Rolex Air King

Rolex Air King

In the world of vintage Rolex, there exists a gulf between watches on the lower end of Rolex’s pricing spectrum, and those on the higher end. For example, the Air King inhabits the lower end, squarely on terra firma, while the “Bao Dai” Triple Calendar is up in the clouds. So when many collectors wish to wade into the vast and deep sea that is vintage Rolex, they might opt for the Air King.

And this, we think, is not a bad thing at all.

Because each Rolex, regardless of its price point, is made with the care and attention to detail that were Hans Wilsdorf’s driving principles when he founded the company in the 1900s. This is due to the Oyster case, the bedrock of every Rolex (except for the Cellini) since the 1920s. Wilsdorf’s need to create a watch that could be worn—and enjoyed—in all conditions meant that a Rolex could be worn by anyone.

Launched in 1945, the Air King was one in a series of watches released to honor the RAF pilots who defended the island against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. After the war, spirits were riding high in “their finest hour,” and the fighter pilots were the heroes to whom everyone in England looked for inspiration. As an ardent lover of his adopted land, swept up in patriotic fervor, Wilsdorf’s company released models with names like Air-Lion, Air-Tiger, and Air-Giant.

Wilsdorf meant the Air-King to be worn by pilots, and many companies like Pan Am did indeed choose the Air King as a presentation watch for retiring pilots.

The Air-King went through many different variations throughout the model’s long run. The example that we offer here is a Reference 5500, which was first launched in 1957 and ran for 37 years. Compared to the earlier Air-Kings, which used Hunter movements, the Reference 5500 was the first to be equipped with the Calibre 1520 movement.

The Air-King that we offer here is a stunner. Dating from the 1980s, it possesses a champagne dial that is simply delicious. On a 78350/557 Oyster bracelet, it’s the sort of sporty watch that anyone would be proud to wear—including us.

Of course, while the GMT Master might be Rolex’s most famous pilot’s watch, with its association with Pan Am and NASA, the Air King is a far more affordable—and more approachable—choice.


SKU: AS02141

Stainless steel Oyster case is approximately 34mm (excluding crown). Reference 5500. Calibre 1520.

Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition overall with minor signs of use and wear, having just been lightly refinished. Champagne dial is in excellent condition with crisp printing and fine overall patina to the luminescent elements. Rolex crown.

Includes one 19mm 78350/557 Oyster bracelet.

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