The Rolex Air-King is one of the longest standing models in the manufacturer's history, being in production for over 70 years. Considered by many as the entry model Rolex, the Air-King has features that punch way above its relatively modest price point. The watch has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 1945, with only the most recent references moving away form the traditional 34mm case and simple dial.
I was asked by the Xupes Journal team to take an Air-King and spend a week with it as my daily wearer. I’m a pretty big Rolex fan, so I jumped at the chance to try out a model I’ve not worn before. Here’s how I got on…
My companion for the week was a 2008 reference 14010M in stainless steel with a black dial and engine-turned bezel. The watch is powered by the 3130 calibre self-winding movement, which of course, is manufactured fully in-house by Rolex.
I was initially apprehensive about wearing the Air-King due to its 34mm case size. I don’t have large wrists by any stretch of the imagination, but I tend to wear watches in the 37-40mm range. My usual watch of choice is a Tudor Big Block Chronograph, which when compared to the Air-King looks like a bit of a tank!
I needn't have worried though as the Air-King wears a fair bit larger than its 34mm diameter suggests. Part of this can be attributed to the excellent engine-turned bezel that makes the watch appear larger and adds a nice utilitarian look to the watch. This combined with the always fantastic Oyster case makes the Air-King really enjoyable to wear for prolonged periods of time.
The Oyster bracelet is also great: no surprise to anyone who’s worn one before, but for those who haven’t, I would say it’s probably the most sturdy and comfortable metal bracelet in the watch world. The bracelet is held in place by the standard Rolex deployant clasp, which does a good job of securing the watch during wear. I would have preferred the double locking version for extra security, but I guess Rolex used this one to keep the price more accessible to potential buyers.
In operation, the Air-King is a breeze to set with the screw-down crown providing both winding and time adjustment. I did find the crown a tad difficult to grip, but I suspect this was most likely just me being used to the larger trip-lock crown of my Big Block.
The simple design of the dial makes reading the time very easy at a glance, with the polished steel hands contrasting perfectly against the glossy black dial. Baton markers and a small minute track keep the look restrained and I absolutely love the script font Air-King signature that gives the watch a nostalgic feel. Another plus point on legibility is the lume, which is bright and makes reading the time in low light very easy. It doesn’t need too much exposure to light to charge up either and stays luminous for an impressive amount of time.
Probably my favourite thing about the Air-King is the weight, or more precisely, the lack of it. Being smaller than most of the watches I wear, the weight of the watch is significantly less than that of say, a Submariner or a GMT Master. I found myself forgetting I was even wearing a watch at times and the slimmer case dimensions meant I didn't need to worry as much about catching the watch on a door frame or desk edge.
Overall I was really impressed with the Air-King and found it to be a near-perfect everyday watch. It’s smart looking, lightweight and has a subtle wrist presence that makes it a joy to wear. On top of that, you’re getting a rocksteady in-house movement and class-leading case and bracelet design for a very attractive pre-owned price point. For someone looking for their first Rolex, or even a seasoned collector I can’t recommend the Air-King enough.