When deciding on the best example of a discrete watchmaker’s house, Rolex would undoubtedly be the chosen one. Rolex is a long distance ahead of the competition. The company has taken a silent course in watchmaking history, basing their success on high quality design and workmanship.
A controversy at Basel world caused the reissue of one of the company’s models: the Rolex Air-King. Here’s what happened.
Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex, was born in Germany in 1881, but in 1903 he moved to London and in 1908 he created the Rolex brand. Its relationship with aviation was established during the 30s and in 1933 the crew of the Houston expedition wore on their wrist Oyster watches while flying for the first time in history over the top of Everest, more than 10,000 meters high.
A year later, Owen Cathcart-Jones and Ken Waller made the London-Melbourne-London flight in record time, aboard a twin-engine De Havilland “Comet,” using a Rolex Oyster as an on-board chronometer.
Hans Wilsdorf acquired British citizenship and, when World War II broke out, he was very clear which side he was on. So much so that in addition to providing many Rolexes to British prisoners of war (on credit), decided to honor those who fought in the Battle of Britain against the Luftwaffe with various models of the air theme.
The “Air” series included the Air-Lion, Air-Giant, Air-Tiger and the only one that survived: the Air-King. From that moment, Rolex kept the model in its collection, improving it continuously both in its appearance and caliber. The production lasted until 2014, when the model came out of the manufacturing product portfolio. It was not known why … until Basel World 2016, at which point he returned as quietly as he left.
Until its “liquidation by reform” of 2014 the Rolex Air-King – or, to use its full name, Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King – was the Rolex entry chronometer. Although its origin was air navigation and therefore within the “sport” watches category of the house, in fact it had a much more dress appeal than sports. Some styles were sporty, because they have orange numerals or small size (34 mm).
Last year Rolex presented the new and beautiful Rolex Oyster Perpetual, which became the new entry watch, with a size of 39 mm and a serious look but with more informal touches. That is, they came to occupy the Rolex Air-King land.
The Air-King had to be reinvented. And Rolex has done it!
To begin with, the diameter of the case has become 40 mm, a contemporary measure that fits virtually all wrists. The entire watch is made of 904L steel, the steel superalloy used by Rolex since 1985 with a perfect finish, polished on the bezel and satin case and the Oyster bracelet.
But the biggest surprise and center of all the comments is the face. On a satin black background, numerals inspired by those of the military aviation of the 40s and bordered by a white minute timeline have been painted in white, in the manner of hours.
Numerals 3, 6 and 9, taken from the Explorer, are made in polished white gold and applied. At 12 o’clock an inverted triangle also outlined with white gold is painted with Chromalight, just like the hands. These are, together with the sphere of the second hand, the only parts of the dial visible in the dark.
At twelve o’clock the crown and the name Rolex appear in yellow and green respectively. They never had a different color in any model, and the logo is bicolor. Also under the central screw of the hands is the name of the clock with the same graph that was used in the 50s, just above the well-known legend “Officially Certified Superlative Chronometer.”
The set creates a striking contrast and, for many purists, not very admissible. For those who like good watches, it is a modern watch, which leaves the classicism of the brand to offer a dynamism that was missing in Rolex. In addition, the caliber that moves it, the 3131, is encapsulated in a box of sweet iron that protects it from magnetic fields.
It was a usual shield in aeronautical watches, but now in this world of mobile phones and magnets everywhere it is even more useful. Besides the watch not only has the chronometer certificate, it is that Rolex’s own quality controls make the tolerance of the caliber -2 / +2 seconds a day, much more demanding than the parameters of the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC lab). It moves to 4 hertz and integrates an antimagnetic blue Parachrom spiral to increase the reliability and durability of the product. This allows Rolex to deliver the watch with a 5 year warranty. It is airtight up to 100 meters under water.
Like all Rolex models, this Air-King feels very good on the wrist. There is no Rolex that does not fall like a glove on the pulse. This one certainly does, and it’s nice to put on. And what a pleasure it is to move your fist and unveil a Rolex sphere!