When it arrived in 2016 the 40mm Rolex Air-King 116900 was instantly derided by the more keyboard vocal members of the watch enthusiast community. It did look weird with the white gold 3-6-9 dial markers blended with Arabic numerals in minutes filling out the rest of the dial. But at second glance, the overall design is interestingly bold and green accents of the seconds hand and “Rolex” on the dial give it a funky aesthetic that makes it unlike any other Rolex model. Furthermore, it shares the same Oyster case as the Milguass, lending it the same anti-magnetic properties.
Photo by Bob's Watches
Right now on the secondhand market, the new Air-King is plentiful and selling for just under $10K, which is well above the suggested retail price of $6,200. But in today’s market, as crazy as it seems, the Air-King is not as inflated as other models with a comparable feature set.
While we’re made our appreciation of the original Air-King known, many men do not want to wear a 34mm watch. We get that. So the new Air-King, although nothing like the original, does tick many of the boxes for those seeking a contemporarily sized steel Rolex sports model. There’s also the plus of standing out in the crowd with a watch that is distinctly Rolex, yet has a look that is not seen in the wild too often.
Photo by Millenary Watches
Artist Wes Lang, then writing as GQ’s watch columnist, praised the new Air-King, declaring “Of all the classic Rolexes I've come across, this is the one I like wearing the most. It's the only dial Rolex has ever made where the crown is a different color from the word ‘Rolex’—which set purists off when it was unveiled. But who cares what they think? The bold logo, the green second hand, the white-gold 3-6-9 markers, and the O.G. "AIR-KING" make it f*ckin' fun—a rare quality in serious timepieces. And even the most uptight collector can't deny that the smooth, polished bezel and sturdy link bracelet are pure Rolex.”
Photo by @horolog1um
The O.G. Air-King script font is one of my favorite details on any watch period. The mere fact that Rolex maintained this in its update makes it a winner in my book. One of my watch collecting friends told me he could never get into the modern Milgauss because the lightning bolt seconds hands are too “cartoony.” With the 40mm Air-King, the Mercedes hands keep in classic Rolex territory while its other design features keep it playful. In addition, I’ve always been a sucker for white gold markers with no lume.
Of course speculating on which watches might be worth more in the future is a tough task, but if you are in the market for a steel Rolex sports watch, reconsider the latest rendition of the Air-King.