Air-King: Entry-Level Rolex Investment
The Air-King is a pilot's watch and one of Rolex's most affordable models. Made of stainless steel, its design is sporty, elegant, and functional. Steady but slowly rising prices make the Air-King a good choice for collectors and investors.
Rolex's Entry-Level Pilot's Watch
You can recognize the Rolex Air-King models from 2016 by their Oyster case, green seconds hand, and Arabic numerals from 5 to 55. The Air-King is simplistic in its design and functions, doing away with even a date display. The minimalistic aesthetic is rounded off with Arabic numerals and green accents, which lends the watch a sporty flair.
The stainless steel case is 40 mm across, and, thanks to its screw-down case back and Twinlock crown, offers water resistance to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft). A three-piece link Oyster bracelet with a satin-brushed finish holds the watch securely on the wrist and underscores its role as a sporty tool watch. Lastly, the Easylink extension system lets you adjust the bracelet length – perfect for warm days.
Rolex has produced many variations of the Air-King since its initial release in 1958. Some of the most famous references include the refs. 14000, 14000M, 14010, 14010M, and the ref. 5500. In fact, the ref. 5500 was in production for over three decades, which is why the pre-owned market has many vintage timepieces with this reference.
When it comes to financial performance, almost all models are likely to increase in value. The ref. 116900, for example, appreciated by 100% between May 2020 and May 2022. At the time of writing, the ref. 116900 cost around 13,000 USD new. This model's successor (ref. 126900) was unveiled in 2022 and is also expected to record similar financial developments.
5 Reasons to Buy a Rolex Air-King
- Affordable entry into the world of Rolex
- Sporty and elegant design: ideal for daily life
- Certified precision: recent models with a maximum daily deviation of +/- 2 seconds
- Collector's item and investment piece
- Great value retention with the potential to appreciate
Prices at a Glance: Rolex Air-King
|Reference number||Value appreciation,* price (approx.)||Caliber, diameter|
|126900||118%, 15,500 USD||3230, 40 mm|
|116900||100%, 13,000 USD||3131, 40 mm|
|5500||52%, 5,100 USD||1520 or 1530, 34 mm|
|114200||46%, 7,500 USD||3130, 34 mm|
|14010||33%, 4,500 USD||3000, 34 mm|
|5700||28%, 4,600 USD||1520, 34 mm|
|14010M||27%, 4,700 USD||3130, 34 mm|
|14000||25%, 5,000 USD||3000, 34 mm|
|14000M||23%, 5,300 USD||3130, 34 mm|
|*between May 2020 and May 2022|
How much does a Rolex Air-King cost?
The Rolex Air-King ref. 116900 from 2016 costs roughly 13,000 USD new. This model is powered by the caliber 3131, and has performed excellently in recent years. In May 2020, this Rolex watch sold for around 6,800 USD, but has since just about doubled in value. You will find pre-owned pieces for around 11,000 USD. This price bracket is similar to that of the Explorer I from the Oyster collection, and is thus one of the more affordable Rolex watches.
The successor model, the ref. 126900 is powered by the in-house caliber 3230. It was released in 2022, and there aren't that many listings for this Rolex watch on the Chrono24 marketplace. At the time of writing in May 2022, prices came in at around 15,000 USD, over double the list price of 7,400 USD.
If you are looking for a Rolex model for around 5,000 USD and under, you should check out older Air-King references. At 34 mm across, these timepieces are much smaller, but make up for it with all the charm of bygone decades. Not only that, but they are also ideal women's watches. More recent models include reference numbers 14010M and 14000M, which are outfitted with the caliber 3130.
You can buy either of these models in pre-owned condition for between 4,100 USD and around 5,000 USD. The ref. 14010M is characterized by what's known as an engine-turned bezel, i.e., a finely fluted bezel with small rider tabs. The ref. 14000M, on the other hand, has a polished bezel. Between 2020 and 2022, these models appreciated in value between 25% and just over 30%.
Vintage watches which bear the reference number 5500 sell for around 5,000 USD pre-owned, but you may be able to find a well-maintained piece for slightly less. Rolex introduced the ref. 5500 in 1957, and kept it in production for over 30 years. As of May 2022, this model had risen in value by roughly 50% in two years.
Prices for the refs. 114200 and 14000
The Rolex Air-King ref. 114200 is one of the more recent models. However, Rolex now refers to this timepiece as the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 34. Watches produced between 2007 and 2016 feature the "Air-King" inscription on their dials. You can buy one of these timepieces in mint condition today for around 7,500 USD, whereas in May 2020, prices were closer to the 5,000 USD mark. Pre-owned models demand around 5,800 USD.
If having a chronometer-certified timepiece is not particularly important to you, and you're looking to save a few hundred dollars, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King with the reference number 14000 may be the right watch for you. You can buy a pre-owned version for around 5,000 USD. Never-worn watches are hard to find and more expensive. Expect to pay upwards of 7,200 USD. The average value appreciation in this case is around 25%.
The Rolex Air-King With a Date Display
You can find the Rolex Air-King Date with a date display under the reference numbers 5700 and 5701. Plan to spend about 5,000 USD for one of these pre-owned timepieces with a distinctive Cyclops lens. At 35 mm, the Air-King Date is one millimeter larger than the editions without a date.
A Variety of Designs: Dials and Bezels
The Air-King has featured a diverse range of dials and bezels throughout its 70-year history. With bar indices, Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, rhodium-plated surfaces, and orange contrasts, Air-King models have a wide variety of looks to offer. The dial is available in different colors such as soft pink, blue, red, or green.
However, the basic design of the watch has remained consistent. Its stainless steel case is the same shape as almost all other Rolex models. The differences are in the details. The top surfaces of the case and the bracelet are satin-brushed, while the sides are polished. The case has a standard size of 34 mm, which is relatively small by modern standards. However, the Air-King didn't always come in the Oyster case. In the 1950s, Rolex used the Explorer case for the Air-King, resulting in a 1-mm increase in size. Thanks to the screw-down Twinlock crown, the final watch is water-resistant to 10 m (10 bar, 328 ft).
You have three options for the bezel: polished, fluted, or engine-turned. Models with the reference number 114234 have a decorative ring made of white gold. Newer models feature sapphire crystal, giving the wearer a clear view of the dial, while vintage ref. 5500 timepieces come with acrylic glass.
The History of the Rolex Air King
Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf developed this timepiece in honor of pilots from the British Royal Air Force. The RAF had used Rolex watches before the start of the Second World War. Their 34-mm cases were larger and more reliable than the standard models used by the Air Force. Towards the end of the 1930s, Wilsdorf developed a line of watches with the names "Air-Lion," "Air-Tiger," "Air-Giant," and "Air-King." After the end of the war, Rolex only continued producing the Air-King and made it available to the public.