Let’s hop into our time machine back to 2016. At Baselworld, Rolex announced two contemporary sports models with Arabic numerals – each serving as an update to a known collection in the brand’s stable of classic models. One was the Explorer 214270, the “Mark II” edition, with lumed three, six, and nine markers. The other was, as Tolkien once wrote, the return of the Rolex Air-King … in a most unexpected way. The Rolex Air-King ref. 116900 represented a full redesign of the rather quaint Air-Kings of old. What once was nothing more than an Oyster Perpetual by a different name, was now something else entirely.
At 40mm, on an Oyster bracelet and featuring a cacophony of numerals, the Air-King, with the arrival of the Rolex ref. 116900, became a more rugged tool watch. The dial is inspired by Rolex-designed Bloodhound (a car designed to travel at 1,000 mph) dashboard clocks – hence the use of a yellow crown, green Rolex wordmark, and that green seconds hand. This was Rolex being fun, wacky, and left-of-center. While it wasn’t necessarily a hit at launch, it’s become something of a cult fascination. Just this year at Watches & Wonders, Rolex released a new-and-improved version with a professional case, tweaked numerals (that are lumed), and crown guards. Oh, and the colors remain.
The Rolex Air-King ref. 116900 is one of the rare moments that we see Rolex “experimenting,” which is always fun to witness. So come along for a ride in a Bloodhound and enjoy this edition of The Spec Sheet.