Aviation has always been an inspiration to watchmakers, and the Golden Age of aviation in the 1930's put brands like IWC and Longines on the map, defining a new category of watches. Rolex played its part, as the 1930's Oyster models were in demand by pilots, because of the then already famous quality and precision of the watches.
However, it took until 1958 before Rolex used aviation as an inspirator for a dedicated model line. The Air-King reference 5500 was born and remained in the collection until the late 1980's. Always a bit unnoted, the Air-King became the ultimate sleeper. It acted silently in the shadow of the more extravert sports watches, being an affordable alternative, both new and pre-owned. The reference 14000 followed in 1989, giving the Air-King a new caliber (3000), making it up to speed for the next few decades. What remained was the underdog position, a true sleeper in the Rolex catalogue.
One can say that with the 114200 (COSC certified) in 2007 and ultimately with the current reference 116900, launched in 2016, the Air-King finally got the looks of a truly confident family member. The 116900 aka "Bloodhound" became a bit polarising among Rolex fans, mainly due to the odd dail configuration, but it stole my heart. The watch is different, but confident. The dial is identical to the dash clocks Rolex made for the Bloodhound SSC, a supersonic missile on wheels that aimed at a world record speed. Rolex' affiliation with this project is already history for a while, and market viewers predict the termination of ref. 116900 already for quite some time. However, It's still in the catalogues as we speak.
Our friends at Watchbox have a great selection of Air-Kings available. At the time of writing no 116900 is available (but things can change quickly), but a 114200 in steel with concentric dial could be a great and affordable alternative at $5450. Please check their collection if you're in the market for an affordable and attractive Air-King.