In the pantheon of Rolex sports models, the long-running Air-King series has traditionally been something of a dark horse. The Swiss giant’s inimitable take on the three-hand pilot’s watch has always had fans but lacked the cultural ubiquity of many of its stablemates. As part of its 2022 novelties, Rolex looks to solve this ongoing conundrum, thoroughly revising the Air-King with a bolder, more functional personality that should help to set it apart from many of its cousins on the wrist. The new Rolex Air-King reference 126900 gives the design a far more athletic stance than its predecessor while improving its capabilities as a pilot’s watch.
Model: Air-King ref. 126900
Water Resistance: 100m
Case Material: Oystersteel
Movement: Manufacture 3230 (automatic time-only)
Frequency: 28,800 bph
Power Reserve: 70 hours
Strap/Bracelet: Stainless steel Oyster bracelet
Price & Availability: $7,400, on sale now
Although sized the same as the outgoing Air-King at 40mm-wide, the new Rolex Air-King’s Oystersteel case is heavily reshaped. Gone are the narrow lugs, unguarded pillbox crown, and gently rounded case profile of the previous model. In its place is a more muscular, squared-off interpretation of the modern Oyster case, with broader lugs, sharp polished vertical case sides, and a thicker, more substantial fluted crown design. Of course, the real visual hallmarks of this new case design are its crown guards, which follow the same sharply flared concept as the modern Submariner or GMT-Master II. With that said, these guards are noticeably slimmer than the Submariner’s in terms of overall width, which gives this case its own personality in images in between the brand’s aggressive sports watch designs and lighter-duty sporting models such as the Explorer. There are several hallmarks of the previous Air-King case that continue into this new design, most notably the broad sloping polished bezel, but overall this new case layout reframes these existing elements effectively in images. Rolex rates the new Air-King’s case for a solid 100 meters of water resistance.
Rolex’s changes to the new Air-King’s dial are subtler than the case overhaul, but are geared towards utility and legibility. The modern Air-King’s gloss black dial, Mercedes handset, and eye-catching green seconds hand are all carried over from the outgoing model, as are the unique modernist printed Arabic minutes numerals. For the applied hours numerals at 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock, however, Rolex abandons the fully polished white gold execution of previous models in favor of topping these white gold elements with a revised version of the brand’s proprietary Chromalight lume. Rolex claims this new formula will allow the Air-King to offer far greater low-light legibility than its predecessor.
Rolex powers the new Air-King with its manufacture 3230 automatic movement. Introduced in 2020, the 3230 has become the premier choice for the brand’s no-date three-hand models and boasts innovative components such as the brand’s magnetic-resistant Chronergy escapement. In terms of raw performance, the 3230 meets the brand’s stringent Superlative Chronometer standards for accuracy at a stellar -2/+2 seconds per day, and provides a hefty 70-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. Rolex finishes the watch with a fully brushed rendition of its classic Oyster bracelet in stainless steel.
With a revised movement, a more legible dial, and a more athletic new case, the new generation of Rolex Air-King brings a distinct and capable new character to the brand’s dark horse sports watch line. The new Rolex Air-King is available now through authorized dealers. MSRP for the new Rolex Air-King stands at $7,400 as of press time. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.