March 16, 2016
by David Bredan
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King was gone – did you notice that? We are sure many of you did, at the least, when we covered its replacement, the 2015 Oyster Perpetual at BaselWorld last year… But worry not, if you missed its brief absence, as the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King is back for Baselworld 2016, and in a few interesting ways. While it may not have the sex appeal or luxury cache as pieces like the new Rolex Daytona or Rolex Datejust 41, it’s actually been more of a surprise for a few of us, as it is not exactly something we would have expected to see from Rolex.
To begin with, Rolex traditionally changes and updates only when they feel it’s truly necessary – and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King is no exception to that commendable rule. One complaint that was arguably more frequently levied against the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King was that the 34mm wide case version it was offered in were just “not large enough” for contemporary trends. Well, instead of just releasing an “upsized” model, Rolex dropped the old model, and two years later released a fresh new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King that addressed that issue and brings one of the more entry level models in the Rolex line-up back with a much welcomed 40mm-wide case.
Citing the watch’s return to its aviation roots, Rolex wants this new larger dial to be read loud and clear. The first impression we got from the new 2016 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King was that it has gotten so much bolder in its design that the previous version looked scaled down and extremely conservative. This new model fits a lot more between the Rolex Explorer I and the Rolex Milgauss.
The new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King is re-debuted with just one version with a black dial. While at 40mm-wide, its case design is virtually the same as the Rolex Milgauss, its dial sports basically the same polished 3-6-9 indices as the Rolex Explorer I before Rolex updated it for this year. It is an interesting mixture, that is for sure.
Though, what is a truly unusual design decision to come from Rolex is the one that resulted in a mix of hour and minute markers on the same scale. Rolex is rightfully proud of its amazing history of tried and proven tool watch designs that have made it to the deepest and highest spots on our planet. The new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King with this dial design is one that appears to be a bit of a misfit in that range of tool watches.
It would be difficult to deny that reading only hour or only double-digit minute markers (or just simply baton indices) on a dial is considerably easier than seeing single-digit hours at some places, and minute markings at others. While I am sure it is something that one could get used to pretty quickly, as a concept, it looks and reads somewhat confusing at first – even if the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King’s time-only functionality and overall good legibility otherwise leave little room for confusion.
The movement inside the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King is the 3131 in-house caliber which operates at 28,800 vph (4Hz) and has a power reserve of 48 hours. As with all Rolex watches, the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King is tested by COSC and then by Rolex with their in-house certification tests, aka the Rolex Superlative Chronometer certification. This latter new test means that the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King will be tested to run between -2/+2 seconds per day. Considering the entry-level (for Rolex, that is) price point of it, you can expect to get a properly reliable and accurate mechanical watch.
As an entry level Rolex, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King Ref. 116900 is likely to be a welcome addition to the stable for those who just couldn’t get into a smaller 34mm case. The unique hour and minute markers could take a little getting used to, but that’s really not the biggest deal. Again, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King comes in one black dial variety on the classic Oyster bracelet and has a price of 5,900 Swiss francs including tax. rolex.com