If you have been next our ‘Decades’ sequence listed here at Beckertime, you will know that we have coated most of Rolex’s most important hitters so much, monitoring the changes which took put concerning 1 period to the upcoming.
The hardcore fans between you may well have been inquiring yourselves why we haven’t gotten to several of the much more below-the-radar watches in the assortment yet, which is a description that fits the Air-King perfectly.
Properly, the reason is pretty simple I have been preventing it. And the cause I’ve been preventing it is that the early record of the product is so bloody bewildering.
I’ll give you just a pair of illustrations. Rolex watches with the title ‘Air-King’ go back again as significantly as Globe War II. The brand’s official stance, even so, is that the collection debuted at the end of the 1950s. On major of that, Air-Kings and Explorers shared both equally situations and reference figures for a though too, this currently being back in the mid-20th century ahead of the manufacture turned the demanding, vertically built-in entity it is these days.
As a end result, a prosperity of info with regards to the Air-King is out there to read across the world-wide-web, most of it contradictory.
But anxiety not! I have delved deep, engaged in some exhaustive investigation on-line and offline and under I have laid out how the model differed amongst the ‘40s and ‘50s.
The ‘40s Air-King Compared to the ‘50s Air-King: The Start off of it All
The very first Air-King watches, or at minimum, watches with ‘Air-King’ created on the dial, ended up launched in 1945 and have been aspect of a collection of types Rolex made to commemorate the heroics of the RAF throughout WWII. British pilots experienced taken to discarding their standard difficulty items, usually Rolex’s personal 30mm Speedkings, and alternatively were buying on their own the brand’s Oyster styles, preferring them for their sturdy build and significantly their much larger measurement and correspondingly improved legibility. Hearing of this, Hans Wilsdorf commissioned a selection of styles intended precisely for pilots, and the end result was the Artwork Deco-esque Air-Lion, with a rounded sq. circumstance, the Air-Tiger, with its tiny seconds sub-dial and the Air-Giant, with a much larger 33mm diameter. The Air-King joined past and was the biggest of the 4, clocking in at 34mm. The total selection would continue to be in generation till the 1960s when all but the King were being retired.
If you ever locate an instance of that debut reference, the ref. 4925, you will be equipped to see fairly evidently that the title Air-King appears on the dial, so why Rolex refuse to accept the enjoy as the first in the line is a thriller. Some speculate that it is mainly because the title is not created out in the Air-King’s personal legendary font. But looking at as parts these as the Datejust and Daytona did not have their names on the dial at all for the initially number of several years of generation, and Rolex seemingly has no trouble considering them the original references regardless, there could well be a further rationale. Who appreciates?
Anyway, illustrations of the ref. 4925 are exceedingly scarce as it was changed the adhering to yr with one more model, the ref. 4499.
Objectively, there was minor to pick out between the two. Equally calculated 34mm, ended up forged in metal with smooth bezels, had related handsets and indexes and the two ended up run by the similar Aegler Hunter manually-wound movement, the Cal. 10.5.
But the primary stage of the Air-King was set from the beginning. It was as uncomplicated as a look at could be, manufactured to be dependable and quickly readable in what ever problem or affliction the wearer discovered on their own in, and it was also amid the cheapest styles Rolex sold—all aspects which have carried around to the modern day working day.
The ‘40s Air-King Vs . the ‘50s Air-King: The Air-King Starts off to Discover its Toes
The 1950s was the 10 years which noticed Rolex enter its most inventive and fertile period as a company.
A time which saw the manufacturer invent the device look at style, in a 6 or 7-yr interval they arrived out with iconic products for Scuba divers (the Submariner), experts (the Milgauss) and, crucially, qualified pilots, with the GMT-Grasp.
The results of that previous piece may describe the Air-King’s relegation to dark horse position. Not only was the GMT-Grasp a much more practical view, with its capacity to monitor two time zones concurrently, but it also stood out aesthetically, with its twin-colour Pepsi bezel. By comparison, the Air-King looked far more like a gown observe and the austerity of its design condemned it to being an also-ran.
On the other hand, 12-months right before the debut of the GMT, the Air-King was up to date yet again, in the kind of the ref. 6652.
This would come to be a transitional reference, just one that launched the model’s to start with computerized caliber, the Cal. 1030. It was also the design which saw the signature ‘Air-King’ font make its initial physical appearance, the attribute script uncovered on the dials of the existing era nowadays. Regardless of that, nonetheless, Rolex even now do not contemplate the ref. 6652 an Air-King, but basically yet another Oyster Perpetual model.
But the adhere to-up finally changed that.
The ‘40s Air-King Vs . the ‘50s Air-King: The ref. 5500 Arrives…and Stays
In 1957, Rolex brought out yet another new Air-King reference and have been evidently so delighted with this version that they caught with it for the upcoming 37 a long time.
The ref. 5500 is the very first official Air-King, according to the model.
