Rolex Air-King 116900
Remember that kid at school who was, let’s say, slightly left of centre? He’d sit at the back of class, wearing a neon green and yellow sweatshirt and listen to obscure Swedish prog-rock on his portable CD player. He might not have been the most popular, but if you could say anything about him, it’s that, in a sea of normality, that kid dared to be different. The funny thing is, 20 years later, he stands out in my memory more than any other classmate, and that’s because conventionality gets boring. People are interesting because of their quirks, because there is something unusual about them—and I think that’s what Rolex is trying to embrace with the 2016 Rolex Air-King 116900.
Of course, the Air-King isn’t an awkward 12-year-old with questionable taste in fashion. It’s a Rolex, which means it’s nothing less than immaculately put together. It boasts Rolex’s Superlative Chronometer certification—undergoing 15 days of rigorous testing to ensure exceptional precision—and is water resistant down to 300 meters. The 40mm steel case is robust and good-looking, and the watch comes on the eternally sophisticated Oyster bracelet. So far, so usual.
But that’s where the new Air-King veers off course from Rolex’s usually staid, polished perfection. The Air-King’s popularity has always been down to its simplicity and robustness. It was a no frills timepiece originally created in honour of the RAF pilots of the Battle of Britain, the almost-legendary heroes of the sky who required a watch of similar hardiness. The 2016 edition still has that—but Rolex has added an extra touch of personality to the watch which, as with any drastic change to a Rolex staple, has left some raising a curious brow and others apoplectic with rage.
The dial features two scales: large indices at three, six and nine represent the hours, while the smaller numbers in-between indicate a minute scale in increments of five. Not only that, but the minute markers are printed, while the larger hour indicators are actually applied. To top it off, Rolex has invigorated the dial with a splash of colour in the form of green text for its name and yellow for its familiar crown logo. For Rolex, king of consistency, this is big news.
But these design quirks aren’t random; there’s rhyme and reason to it all. In 2014, Rolex created a specially designed speedometer and chronograph for the Bloodhound SSC, the super sleek, jet-and-rocket powered car created to break the world’s land speed record. The bespoke instruments made for the car will give driver Andy Green the information he needs to fly past 1,000mph safely—and the dial of the 2016 Air-King is unmistakably reminiscent of these highly precise, record-setting cockpit indicators. That’s intentional. Bold and unapologetic, the distinctive dial represents a willingness to step outside the box, break boundaries, and have a roaringly good time doing so.
This is why I find the new Air-King so endearing. Originally inspired by the derring-do of wartime pilots, and now influenced by the pioneers of land speed, it’s a watch with risk-taking built into its very DNA. It needs to catch your attention, do things a little differently, and remind us of Rolex’s uncanny ability to venture far from its own comfort zone—because this isn’t the first time the brand has broken the mould. Take, for example, the Daytona ‘Paul Newman’ dial—though unpopular in its own time because of its atypical dial, it’s now one of those once-in-a-lifetime timepieces.
Some might turn up their nose at the idiosyncrasies of the Air-King, or compare it dismissively to the more conventional models of the past, but the fact the watch is so divisive only adds to its narrative. This is a watch that dares to stand out from the crowd—and you better believe you’ll remember it years down the line, just like the kid in his green and yellow jumper.
Watch Spec | Rolex Air-King 116900
Case: Steel Dimensions: 40mm Crystal: Synthetic sapphire Water Resistance: 300m Movement: 3131, automatic Frequency: 28,800 vph Power Reserve: 48 hours Strap: Oyster Functions: Regular time | Shop Now