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Watch Reviews Under $10k: The Rolex Air-King Reference 116900

August 13, 2017

BY Paul Altieri


Rolex’s Air-King receives far less attention than the Submariner, Daytona, or GMT-Master. However, it is one of Rolex’s oldest lines of watches, with a unique history that spans over seventy years of near-continuous production.

Air-King Reference 116900

The Air-King Reference 116900 is a fantastic model and one to add to your collection.

Back With The Air-King Reference 116900

After a brief 2-year hiatus, Rolex brought back the Air-King and re-introduced their famous line of aviation-inspired watches in the form of the reference 116900 at Baselworld 2016. Although the Air-King line historically followed a rather minimalist and conservative design, the reference 116900 is easily one of the more modern and colorful Rolex watches currently in production.

Previous renditions of the Rolex Air-King were among the smallest men’s Rolex available at 34 mm in case diameter. However, the new reference 116900 Air-King uses the same 40mm case as the Milgauss (complete with Faraday cage), making it highly anti-magnetic, and also slightly larger than the contemporary Rolex Explorer with its 39 mm case diameter.

Air-King Reference 116900

The Air-King Reference 116900 came back greater than ever.

Aesthetics on the Air-King Reference 116900

The new, more-extroverted style of the reference 116900 Air-King is most reflected in the design of the dial, which is uncharacteristically colorful and rather busy by Rolex standards. The black dial has applied, Arabic numeral markers in the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock locations, an applied, inverted triangle at the 12 o’clock position, and the rest of the dial gets finished with white, printed minute markers. To finish it off, the Rolex name appears in green text (to match the green seconds hand), while the Rolex crown gets printed in yellow.

Looking past the dial, the reference 116900 is a very similar watch to the contemporary Rolex Milgauss. In addition to its anti-magnetic case, the reference 116900 Air-King also borrows the caliber 3131 movement from the Milgauss, which allows it to be as resilient to electromagnetic fields as the legendary watch that was designed from the ground up to withstand such forces.

While some believe that the reference 116900 is too much of a visual departure from Rolex’s classic Air-King design, there are others that view the reference 116900 as a fresh take on a classic, and an opportunity to own what is essentially a Rolex Milgauss (with a different dial), at three-quarters of the retail price.

Air-King Reference 116900

The Air-King Reference 116900 has a bit of DNA from the Milgauss.

Practically a Steal

Appearances can be a matter of personal preferences. However, it is undeniable that Rolex is giving buyers a lot for their money with the reference 116900 Air-King. Despite being the equivalent of a Milgauss with a different dial, the reference 116900 Air-King is priced several hundred dollars less than the current Explorer, and over two thousand dollars less than its closest equivalent, the Milgauss.

The Air-King has always been one of Rolex’s entry-level offerings that represented great value for the money and gave buyers all of Rolex’s legendary performance at a much more accessible price point. While the reference 116900 Air-King is certainly an aesthetic departure from its predecessors, it remains one of the best bang-for-buck purchases in the current Rolex catalog.

Since the reference 116900 is the latest rendition of Rolex’s Air-King and was only just released in 2016, it can still be purchased brand-new and can be found in ample supply at a number of authorized Rolex dealers. Additionally, since the reference 116900 has been out for over a year now, examples can also be found at discounted prices on the pre-owned market.

Air-King Reference 116900

The Air-King Reference 116900 is a watch that you’ll get a great deal on.

Don’t Be Fooled

Much like many other stainless steel Rolex watches with movements that do not have any specialized features or complications, the reference 116900 Air-King is not especially difficult for counterfeiters to replicate, and consequently will be a frequent target for reproductions. Although there are no dead-giveaways specific to the reference 116900 that can help to instantly identify it as a fake, all the normal rules for spotting a counterfeit Rolex watch still apply.

When trying to ascertain the authenticity of a reference 116900 Air-King, follow the usual guidelines of examining the print on the dial, the reference/serial number engravings, the bracelet (and its accompanying markings), and (if possible) the movement. Additionally, much like the Milgauss, the reference 116900 will have an inner case surrounding the movement that serves as its Faraday cage and shields it from magnetic forces. Although not visible unless the case-back has been removed, the inner case should be present on every single reference 116900 Air-King (and Milgauss too).


While some may object to the Air-King’s new and rather non-traditional styling, all can agree that the reference 116900 represents a good value among Rolex’s offerings. The addition of the anti-magnetic shielding borrowed from the Milgauss gives the Air-King the exact same functionality at roughly three-quarters of the price. Time will tell whether the departure in aesthetics will be successful for the Air-King. However, the reference 116900 can be considered one of the best bargains in Rolex’s current lineup.




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