Rolex Air-King 116900 Complete Guide and Review

Rolex Air-King 116900

Rolex Air-King 116900 Complete Guide and Review

The Rolex Air-King is a model that splits opinions. It is also a model from Rolex that has been on and off in production. 

Like all Rolex watches, the Air-King has a long and interesting history, as it originally came about as a tool watch, meant to help the wearer.

Today, we have moved more and more towards wearing watches as an accessory because we appreciate a watch for what it is, but its connection to the past still contributes to its charm. At least when you are aware of it.

The Air-King has quite a special place in Rolex’s collection of watches and after several years of being out of production, Rolex revived the model by introducing the Air-King 116900 which is the watch we are going to focus on in this article.

Without further ado, let’s begin. And to fully understand the model and where it comes from, we will start with the history of the Air-King.

Rolex Air-King 116900

Background and history of the Rolex Air-King

For a long time in its production, the Air-King was a base-level Rolex. It was one of the simplest and thus least expensive watches in the brand’s collection.

The original Air-King does not feature any rotating bezels, no date functions, no fancy chronographs, or a tachymeter scale. In fact, the original Air-King watches simply offer the ability to read the time. And this made it awfully similar to already existing models in the range, with the closest being the Oyster Perpetual.

The Rolex Air-King is made up of a number of references, including:

  • Reference 4925, the first Air-King
  • Reference 6552, the transitional Air-King
  • Reference 5500, the definitive and longest-production Air-King
  • Reference 14000, the modernized Air-King
  • Reference 116900, the polarizing Air-King

In 2014, Rolex discontinued the Air-King model, and because the Air-King of the time did not offer extraordinary new things compared to the already existing oyster Perpetual, not a lot of people missed the model from the range. In order to make the Air-King attractive, Rolex would have to make it something new and give it a design that stands out from the rest of the models in the collection. And they did… But more on that further on.

Rolex Air-King 116900

As mentioned, the original Air-King was very simple. It offered 100-meter water resistance, a screw-down crown, a chronometer certification, and a very clean and simple dial. Because of this, the Air-King was considered an entry-level Rolex watch, but when it was discontinued, that place was taken by the new Oyster perpetual model which was released in 2015. Rolex simply did not see a reason to produce both the Air-King and the new Oyster Perpetual simultaneously as they were so similar.

In later days, now that the original Air-King has been discontinued for several years, it’s clear to see that it is a very basic watch. Not only is it very plain, but with a size of 34mm, it makes it too small for many people to wear every day, yet at the same time, its design makes it difficult to wear as an elegant dress watch for many people.

When did Rolex Release the Air-King 116900?

Rolex released the Air-King 116900 at Baselworld 2016, which, for many came as a huge surprise.

Rolex Air-King 116900

The new Air-King is not the basic, small, and perhaps a little boring watch that many people considered the original to be. Instead, the Air-King 116900 is adapted for the size ideals of today, it has gotten a completely new (and more interesting) dial, as well as a more robust bracelet and clasp.

Because of the larger size and bulkier case with the Oyster bracelet, the Air-King 116900 no longer fits into the category of being a dress watch. With the introduction of the new Air-King in Rolex’s collection this watch can more so be considered an entry watch to Rolex’s sports collection.

While the watch bears the Air-King name on the dial, the watch has changed so much from the original that you can say it’s a completely new model. And if you didn’t like the original. perhaps you may be able to give the new watch a chance?

The Air-King model name was the last one of many Rolex models with ”Air” in the name, including  Air Lion, Air Tiger, and Air Giant which were used in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Air-King was introduced in 1945, mostly known under the reference 5500. The 5500 is the Air-King that was in production for the longest period of time. Some classic Air-Kings had an Explorer-like dial, with Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, but the size, however, always remained 34mm.

In 2007, Rolex made the model chronometer certified (COSC). Something that separated the Air-King from other models is that it had its model name located at 12 o’clock on the dial, as opposed to the other models which feature it at 6 o’clock.

Rolex Air-King 116900 – the return of an icon

While the original Air-King has never been the most popular model from Rolex, it is still a watch that has had historic importance. Especially when considering its long production time.

