An early model in the collection, the vintage Air King ref. 5500 launched in 1957 and enjoyed a more than 30-year production run and plenty of variations.
For instance, the mens Rolex stainless steel Air King 5500 housed two different automatic movements—the Caliber 1520 and the Caliber 1530. There are also the mens Rolex two tone Air King 5501 versions, in addition to the gold-plated ref. 5502 and ref. 5506 models. Interestingly, there’s also the Air King ref. 5504 that sported an Explorer case! Additionally, Rolex also made the Air King Date ref. 5700 models for specific markets, which as its name suggests, boasted a date window. In the mid-1970s, Rolex unveiled the Air King ref. 5520—the first gold-filled model of the collection.
Although Rolex is famous for constantly improving their watches, the timepieces tend to maintain the same overall aesthetic throughout the years. In fact, today’s Submariner, GMT Master, and Daytona watches look remarkably similar to those from the 1950s and 1960s. This is part and parcel of the Rolex magic—a signature style that is instantly recognizable. However, this no longer applies to the Air King. In fact, current iterations of the Rolex Air King models look absolutely nothing like preceding models.
The Air King made its debut in 1945 as a tribute to British air force pilots of the era. The Air King timepiece was typically regarded as an entry-level Rolex watch with its smaller 34mm size, minimalistic three-handed dial, and more accessible price point. As one of the longest running Rolex collections still in production today, there have been so many different Air King references throughout its history. But we’ll focus on a few of the most popular Air King references in the secondary market, as well as a quick look at the most current version.