Nevertheless housed in a 34mm steel Oyster case, this reference was equipped with a motion from the first family of calibers Rolex designed in-residence, the Cal. 1500 assortment. Till 1963, the ref. 5500 utilised the base Cal. 1530, the same engine powering the era’s Submariner. In the Air-King even so, it was under no circumstances COSC-qualified and so the dials are marked ‘Super Precision’ somewhat than ‘Superlative Chronometer Formally Certified’.
In addition, the movement was readily available with a differing quantity of jewels. Simply because of import rules, individuals styles sold in the U.S. employed the 17-jewel version although the rest of the planet had 25 or 26 jewel calibers.
Past 1963, Rolex started out using the Cal. 1520 as a value-reducing exercising. The latter movement employed a stick regulator instead of the brand’s proprietary Microstella method and also experienced just a flat hairspring and not a Breguet overcoil. As a result, these later on items are marked simply ‘Precision’ at the six o’clock or else they have no designation at all.
There were a number of dial alternatives accessible on the reference, with the most prevalent becoming a creamy silver experience with baton markers. 1 particularly collectible case in point is the incredibly scarce ‘Double Red’, à la the Sea-Dweller, with the two the Air-King and Tremendous Precision text printed in red.
Other individuals ended up to stick to, with black and slate grey faces proving specially common.
The handset developed also, with the now acknowledged adhere hands getting above from the preceding Alphas, and the search of the enjoy was simplified all round.
The ‘40s Air-King Versus the ‘50s Air-King: The ref. 5500 Variations
As unheralded as the Air-King was at the time, Rolex however felt the require to problem the view in a amount of diverse guises for sale in Commonwealth countries.
In 1958, the short-lived Air-King Day models arrived. The steel ref. 5700 (with a smooth bezel) and Rolesor ref. 5701 (with a fluted bezel) were being run by both the Cal. 1525 or Cal. 1535 and presented a marginally more compact option to the 36mm Datejust.
The non-day versions also acquired some wide variety, and this is exactly where some confusion can creep in. The very same yr as the Dates had been released, the arrival of the ref. 5506 gave the model its initially flavor of luxurious with a 40-micron deep gold-plated circumstance. All very good so significantly.
Nevertheless, just after that, the ref. 5501 (Rolesor, fluted bezel), ref. 5502 (gold-loaded, smooth bezel) and ref. 5504 (metal, sleek bezel) all appeared. These used the a bit bigger 35mm circumstance from the Explorer. Still not too negative.
Unfortunately, Rolex then also decided to match equally the Air-King and Explorer with the similar Explorer-design and style 3/6/9 dial, wanting to see if the latter observe would go well with a lesser 34mm dimensions. So, if you look for for possibly a ref. 5500 or ref. 5504, you will come across variations with the Explorer dial which are really Air-Kings, other people with the Explorer dial which are specified as Explorers and other people with typical Air-King dials which are indeed Air-Kings. And now you know why I’ve place off addressing this watch’s early several years for so long!
The ‘40s Air-King As opposed to the ‘50s Air-King: The Air-King as a Gift
The Air-King ref. 55XX sequence and the Air-King Day ref. 57XX assortment took the product all the way up to the close of the 1980s, making them amid the longest-standing references in the full of Rolex’s history. Quite little was transformed on the watches during all that time, bar a swap to tritium from radium in the mid-’60s and the introduction of a Quickset purpose on the Day types in the ‘70s.
But, even although it has been found as anything of an underdog most of its life, the Air-King does have some notable credentials of its own.
During its mid-century operate, the model was awarded as a present to retiring pilots flying for Pan Am—the airline, you bear in mind, which collaborated with Rolex on the development of the GMT-Master. Why they chose the Air-King more than the GMT to existing to their crews is just just one much more item to include to the great record of Air-King puzzlement.
Of course, the link amongst Rolex and the airline, and aviation in general, is an enduring just one and so their association tends to make sense. The connection among Rolex and Dominos Pizza, on the other hand, does not.
Nevertheless, the two have experienced an affiliation given that the ‘70s, with Air-Kings introduced as benefits to professionals of high-executing merchants with revenues that strike selected amounts for a number of months in a row. The 1st references offered out then have been, of class, ref. 5500s and the sight of the Dominos emblem slapped on the dial induced its share of controversy. Rolex supplied some sort of appeasement in the 2000s when they moved the insignia to the to start with hyperlink of the bracelet. These dual-badged illustrations of the Air-King, regardless of whether they are to your taste or not, nevertheless command a respectable top quality as preowned purchases, particularly as no a single would seem to know really how quite a few have been developed above the yrs. For the document, Dominos switched to presenting Oyster Perpetuals in 2014 when the Air-King was briefly retired.
The formative many years of Rolex’s oldest pilot’s watch were a thing of a mess, which could be a motive the manufacture basically ignores them. In truth of the matter, the early examples had minor to distinguish them aesthetically from common Oyster products, and some even shared reference figures.
But from the arrival of the ref. 5500, the Air-King started off on its way to getting to be pretty much its very own entity, albeit just one which has invested most of its time in the shadows of much more illustrious secure mates.
We will abide by up before long with a put up on what adjusted on the watch when the ref. 5500 was finally allowed to cling up its crown.
Featured Picture: BeckerTime’s Archive.