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The Purist’s Vintage Rolex: The Air-King, Reference 5500

February 17, 2017

BY Paul Altieri


While it receives far less attention than Rolex’s Submariner, Day-Date, or GMT-Master, the Air-King is one of Rolex’s oldest watch lines. It holds a piece of history that spans over seventy years of near-continuous production.

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The Unmistakable Rolex Air-King Ref. 5500

While it lacks any specific features or complications that make it specially tailored to one type of sport or environment. The Air-King line has become a cult favorite due to its simple, time-only display and clean, all-stainless steel design.

The Rolex Air-King Ref. 5500 is a timepiece made for the brave soldiers of World War II.

Rolex Air-King Ref. 5500 is one of the oldest lines that Rolex has produced.

World War II

After hearing stories of World War II British pilots discarding their standard-issued field watches in favor of personally purchased, Oyster Perpetual timepieces, Rolex co-founder, Hans Wilsdorf decided to release a series of aviation-themed watches, intended to honor the brave RAF pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain.

Rolex Air-King Ref. 5500 was made to honor the British in World War II.

Rolex Air-King 5500 is crafted with a stainless steel.

Among these aviation themed watches was the Air-King, which made its first official appearance in 1945 with the reference 4925. Several references followed as Rolex continued to refine the design. However in 1957, Rolex released a new version of the Air-King that would be known as the reference 5500.

Inside the Watch

The reference 5500 Air-King was fitted with both caliber 1520 and 1530 movements. Due to the difference in movement calibers, Air-Kings that were fitted with 1530 movements were branded with “Super Precision” on the dial. It housed a caliber 1520 movement with the word “Precision” or in some cases, had no text at all.

At 34mm in diameter, and without any additional features such as a rotating bezel, chronograph, or date complication, the reference 5500 Air-King boasts one of the more clean and understated Rolex designs of all time.

Thie Rolex Air-King Ref. 5500 has a jubilee bracelet.

Rolex Air-King Ref. 5500 has many variations due to its long production.

As a testament to its rock-solid reliability and timeless good looks, the reference 5500 Air-King stayed in production for thirty-seven years. During this period it remained largely unchanged. While the Air-King has always been considered one of Rolex’s entry-level lines of watches, its timeless design and top-notch build quality have made it a popular choice for celebrities and politicians alike.

The reference 5500 Air-King has all of the hallmark traits of a Rolex, without possessing a single superfluous feature. Its screw-down case, in-house movement, and Oyster bracelet provide owners with all the defining characteristics of a Rolex, wrapped up in possibly the most versatile package the company has ever put forward.

The Air-King’s modest size makes it well suited for both men and women. Additionally, its Spartan good looks guarantee that it will never go out of style. Although it will never be as iconic and instantly recognizable as Rolex’s Submariner, the Air-King has become a go-to favorite for those seeking a Rolex that can easily fly under the radar.




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