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Watch Compare: The Explorer vs. the New Air-King

August 18, 2017

BY Paul Altieri


Rolex unveiled two new models with very different backgrounds yet, in their present form, are curiously similar to each other. On the one hand, there’s the Explorer ref. 214270. In fact, the Explorer even kept the same reference number. On the other hand, there’s the new Air-King ref. 116900, which compared to previous Air-King watches, is a completely new timepiece. So, with that, let’s compare the Explorer ref. 214270 and the new Air-King 116900 to review their similarities and differences.

Explorer vs Air-King

Which watch do you prefer?

Explorer vs Air-King: Then and Now

The updated version of the Explorer ref. 214270 featured some much-needed updates. For example, there are now more luminous details on the dial. Dubbed “Chromalight Display” by Rolex, the luminescent accents on the watch glow blue in the dark and last up to eight hours—perfect for a full night’s sleep! Furthermore, Rolex also fixed the proportions of the center hands by making them wider and longer on the ref. 214270. There were previous complaints that the hands on the first version of the ref. 214270 were too small for the larger case, so kudos to Rolex for addressing this.

Explorer vs Air-King

Which side are you leaning towards?

The Air-King ref. 116900 is however, a completely different story. Rolex revived the discontinued Air-King model into a version unlike any Air-Kings of yesteryear. Not only did it come in a much larger case, but also, that case houses a very different dial, which we’ll go into detail shortly.

Explorer vs Air-King

Since Rolex has updated their new Air-King there has been a lot of buzz.

Interestingly, due to the slight updates to the Explorer and the complete revamp of the Air-King, the ref. 214270 and the ref. 116900 are now very comparable.

Design: Explorer ref. 214270 vs. Air-King ref. 116900

Both the Explorer ref. 214270 and the Air-King ref. 116900 are stainless steel models. The Explorer sports a 39mm Oyster case while the Air-King has a slightly larger one at 40mm. However, the Air-King case is about 2mm thicker than the Explorer as well, thus overall, the Air-King wears larger than the Explorer.

Explorer vs Air-King

The Explorer is a hardy watch.

Both models include a domed stainless steel bezel, sapphire crystal, and Twinlock winding crown. Consequently, both the Explorer and the Air-King have a water resistance of 330 feet (100 meters).

The biggest difference between the two watch aesthetics is, of course, the dial. While the Explorer features a straightforward black dial layout with a mix of numerals and stick indexes, the Air-King dial is much more dynamic. Its black dial sets the stage for minute markers, 3, 6, 9 numerals, a green seconds hand, and a multicolored Rolex logo and crown combination. Love it or hate it, it’s a more direct approach to its “Air-King” aviation spirit.

The Explorer ref. 214270 and the Air-King ref. 116900 are both presented on a 20mm Oyster bracelet. Both of which would look excellent on a leather strap. Conversely, they’re equipped with different clasps. The Explorer has a folding Oysterlock safety clasp while the Air-King closes with an Oysterclasp. What’s the difference you ask? The Explorer is more secure thanks to the extra folding action. Both have the Easylink 5mm extension system though. A very practical touch, this allows wearers to lengthen or shorten the bracelet as necessary.

Explorer vs Air-King

The Air-King is a watch for pilots.

Movements: Explorer ref. 214270 vs. Air-King ref. 116900 Design

While the Explorer and the Air-King are time-only Rolex watches with 48 hours of power reserve, they run on different movements. Powering the Explorer is the Rolex Caliber 3132 while driving the Air-King is the Rolex Caliber 3131.

The anti-magnetic properties of the Caliber 3131 is why the Air-King is 2mm thicker—to accommodate for the magnetic shield. The only other Rolex watch with this shield is the Milgauss. Although the Explorer doesn’t have the same resistance to magnetic fields as the Air-King, it does boast Paraflex shock absorbers unlike the Air-King.

Explorer vs Air-King

The reason why the Explorer is a hardy watch is due to how the Explorer is made.

The Rolex Explorer ref. 214270 is priced slightly higher at $6,550 while the Air-King ref. 116900 carries a $6,200 price tag. Therefore, in terms of choosing the right Rolex, a $350 difference is inconsequential in the grand scheme of (luxury watch related) things.

Explorer vs Air-King

Despite the few hundred dollar differences, which watch has your vote?

Explorer ref. 214270 vs. Air-King ref. 116900 Specs

For easy reference, we’ve compiled this table to identify the main differences and similarities between the Explorer ref. 214270 and the Air-King ref. 116900.

Both the 2016 editions of the Explorer and the Air-King offer their own benefits. But when it comes down to it, since their specs are so similar, choosing between the Explorer ref. 214270 and the Air-King ref. 116900 is really a matter of personal design taste. One offers a minimal approach to a Rolex sports watch while the other is a much more vibrant and bolder take.

Explorer vs Air-King

Will it be the Air-King or the Explorer?

Do you prefer the Air King or Explorer? Let us know in the comments below.

Features Explorer Air-King
Reference Number 214270 116900
Debut Year 2016 2016
Case Size 39mm 40mm
Case Thickness 11mm 13mm
Bezel Domed Stainless Steel Domed Stainless Steel
Winding Crown Twinlock Screw-Down Winding Crown Twinlock Screw-Down Winding Crown
Movement Caliber 3132 Caliber 3131 (Anti-Magnetic)
Bracelet Oyster Brushed Stainless Steel Oyster Brushed Stainless Steel
Bracelet Width 20mm 20mm
Clasp Folding Oysterlock safety clasp Folding Oysterclasp
Bracelet Expansion Easylink 5mm Easylink 5mm
Chromolight Display Luminosity All indexes and center hands Inverted triangle at 12 o’clock and center hands only
Numerals 3,6,9 Luminous Non-luminous 18k White gold
Water Resistance/td> 330 feet (100 meters) 330 feet (100 meters)
Retail Price $6,550 $6,200



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