Made for airborne adventures, the GMT-Master II and Air King novelties from Rolex are just the companions you’ll need now that travel is on the horizon again.
Rolex is no stranger to pilot’s watches – the brand has long enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the skies during the golden age of aviation in the 1930s – many pilots of that generation have set records wearing an Oyster on their wrist. The most well-known pilot’s watch in Rolex’s portfolio is probably the GMT-Master II. The watch was designed as a navigation aid for professionals crisscrossing the globe, a truly useful tool watch that is instantly recognisable with its bidirectional rotational bezel with a 24-hour graduated insert in dual-colour combinations.
The red/blue and red/black combinations are joined this year by the green and black ceramic bezel. The watch comes in a novel and unexpected manner – it’s a left-handed watch. The crown and crown guard appears on the left side of the watch case while the date aperture and Cyclops lens appear at the 9 o’clock position. According to Rolex, this 180-degree change required altering the precision testing process as well for some of the final controls as part of the Superlative Chronometer certification. The new calibre inside, 3285, is Superlative Chronometer certified, ensuring excellent performance on the wrist.
The self-winding movement incorporates the patented Chronergy escapement and is fitted with a Parachrom hairspring, resulting in a high-precision and high-performance watch. The power reserve on the GMT-Master II is 70 hours.
The name Air-King launched in 1958, appearing on the dials of Rolex aviation models, and had an entry-level price point combined with a non-chronometer Precision movement. In 2016 however, the Air-King was given a major revamp, becoming immediately recognisable with its distinctive black dial with a combination of large 3, 6, and 9 numerals marking the hours and prominent minute indications on the same scale (said to be for better navigational time readings). But the minute scale irked some – it was very much loved or hated at first sight – and compared to Rolex’s other sports products, the Air-King had a softer appeal. People tended to favour the look of the Milgauss more, which at the time, shared the same movement, the same 40mm case and the Faraday cage that protected the watch from magnetism.
2022 brings the Air-King yet another major update. The redesigned and relaunched Oyster Professional Air-King, now known as the Ref 126900, replaces the Ref 116900 and comes with a completely redesigned case with a crown guard and straight sides like the majority of Professional category models. The Oyster bracelet’s proportions are also revisited, with the centre link broadened for a more streamlined feel. As a first, the bracelet comes with an Oysterlock safety clasp and Easylink comfort extension, making the watch more secure on the wrist than ever before.
The Air-King dial is also revised, a “0” is added before the “5” on the minute scale so now each five-minute interval is marked by two digits. The yellow crown and green logo combination – the only current Rolex watch to feature this design – remains. The markers for 3, 6 and 9 are also updated and painted in Rolex’s Chromalight luminescent material for a longer-lasting glow and increased legibility in the dark.
The new-generation Air-King is equipped with the calibre 3230, Rolex’s premier automatic movement that is also used in the Submariner no-date version, and also incorporates the Parachrom hairspring. The Superlative Chronometer movement is COSC-certified and Rolex Chronometer-certified, with a power reserve of 70 hours.