Rolex Air-King has been dubbed the Warrior Watch, maybe because it has persevered since the 1930s to stay in production while other Rolex Air Series have not. Or maybe, it is because it is associated with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) soldiers who fought during the Second World War. It could be because it is the watch of choice for anyone looking to celebrate an achievement. For different reasons, the Rolex Air-King sets itself apart; hence, we shall look in-depth at the various ways that make this timepiece special.
Designed as Tribute to the British RAF Pilots
According to The Watch Lounge, Rolex has a history with aviation that stretches back to the 1930s when explorers took an interest in exploring the planet. As a result, they needed a reliable watch, and most choose Rolex, such as the Oyster timepiece that was onboard during the 1933 first-ever flight over Everest, at an altitude of over 10,000 meters. In 1933, when Ken Waller and Owen Cathcart-Jones had their record-breaking flight from London to Melbourne, their chronometer of choice was a Rolex Oyster. Since the Rolex Oyster had already exhibited how reliable it was, pilots preferred sticking with Rolex watches instead of their standard-issued chronometers at the outbreak of World War II. They loved the timepieces so much that they did not mind paying out-of-pocket for them. Hans Wilsdorf appreciated the loyalty displayed by the RAF pilots. Thus, he released an Oyster “air” watches line as a tribute to the RAF pilots who wore the Oyster watches during the war. The Air-King made its debut in 1945 as a Rolex watch with a stainless steel Oyster case, clear and legible time-only dial, and smooth bezel. It had a 34mm dial that was larger than its rivals, making the Air-King much easier to read. Consequently, it became the watch of choice for the pilots.
The Only Air Series Rolex in Production
Wilsdorf knew how to keep his customers happy by appreciating them in small ways. Therefore, when he noticed how much pilots loved the Rolex, he created a line of Air Series watches during the 1930s. The series comprised Air-Tiger, Air-Lion, Air-Giant, and Air-King. The production of the entire line continued through the 1960s. However, while the demand for the rest of the Air Series timepieces faded, the Air-King remained a favorite. According to Bob’s Watches, it remains the only Air Series watch in production to date. The Air-King model evolved with time. The first was Air-King ref.4925, followed by Air-King ref.4499, a year later. Both were not automatic, but in 1953, the Air-King ref.6552 was introduced with a self-winding caliber movement. It also became the first to include the signature Air-King script font that is featured in today’s models. In 1957 came the Air-King ref. 5500, introducing the blueprint design of the watch. It was only updated in 1989 when Rolex released the Air-King ref 14000. It was followed by the Air-King ref. 114200 that stayed in production from 2007 until 2014. Rolex took a two-year hiatus then came back with the Air-King ref. 116900 in 2016, which is still in production.
A Watch to Commemorate Achievement
When Rolex said their watches are a crown for every achievement, they meant it, and even people believed it. It is, therefore, no wonder that Domino’s Pizza used the Rolex Air-King to commemorate the achievement of its franchisees. According to GearPatrol, Domino’s started incentivizing its franchises in 1977 using Rolex watches. As the story goes, one employee asked the founder and CEO Tom Monaghan what he had to do to get the Rolex that Monaghan wore. The CEO responded that the employee had to turn in $20,000 in weekly sales. The employee did and got the Rolex. Thus, the “Rolex Challenge” began. Stakes were raised, and franchises were required to make $25,000 in weekly sales for four consecutive weeks to get a Rolex Air-King as a trophy. The iconic Domino’s logo was put on the Rolex watches, but the practice stopped in the early 2000s. The Domino’s logo was then placed at a less conspicuous place, the bracelet. Most Rolex watches with the Domino-logo that turn up today are from the 90s. Although the Rolex challenge has continued (now franchises have to hit $30,000 in weekly sales for four weeks in a row), it is hard to tell how many Rolex Air-Kings have been given to franchises as crowns for their achievement.
Used as a Parting Gift
As David Duggan Watches published, one American airline Pan Am started handing out the Air-King watches to retired pilots as gifts. Rolex advertised the watch as ideal for someone with a top-secret job and those who need precision timing. For this reason, Air-King outdid itself as the perfect companion for pilots who know that every second counts. Boeing 707 was the first commercially viable long-haul airliner, and Pan Am was the first to utilize the aircraft. It opened the initial transcontinental routes and brought about the new phenomenon of jet lag. While people appreciated the speed that the Boeing 707 offered, they also noticed that traveling so fast interfered with the clocks of passengers and pilots. As a result, Rolex partnered with a Pan Am team headed by Captain Frederick Libby, who had flown for the carrier before the Second World War. The watch manufacturer developed a watch that would track two time zones simultaneously to offset the adverse effects of jet lag. Rolex and Pan Am have had a long-lasting working relationship. Thus, it made sense that Pan Am chose the Rolex Air-King as the best parting gift for its retired pilots. Although there have been many “pilot watches” by the brand, the Air-King’s relevance to World War II beats the rest to emerge the winner for crowning the efforts of pilots who have dedicated their services to the airline.
Written by Lily Wordsmith
Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith