Finding its origin in the 1950s (with a name registered in the 1940s), the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref. 116900 is one of the Swiss brand’s novelty for 2016. For those of you who know us, we shared our annual predictions again, but imagine our surprise when we saw this new, larger Air-King! Two years ago, the Rolex Air-King was dropped from the collection and, pretty Rolex-unlike, it is back after a short hiatus – and in a very new style. We go hands-on with the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref. 116900.
The original Rolex Air-King was designed in the 1950’s and ever since, it was a testament to aviation. Rolex has always played an essential role in the pioneering days of aviation; as they accompanied the first ever flight over the Everest, exceeding 10,000m of elevation. A year later, the Oyster Perpetual was used as onboard chronometer on a record setting return flight from London to Melbourne, in a De Haviland Comet. The new 40mm Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref. 116900 pays homage to the revolutionary era of aviation.
Clean dial and excellent legibility are still key factors here. But let’s not forget something pretty unusual; the soft iron inner case around the movement, giving the Rolex Air-King anti-magnetic properties – a feature only shared with the Rolex Milgauss (even if there’s no mention by Rolex of the resistance of this soft iron inner case in the Air-King…). It makes the Air-King a proper pilot’s watch: legible, sporty and resistant to a plane’s cockpit environment (or to a modern life made of cellphones and magnets…)
The 40mm diameter of the case is also a standout feature to the Air-King, larger than ever before. Previously, the Rolex Air-King was a small watch, with a 34mm case, intended to be a sort of entry-level option, with a sportier feel than the classical Oyster Perpetual. Diameter apart, it shares its case with the Oyster Perpetual 39, so we see the same construction with a smooth bezel, satin finished flat surfaces, satin finished bracelet and polished casebands. The solid caseback and screw-down crown give this Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref. 116900 a 100m water resistance.
For some, the dial might be a bit apart, compared to the usual Rolex offerings. Clearly, when Rolex opened the windows at Baselworld 2016, not only the new Daytona with Ceramic Bezel made some noise. This new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref. 116900 was another talking piece. With its numerals inspired by 1940s military aviation timepieces and some Explorer digits, it could be rather strange… at first glance.
It features a mix of large hour digits and minute digits, combined with a minute track at the outer edge of the dial. The applied, white gold polished hour markers at 3 / 6 / 9 can be found on the Explorer (well, the pre-2016 39mm Explorer, without luminous paint into the indexes). The digits for the minute markers are printed in white – and those are the real link with pilot watches. It creates a mix of styles from various models in the Rolex line-up. This blend of styles might take a little while to get used to in terms of intuitive legibility, but it does give the Air-King its own, distinct identity. Regarding the dial by the way, remember this little article? The first thing that came to my mind seeing it live at Baselworld was the resemblance with the dials of these proprietary timing instruments. Kind of looks like it, doesn’t it?
The satin black dial is finished with several intriguing but interesting details, like the yellow crown below the white gold and luminous triangle at 12 o’clock. Below that, the green Rolex name paired with “Oyster Perpetual” in white. On the bottom part of the dial, it reads “Air-King” in a cursive lettering (a font reminiscent of the very first Air-King logo, as a tribute to Rolex’ past), and “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified”, which is a testament of Rolex’s testing procedure. All of Rolex’ watches come with COSC certification, and following that, Rolex now tests its watches for even more precise chronometric rates. Redefined in 2015, the Superlative Chronometer Certification tests fully assembled watches, which now operate within a range of -2/+2 per day. The dial is finished with a Mercedes-style set of hands, another Rolex’ trademark and a central, green lollipop-seconds hand.
The self-winding movement in the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref. 116900 is the Calibre 3131, the same that can find in the Rolex Explorer. It operates at a frequency of 28.800vph and has 48 hours of power reserve. Besides the soft iron inner case, protecting the movement from magnetic fields, the Calibre 3131 is fitted with a blue paramagnetic Parachrom hairspring which is insensitive to magnetic changes further ensuring precision and reliability while in flight. The only feature that this new Air-King doesn’t have compared to the updated 39mm Explorer are the Paraflex shock absorbers. Short of that, movements are purely identical.
The 2016 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref. 116900 comes on a three-piece solid link steel bracelet with the Oyster folding clasp and Rolex’s Easylink adjustable extension links (again, purely identical to the 39mm Explorer). It will be available for a retail price of 5,700 Euros. This makes it slightly more affordable than the updated 39mm Explorer (priced at 6,000 Euros), while it is equipped with (almost) the same movement, the same bracelet and clasp, and adding a soft iron inner case and a larger 40mm case. Equipped like this, the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King ref. 116900 seems to be a pretty interesting “entry-level” proposition. In its tradition, Rolex never decreases the quality of the products and entry-level doesn’t mean being short of features. Besides this, with this rather disruptive watch, the Crown proved that they can still be somehow provocative and innovative.
Only one version, with this pilot-style dial, is available for the moment. For more information; Rolex.com.