But the modern Air-King is not the boring 34mm watch that you can find on your grandpa. Instead, it’s actually a modern timepiece that looks very up-to-date with the design ideals of today.

Rolex Air-King 116900

The most important detail about the Air-King is perhaps that it offers the same arrangements for resistance to magnetism as the Milgauss. And when you inspect the case of the watch, it looks awfully similar to the Milgauss.

In fact, the untrained eye may believe that the Air-King is simply a Milgauss with a new dial. And there is some truth to that, however, the Air-King 116900 is so much more.

The Air-King has the same case as the Milgauss, which features mostly polished elements, some brushed parts, and generally quite smooth lines with not many sharp edges. This is also the reason why it offers the same anti-magnetism as the Milgauss.

The case is 40mm and attached to the case is a sporty brushed Oyster bracelet. But unlike the Milgauss, the Air-King does not have polished center links. The clasp of the Air-King is a folding clasp, but it does not feature a safety latch. Instead, it has the same clasp as the Milgauss and Oyster Perpetual, which you simply flip up.

Rolex Air-King 116900

The case has a screw-down twin-lock crown, which gives the watch a water resistance of 100 meters.

Rolex Air-King 116900

If you like the Milgauss, chances are that you will like the Air-King, but at the same time, the Air-King is a watch that has never really become so popular that it can play in the big league of the Submariner, the GMT-Master, and the Daytona. It has more or less always had the reputation of being a very basic entry-level Rolex.

Rolex Air-King 116900

But the introduction of the new 116900 changes that a bit. The only thing I can critique regarding the Air-King case is that it doesn’t offer the sporty case lines that you would expect from a new entry-level sports watch. From some angles, the case looks ”fat”. In my opinion, only, it would look good with some sharper and more clearly defined lines as it would enhance the sportiness of the model.

But then again, if you like the Milgauss case, you will like the Air-King case.

Rolex Air-King 116900 dial

A fun detail of the dial of the 16900 is that it retains the same original logo which has been an iconic detail of the model. Now, Rolex moved the writing of the Air-King model name to a position that was originally used in 1945.

Rolex Air-King 116900

But let’s talk about the dial layout, which is hugely different from the classic and very sterile dial of the original Air-King model.

the Air-King is the same purist’s watch you knew and loved once upon a time.

The perhaps most noticeable change is the many Arabic numerals that are now applied on the dial, as well as the colored Rolex logo, which is normally printed in white on steel models.

Rolex Air-King 116900

Of course, you have the typical ‘Explorer’ layout with Arabic 3, 6, and 9’clock markers, but the remaining hour markers go from ‘5’ to ’55’. A 60-minute scale, with interruption of the ‘Explorer’ markers. 

This dial layout is actually based on a pair of cockpit instruments that Rolex made in 2006 for a special project called Bloodhound SSC project. And if you like the history behind a watch, you will love this.

The Bloodhound SSC project was an engineering project that had the goal of getting a supersonic car to reach a speed of 1000mp/h on land. And when you look at one of the board instruments inside that car, you will notice that they are awfully similar. The Bloodhound SSC project borrowed a turbojet engine from a Eurofighter and incorporated that into a car.

One of the board instruments has a similar layout. 

Rolex Air-King 116900 Complete Guide and Review

The markers on the dial of the Air-King 116900 are hand-applied and made in 18-carat white gold, and so are the hands. For its luminosity, it uses Supperluminova.

The Rolex patented  ”Chromalight” material. What makes the dial stand out is the green and yellow color that you can find on the dial. Not only is the Rolex writing in green, but the seconds hand is so as well. Moreover, the Rolex logo at 12 o’clock is in yellow/gold. The use of colors makes the watch a bit more playful and less sterile.

While some may find the dial of the Air-King a little bit busy, it’s certainly an interesting layout, and its connection to history gives a better understanding of why Rolex chose to design it the way it is. Also, the fact that you have two scales on one dial is a question of usability if you know how to use them.

The dial is matte black with quite a rich texture, and this matte surface on the dial contributes a lot to how the watch catches the light. In a way, it also reminds us of the good old days when matte dials were standard. In that way, the Air-King is also one of relatively few matte dial alternatives in the Rolex collection, where ceramic polished dials are standard. In darker surroundings, it can be hard to notice the texture-rich dial, but in sunlight, the texture really pops.

