Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 116900

Angus Davies reviews the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King 116900.

This detailed review of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 116900 includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Image of Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King, Baselworld 2016 - watch review

The annual production output of Rolex, the venerable Swiss watch company, is shrouded in mystery. The company remains tight-lipped when it comes to discussing such vulgar matters. However, one thing is abundantly clear; this renowned luxury brand produces hundreds of thousands of timepieces each year.

My reason for mentioning production output is that despite the vast numbers of Rolex watches in circulation, I can never recall hearing of any problematic timepieces. It would appear the nomen, ‘Rolex’ is a byword for reliability.

The allure of Rolex

Reliability is merely one reason for choosing a Rolex timepiece.

Image of Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King, Baselworld 2016 - watch review

The marketing of Rolex, which often involves using sport sponsorship to reinforce brand awareness, is second to none. Over the years I have spoken to various individuals who clearly lack knowledge of horology or the watch industry, however, as soon as I mention that I write about fine timepieces, they readily proffer the name,’Rolex’, as the ultimate luxury watch.

While I write about many incredible timepieces, some costing significantly more than a Rolex, the brand recognition of this iconic marque surpasses all others. The perception by many that Rolex make the finest watches leads to a situation where demand invariably outstrips supply, especially for the brand’s sports models. This has led to very strong residual values.

Another area which underpins the residual values of Rolex watches is the cachet of its ‘vintage’ models. A huge body of collectors will exhibit extreme emotions on discovering a Submariner model with red dial text, a Milgauss central sweep seconds hand, or the name of the French diving company, COMEX, positioned just above the text proclaiming the maximum water resistance. The appeal for Daytona models, especially those sporting Paul Newman dials, still shows no signs of abating.

There is also the matter of patination. The slight discolouration of dial and hands, owing to the passage of time and, in particular, exposure to UV-light, has led to grown men shedding tears of delight on discovering a well-worn example with impressive provenance. In various auction rooms around the globe, evidence of patination merely heightens public interest.

Continuous progress

I confess that I prefer the latest models to leave the Rolex facilities in Geneva and Biel/ Bienne. I do not appreciate patination, preferring the operating-theatre cleanliness conferred with showroom-fresh condition.

Over the years, Rolex has not sat back. Its models have received subtle tweaks, enhancing the ownership proposition. I purchased my first Rolex, a Submariner, in 1996. If I contrast this model with the Submariner of today, equipped with a ceramic bezel, the latest watch is constructed to a far higher standard.

The culture of continuous progress is alive and well at Rolex. Indeed, in my opinion, the finest watches Rolex has ever made probably left its Dispatch department last week.

A perfect illustration of the watch marque’s continuous improvement strategy can be seen with the latest Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 116900, launched earlier this year at Baselworld 2016. This pilot’s watch is inspired by the brand’s association with aviation, dating back to the 1930s. It employs the same ‘Air-King’ lettering on the dial, first seen in the 1950s. However, beyond some period details, there are numerous improvements which draw on cutting-edge technology and modern-day know-how.

The dial

The black, satin finished dial provides the perfect foil for the other dial elements to shine. The 18-carat white gold ‘Mercedes’ hour and minute hands are lined with luminescent material, emitting a green shade in restricted light.

Image of Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King, Baselworld 2016 - watch review

The green central sweep seconds hand features a green circular counterweight. Near its tip is a white luminescent circlet, augmenting the ease of read-off.

The Swiss brand has endowed the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 116900 with glorious, bold Arabic hour markers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. Below noon, a triangular index, presented in 18-carat white gold, dominates the northern hemisphere of the dial. It looks resplendent and upholds the design language typical of pilots’ watches of yesteryear.

All other hour indexes are set aside, deferring to minute markings, arranged at 5-minute integers. They share the same font as the hour markers but are smaller. Their simplicity of form is superb. Indeed, it is the minute markings which are one of my favourite aspects of the dial design. The only change I would suggest making would be to alter the text from ‘5’ to ’05’, to match the two digit format of the other minute markings.

Two details of the dial design which I particularly like are the yellow Rolex logo and the green Rolex text. These may sound small details but, together with the central sweep seconds hand, they introduce a tasteful flourish of colour which heightens the allure of the dial.

The legibility of the dial is magnificent. Every element of the dial composition collaborates to aid ease of interpretation.

