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Watch comparison- the New and Old Rolex Air-King

The Air-King has always occupied a simple, entry-level position in Rolex’s lineup. While the line has always received far less attention than Rolex’s other, more expensive, and feature-rich offerings, the Rolex Air-King has a unique and rich history and has been in production for over 70 years.
The Reference 5500 Air King is 34mm in diameter and uses Rolex’s classic Oyster case with acrylic crystal. Without a date complication, GMT hand, or even a chronometer certification mark, the dial of the 5500 is one of the simplest and cleanest designs Rolex has ever produced. Throughout its 37-year-long production run, the Model 5500 has been equipped with various dial colors and hour marker styles; however, the overall design of the Model 5500 Air-King has remained largely unchanged.
The current production copy Rolex Air-King Reference 1269, which debuted earlier this year in 2022, is largely similar to its direct predecessor that debuted in 2016, and it represents a strong aesthetic departure from the classic and understated design of the Reference 5500 – even though they are both time-only best replica watches. Like its predecessor, the Air-King 126900 has a significantly larger case size than the vintage Ref. 5500’s 40mm diameter, with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal protecting its dial. However, the screw-down winding crown on the model 126900 is flanked by a pair of crown guides. 126900 is flanked by a pair of crown protectors, representing the first time such a practical feature has appeared in the Rolex Air-King collection.
Furthermore, while the venerable Air-King ref. 5500 offered several different dial colors and hour marker styles, the current Air-King ref. 126900 offers only a single black dial option, similar to the one fitted to the previous generation Air-King 116900 watch, with a mix of applied Arabic hour markers and white printed minute markers. Yellow and green accents adorn the dial and hands.
The Reference 5500 Air-King is equipped with Rolex’s 1520 and 1530 movements, depending only on the era in which the watch was made and the market in which it was intended to be sold. As the entry-level in the fake Rolex line, the 5500 does not have a chronometer-certified movement, and since there is no COSC-certified movement, the dial of the Air-King 5500 does not have any text related to chronometer certification. Movement changes did not happen instantaneously, and there were some years of overlap, where the Reference 5500 Air-King was equipped with both the 1520 and 1530 movements.
The modern Reference 126900 Air-King uses Rolex’s new generation caliber 3230, built around the brand’s Chronergy escapement, and offers an extended power reserve of approximately 70 hours. In addition, while the previous generation of Air-King watches used the same anti-magnetic movement and internal shielding that provided the legendary Milgauss with its anti-magnetic capabilities, the updated Air-King uses some non-magnetic components in the movement and omits the internal anti-magnetic shielding altogether.
With the introduction of the latest generation of Air-King watches, the line is now firmly repositioned in Rolex’s professional catalog alongside other legendary sports and tool watches such as the Submariner, Explorer, Sea-Dweller, and Daytona. While the previous generation was classified as part of the Professional collection, as is the current one, the updated model now features crown protection and a double-locking Oyster security clasp, two features unique to Rolex Professional watches.
Similarly, from its previous generation, the replica Rolex Air-King features a Mercedes-Benz-style handset, another feature of Rolex’s various sports and tool watches that is not currently available in any of the models in the Classic Collection in its catalog. While the transition of the Air-King to a professional version in the brand’s catalog can be said to have been made from the previous generation of the Ref. 116900, the current production of the Ref. 126900 suggests that the Air-King has finally made the transition to a proper Rolex tool watch.
The Air-King line has always been one of Rolex’s simplest and most accessible offerings, providing the user with all the signature features of a Rolex watch without any of the extra features. While the classic 5500 Air-King with its minimalist feature set is a timeless design, the new 126900 Air-King is a thoroughly modern watch, now fully positioned as one of Rolex’s legendary sports models.