When Rolex presented its new releases at the end of March 2022, nobody was really expecting a new Rolex Air-King. In fact, all signs were pointing to a discontinuation of the relatively unpopular timepiece. Just as surprising was that with the new Air-King release, the brand with the crown changed just about nothing to the appearance of this watch, which always has had a unique design. The dial of the predecessor model drew its design from the dashboard of the Bloodhound SSC supersonic land vehicle, which was canceled in 2020 due to a lack of funding. So instead of a completely new design, Rolex decided to release basically the exact same watch as before.
But is the new Rolex Air-King ref. 126900 really just a nearly unchanged new edition of this (allegedly) unpopular Rolex? Or is it maybe worth taking a closer look at this timepiece? That’s what I did with both the previous and new models of this Rolex pilot’s watch. Having seen the small, fine details and differences, I’ll tell you why what look like nearly two identical watches are in fact a pair of timepieces that are entirely different from one another.
The 2022 Rolex Air-King: Same Case Size, Slimmer Dimensions
When looking at the dimensions of both Rolex Air-King references, I’m once again reminded that a watch’s size is anything but the sole factor that determines its presence on the wrist. Although both of these pilot’s watches have the same 40-mm case width, they couldn’t be any more different from one another. The “old” Rolex Air-King has a substantial 49-mm lug-to-lug, and a healthy thickness of 13.3 mm. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that this Rolex Air-King is one of the less popular models in the brand’s catalog: it’s got the same case as the Rolex Milgauss, putting it on the larger and bulkier side of things. And the new Rolex Air-King? Well, that’s where enthusiasts are in for a pleasant surprise. This watch with its lug-to-lug of 47.6 mm and 11.6-mm case thickness is now thinner, meaning it’s going to wear considerably better on the wrist than its more brawny predecessor. The Rolex new release will slip better under the shirt cuff; this thinning-down of the Air-King really has done this timepiece a world of good. Its new dimensions are sure to turn the heads of watch fans, hopefully encouraging them to give the latest model a closer look.
Sporty and Striking: The New Rolex Air-King
The case of the new Rolex Air-King has changed noticeably, with the new reference coming in the typical sports watch case that we know from the Rolex Submariner and GMT-Master II. Like these models, the Air-King now also has crown guards. This sportier design gives the Air-King a great look, if you ask me. The rounder design of the previous model reminds me more of a Tudor Black Bay than a pilot’s watch. Don’t get me wrong, this retro, round design on Tudor’s diver has plenty of charm, and works really well thanks to its diving bezel. But on a more reduced-looking watch like the Air-King, it tends to be a bit too much of a good thing, which is why I prefer the look of the new model.
I’m pleasantly surprised in terms of the design of the Rolex Air-King. The steel bezel on the new version is also thinner than on the previous model. And it does everything right in terms of its case, with a much sportier appearance that simply does a great job of getting it right. The case’s crisp edges and prominent crown guard make it look so much better than its predecessor.
(Just about) the Same Technology Inside
In terms of technology, there’s not too much to discuss. Thanks to its new movement, the Rolex Air-King now has approximately 70 hours of power reserve, more than the 48 hours of the previous model, but which these days has become relatively standard. The new Air-King is a regular Oyster model, meaning that, like its predecessor, it has up to 100 meters (10 bar, 328 feet) of water resistance, meaning you can wear both of them during your next dip in the pool. You’ll find the same anti-magnetic properties of the former model on the new Air-King, even though the new reference varies more from the Rolex Milgauss than its predecessor. In any case, I think you’ll find that both of these pilot’s watches are equally up to the task of everyday wear.
The 2022 Rolex Air-King Dial: Small Changes, Big Effect
Let’s talk about the dial of the new Rolex Air-King. There have been a few changes here, even if you do have to take a closer look to notice them. Enthusiasts are going to love the increased amount of luminescent material (the previous model was kind of notorious for its lack of lume). The new Air-King is lumed on the triangle at 12 o’clock, its three hands, and its large Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Speaking of these, all of the numerals on the watch are now done in white, giving the dial a much more harmonious feel. The “5” at 1 o’clock is now a “05,” a minor but important detail that nicely balances out the overall look and feel of the dial. Watch lovers will also find the characteristic features of the Rolex Air-King: the green Rolex text with the yellow crown are on the 2022 model as well, albeit in smaller and more subtle form than on the previous model. Even with these only “minimal” changes, the 2022 dial is a clear, well-thought-out upgrade from its predecessor.
Wearers are going to enjoy the Easylink sport clasp on the 2022 Air-King. It’s a fantastic upgrade. This is the same clasp you’ll find on the Rolex Explorer, the Rolex GMT-Master II, or the Yacht-Master 40. The previous Air-King offered only the standard clasp that was found on the Oyster Perpetual reference discontinued in 2020. In other words, the older Air-King lacks the fine touches like the Easylink system. So when using the Easylink clasp on the new Air-King, you’ll see why this reference that was introduced at this year’s Watches and Wonders has taken its rightful place among the ranks of the industry’s top sports watches.
The Rolex Air-King Has Been Reborn
The new Rolex Air-King is a great new version of this pilot’s watch through and through, leaving its predecessor in the dust in basically every regard. Its sporty case and crown guards look great on this newly-designed Rolex, as do its slimmer, better-looking dimensions. Now, as before, I still don’t quite understand why Rolex insists on holding on to the Bloodhound design, even though the slightly refined dial on the 2022 model looks nothing less than fantastic. Its slight changes which at first glance appear only marginal have a surprisingly noticeable effect. The new Rolex Air-King is a modern, great-looking watch that I truly think will be more popular than its relatively unconventional predecessor. And thanks to tennis star Roger Federer donning this timepiece, this new pilot’s reference is the talk of the watch town. What else is left to say? Long live the new (Air-) King!