Rolex Air-King 116900


The movement fitted in the Rolex Air-King 116900 is the good old 3131. The Air-King watches were certified chronometers already from 2007, so it may not come as a surprise that the modern movement used is so as well.

Like most modern Rolex movements, this is a tried and true movement that will continue ticking for years. Funnily enough, it is also the same movement that you can find in the Milgauss.

It’s really interesting how similar the Air-King and the Milgauss are, even under the hood.

With the caliber 3131 being a certified chronometer, it means that it performs within -2/+2 seconds of deviation per day. This is well within the chronometer standard of -4/+6 seconds a day. As with all modern Rolex watches the Air-King comes with a five-year warranty, and if your watch does not perform within -2/+2 seconds a day, you can leave it at an authorized dealer and Rolex will fix it free of charge. That’s good old Rolex service.

The Caliber 3131 is equipped with a paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring, ensuring that magnetic fields have little influence on its performance.

Furthermore, the movement has a nickel-phosphorus lever and escape wheel, and it is housed inside a soft iron inner case and dial to further protect it from magnetism.

Some may find the Air-King somewhat thick, and with the anti-magnetic case elements in mind, the extra millimeters make sense.

The Air-King is 40 mm wide and 13 mm thick. What we noticed is that while 13mm in thickness is not awfully thick, the rounded case results in the watch being perceived as thicker than it actually is.

How much is a new Rolex Air King?

The retail price of a new Rolex Air-King 116900 is €5700, but if you know Rolex, you know that the retail prices is consistently increased at least once per year.

Is the Rolex Air King 116900 discontinued?

There have been a lot of speculations about the Rolex Air-King being discontinued.

There are many reasons for this speculation. Originally released in 2016, the model broadened Rolex’s collection of steel sports watches, but at the same time, the model has caused quite a lot of split opinions.

Some people absolutely love the classic case design and its interesting dial, but others just don’t see the point of this model existing in the lineup.

But regardless, it’s safe to say that the Air-King has never become a hit model in Rolex’s collection. While it’s certainly not hated, it’s far from Rolex’s most popular sports model. In fact, we may even dare to say that it is among Rolex’s least popular sports steel watches today. This is the reason why there have been speculations about the model being discontinued. Since it isn’t very popular compared to the other entry-level sports Rolex watches, there will come a time when there is no reason to keep it in the collection.

Rolex production of the Air-King model was discontinued in 2014, but as you now know, it was resurrected in 2016 in a new shape and form.

On March 2022, the Air-King reference 116900 was discontinued and replaced by the new reference 126900 featuring the upgraded 3230 caliber, crown guards, and minor visual changes. The Air-King 116900 was therefore discontinued in 2022.

Where does the Air-King name come from?

You might be surprised about the fact that the Air-King is one of Rolex’s oldest models.

It was originally launched as the “Air” series in 1945  to honor the British Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots during World War II. During this time, Rolex released a number of different ”Air” variants such as the  Air-Lion, Air-Giant, Air-Tiger, and the Air-King. At the time, the Air-King was very simple and basic. It had a 34mm stainless steel case, and displayed time only.

The modern interpretation of the Air-King obviously builds on this long and old heritage. Today, the Air-King can still be considered an entry-level sports Rolex, but it is now positioned more so as an aviation-inspired watch, reinforcing its roots.

Final thoughts

Make no mistake, the Rolex Air-King 116900 feels and looks great on the wrist in real life. With its 40mm, it works with small wrists too! It is a waterproof, accurate chronometer, anti-magnetic, and offers the usual Rolex build quality. Among many, it has one of the best bracelets, at least in terms of comfort.

The watch looks good both with a suit and casual wear. The minute numerals make it really useful for timing minutes and/or seconds. depending on your job /lifestyle/needs, this is a practical feature not available on other models. Side by side next to an explorer, you may say that the Air-King’s looks are far more interesting, but this of course comes down to taste. 

Rolex Air-King 116900 wristshot

A downside of the model is perhaps that only the hands, triangle, and seconds lollipop have lume. This means that it is possible to read the time in the dark but not with any degree of accuracy.

