSC supersonic vehicle's precision dials
Bloodhound SSC supersonic vehicle’s precision dials (photo: bloodhound_lsr)

This design isn’t entirely new, however. What inspired the Air-King’s new look is the dashboard of the BLOODHOUND SSC supersonic vehicle, which was fitted with Rolex-made precision instruments.

Inside the Air-King, the Caliber 3131 replaced the 3130. The same movement powers of the Rolex Milgauss, thus providing the new Air-King with a power reserve of 48 hours and anti-magnetic properties. Its design and features were made for a thoroughly modern Rolex Air-King.



It’s clear that the previous and current Rolex Air-King models look vastly different. However, they still offer the same promise: an uncomplicated watch with Rolex heritage, at a friendlier price.




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