Framing the dial, a silver-toned flange repeatedly proclaims the maker’s name and provides a stylish means of delineating the dial boundary.

The case

A key benefit of Rolex ownership is the capacity to cope with minor impacts, typically encountered with daily wear. My own personal experience of the brand’s satin brushed 904L stainless steel is that it shrugs off harsh treatment and delivers high levels of corrosion resistance. Quite simply, Rolex watches are very robust.

Image of Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King, Baselworld 2016 - watch review

The 40mm case diameter of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 116900, with its middle of the road sizing, offers widespread appeal. Moreover, the bracelet (ref.71200) is highly adjustable, according an agreeable fit courtesy of the ‘Rolex-patented Easylink rapid extension system’. This user-friendly facility allows the wearer to lengthen the bracelet by approximately 5mm. The bracelet also feels very sturdy and features solid links, once again illustrating Rolex’s tireless pursuit of continuous improvement.

Often modern, luxury watches feature exhibition casebacks, however, this trend is something Rolex has chosen to ignore. The screw-down caseback is plain steel, save for a fluted edge, encircling its form. I personally prefer exhibition casebacks, wishing to see the value within, however, I accept that some Rolexphiles may not share my viewpoint.

Image of Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King, Baselworld 2016 - watch review

The winding crown is of the screw down variety and equipped with ‘Twinlock double waterproofness system’, helping to deliver maximum water resistance of 100 metres.

The movement

The ‘Calibre 3131 Manufacture Rolex Mechanical movement’ is automatic. The frequency of the balance is 28,800 vph (4Hz) and the movement contains 31 jewels. The power reserve is approximately 48 hours.

Rolex has imbued the Calibre 3131 with a high quotient of state of the art technology. The blue Parachrom hairspring is patented and manufactured by the Swiss maison. The alloy used, exclusive to Rolex, is ‘insensitive to magnetic fields’ and less affected by temperature fluctuations. Moreover, the material is much more forgiving of shocks than conventional hairsprings.

The escape wheel is formed using UV-LIGA, a fabrication process employing Ultra Violet light to form intricate shapes once technically impossible to create. The nickel-phosphorus alloy shares similar attributes to the hairspring e.g. tolerance of magnetic fields.

For many years, a red tag was affixed to every new Rolex supplied, stating the watch was a chronometer. The Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC), the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, would independently test the watches, according to its specified criteria and issue certification accordingly.

COSC continue to test and certificate Rolex timepieces, however, Rolex introduced its own ‘Superlative Chronometer Certification’ in 2015, subjecting its watches to another raft of tests. The timepiece is evaluated once encased and fully assembled. The tests take place in Rolex’s own laboratories and the brand attests to a highly impressive daily variation of just -2/+2 seconds.

The solid caseback of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 116900 precludes any assessment of the movement finishing, hence I feel unable to proffer any comment on this area.

Closing remarks

When some Swiss brands suffered declining sales during the ‘quartz crisis’, Rolex continued to flourish. Its watches have never ceased tempting individuals seeking to acknowledge a landmark in their life whether it be a birthday, anniversary or attainment of a professional milestone.

The popularity of collecting vintage Rolex models also shows no signs of decline. The allure of investment potential and the charm of patination continues to draw a growing band of disciples eager to find their very own horological treasure. However, just as an aside, I counsel caution when procuring any Rolex model from outside authorised channels.

Nevertheless, it is the allure of modern-day Rolex watches which resonates with me. While kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy it seems to be wholeheartedly embraced at Rolex HQ, a green monolithic palace on the outskirts of Geneva. The legendary watch company makes fine watches which continue to improve with each season.

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 116900 is one of my favourite Rolex watches to date. It is handsome, simple to read, comfortable to wear and bestows an incredible level of precision. Indeed, based on my observations, this magnificent pilot’s watch shows that Rolex continues to ascend to even greater heights.

Technical specification

  • Model: Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King 116900
  • Case: 904L stainless steel; diameter 40mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and solid caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds.
  • Movement: Calibre 3131, self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4 Hz); 31 jewels; power reserve 48 hours.
  • Strap: Solid-link Oyster bracelet in 904L steel with a folding Oysterclasp. The bracelet also features the Easylink rapid extension system.
  • Price: £4,150 (RRP as at 16.8.2016)

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