What do you think about the Rolex Air-King 116900? We would love to hear your thoughts and input!

10 thoughts on “Rolex Air-King 116900 Complete Guide and Review

  1. Bought the watch yesterday November 15, 2019 at an authorized Rolex dealer in Forrest Hills, New York (Queens) for my birthday and I can only say that I am thrill to death about my purchase. I love everything about it. If one takes into consideration anything that is being said on the Internet about anything (jewelry,digital cameras, any electronics, cars and so forth) then no one will ever buy anything because there is simply no way to have a “perfect” item that will satisfy any potential buyer. Anyone will always have a negative thing to say about what’s on the market. I read the review carefully today Saturday, November 16, 2019 and I agree with what has been written. It is a lovely watch, that fits my taste, being sturdy and well-made as one would expect from such legendary company. This watch is a “cut above the rest”as it is “different” from what one would expect from Rolex and that is the main reason why I was attracted by it. It is now the second time that I read a review and noticed that it is being said that the numeral numbers 3, 6 and 9 are hand -applied and made from 18 carat white gold as are the hands. However, Rolex official website does not mention such info. Will take a trip to Manhattan this coming Monday to the Rolex Building in order to shed more light on this and have it clarified once for all. As I stated at the beginning I am extremely pleased with this watch and I was in no way” confused” about anything about this particular model as I previously read in other reviews. Much nicer and appealing to me then the Submariner, Explorer, Oyster Perpetual, and others models. Regardless of what has been said and written to date about the Rolex Air-King 116900 it’s a winner to me and I won’t trade it for any other models ( Date Just, Day-Date etc…. )There you have it folks.. enough said!

    1. Hi Dominique!
      Thank you for sharing your valuable insights and thoughts! It’s a very special watch!

      Kind regards,
      Millenary Watches

  2. This is a great watch. I don’t understand why the premium for it isn’t higher than the 5-10% currently levied at the secondary market. The crown and logo is so unique and the dial looks really great under sun / bright light environment. The lume also make much more sense than some day just models where the lume is positioned at the 9. With the lume for air king at the 12 o clock, it make so much more sense to guide your time-reading under darkness, not to mention it feels like it is signifying that it is guiding you towards the prime of your time (rather than at 9 like some day just which feels like it is signifying guiding you to the resting time for the older crowds).

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It is indeed a unique one!

      Kind regards,
      Millenary Watches

  3. I purchased one used “as new” about a year ago for just over $5k US. It had all the new materials including the hang tag, inner and outer box. I have watched this one catch the Milgauss in new pricing on some websites (currently over $8k new).

    That said, I love this watch for all the reasons the reviews call it odd. I love the fact it’s not like every other Rolex out there. I love the use of Rolex green on the second hand and the Rolex name at the 12.

    It makes me smile when I wear it and when I watch it appreciating at about 15-20% per year right now.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rich!
      It’s definitely a unique watch with a fun twist.

      Thank you for reading!

      Kind regards,
      Millenary Watches

  4. I was originally looking at getting the explorer 1, but with the shrinking of the size to 36 decided to look at the Air king
    I think that its a great watch.. I love its looks, tried it and it wears great on the wrist… I am getting one delivered shortly.. I do not understand why it is so underrated.
    I believe that what is considered its oddness makes it special
    will comment more once I get it

    1. Thanks for sharing! It’s certainly a special piece!

      Kind regards,
      Millenary Watches

  5. This is one sweet Rolex! It’s not thin and plain. It’s not like hundreds of Sub’s that you see all over town. Not as big and gaudy as a Sea Dweller either. To me this Air King fits in there just right. Watch has a nice weight letting you know that you have it on without being too heavy. Love the green and yellow on the black face. Also love the numbers, all of them !I believe this watch is a sleeper and will gain value in the near future. I love it and wear it every day!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
      Yes, the Air-King is quite a unique model that stands out from the crowd. However, it splits opinions. Either you hate it or you love it, it seems. We would agree that this is indeed a sleeper. In the future, that may change, as we’ve seen happen with so many other Rolex models.

      Kind regards,
      Millenary Watches

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