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Rolex Air-King Ref. 5500
The Rolex Air-King was introduced in 1945 with a specific public; pilots. Of course, we all know the GMT-master which is a pretty legendary pilot’s watch, but the Air-King wasn’t built as a functional friend to pilots on intercontinental flights. It was a watch that was often given to pilots as a token of appreciation when they retired or if they had successfully completed a certain challenge. Over the years the Air-King has evolved, but it always has been the Rolex whose simplicity is its charming character.
This one has a beautiful blue dial. Blue dials are not so common anymore, they are difficult to find in this condition! There are different shades of blue, this blue gets you thinking of Arabian night, 1001 fairytales.
Visit our store to see this fine watch, among many others. We’re located in the Reestraat, Amsterdam.
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Rolex is well known for its watches aimed at specific professionals. As such, it is no wonder that the house has a long history in specialist pilot’s watches. From the 1930’s onwards, several variations of the Oyster Perpetual bubble-back were made with names like Air-Lion, Air-Giant and Air-Tiger. These were commonly bought by RAF pilots during WWII, as an upgrade to their issued watches.
In 1945, a single pilot’s line was launched to replace all of these predecessors: The Rolex Air-King.
Interestingly, the Air-King does not feature too many true aviation features. The archetypal pilot’s watch is big, with a matte black dial and white numerals and preferably a soft iron cage to protect from magnetism. The older Air-Kings have none of that. It is, however, a beautiful and versatile line of watches that is worth considering.
The most popular vintage Air-King is undoubtedly the Ref. 5500. A dual-reference that was also assigned to an Explorer model. To complicate things further, the Ref. 5500 was identical to the Ref. 1002 Oyster Perpetual, except for the dial. The Ref. 5500 was introduced in 1957 and lasted a whopping 37 years, making it the longest-running Rolex reference ever.
Rolex discontinued the Air-King in 2014, only to bring it back in 2016 with the Ref. 116900. A bit of an odd duck in the collection, with its busy dial with yellow and green details. It is, however, a fan favorite in the modern lineup, together with the equally quirky Milgauss.
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