The Rolex Air King Proves Tiny Design Moves Make a Big Difference

Amongst Rolex’s 2022 releases, the uncontested headline grabber was the southpaw, crown-at-nine GMT-Grasp II with the black-and-green bezel—the Sprite or Riddler, in the event you’re into nicknames. Shifting the crown to the alternative facet of the dial, which makes it extra snug for carrying on the left wrist, delivered the type of stunt Rolex that geeks love, and supplied an opportunity for obsessives to put up footage of different left-handed Rolexes of the previous. As a seasonal trophy watch it’s a slam dunk, however my curiosity was as an alternative piqued by a reissue that was outlined by extra delicate modifications. I’ve been enthusiastic about the relaunch of a historic and perplexing Rolex—the Air-King.

The newest Air-King is an homage to the golden age of aviation throughout the Nineteen Thirties, in line with Rolex, with giant numbers and outstanding minute markers on the dial for navigational time readings. Initially launched in 1945, it continued to evolve barely, till the model stopped making the Air-King in 2014, in order that for the primary time in many years the as soon as inexpensive, attainable—if not precisely beloved by watch lovers—Rolex was gone.

Then, in 2016, the Air-King was reborn as a 40-mm watch with the dial we now affiliate with the mannequin: hours marked at 3, 6, and 9, and the remainder of the dial calibrated in five–minute increments with an inverted triangle at 12 o’clock. Moreover, the crown motif was printed in yellow, “Rolex” printed in inexperienced—the placing design was a trigger for remark among the many model’s most passionate followers, because it created an id for the Air-King that couldn’t be confused with different items in Rolex’s vary. For my part, the overhaul left the watch in a class that’s troublesome to characterize: It couldn’t precisely be known as a device watch—that’s, to make use of Rolex-preferred parlance, a watch with Skilled standing—because it lacked a crown guard and featured curved sides to its case.

Quick-forward to this 12 months’s new mannequin and the ambiguities have vanished. Although the modifications are modest—in some circumstances barely perceptible, besides to those that delight within the PhD-level sport of horological spot-the-difference—their cumulative impact is profound. The addition of a crown guard counts as maybe essentially the most dramatic and apparent fiddle. However nearer inspection reveals quite a lot of sensible updates. As an example, the perimeters of the case have been straightened, and a brand new bracelet clasp has introduced the watch into clearer alignment with Skilled timepieces just like the Submariner and the GMT-Grasp II. The bracelet grew nearly a millimeter wider, and the dial was bulked up practically as a lot. The addition of a 0 earlier than the 5 on the minutes scale implies that each five-minute interval is now constantly marked by two digits. And people numerals have been painted with a brand new lume that Rolex says will glow extra intensely for longer in the dead of night—and can shine whiter than white in daylight. Inside, a brand new motion reduces the peak of the watch from 13.1 mm to 11.59 mm.

Rolex’s determination to enhance the Air-King on this method tells us one thing larger concerning the model’s strategy. If the corporate was merely targeted on the short-term objective of quarterly income, it could be far simpler to easily create a brand new pastel-colored Oyster Perpetual than go to the difficulty of utterly reengineering a peripheral mannequin. Fortunately, this typifies the imaginative and prescient of huge unbiased manufacturers—kudos to Patek Philippe and Chopard too—which have the facility to enhance their catalog of timepieces.

Patek might flip its total manufacturing over to its Nautilus and nonetheless not meet demand, however as an alternative it discontinued its best-selling Nautilus Ref. 5711 and launched two gold watches on straps (together with an awesome new Calatrava Ref. 5226G). In the meantime, Chopard, having struck gold with the favored Alpine Eagle sports activities watch, unexpectedly made a robust push for a distinct, lesser–known mannequin: the L.U.C Full Strike minute repeaters, with solely 5 of the L.U.C Full Strike Sapphires being launched this 12 months.

In making these thought of, delicate changes, Patek, Chopard, and Rolex are prioritizing the sudden over the simple win, protecting watch lovers glued to the strikes that they make, and protecting Swiss watchmaking alive and as thrilling as ever.

A model of this story initially appeared within the August 2022 problem of GQ with the title “Tweaked to Perfection”.

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