I’ve already given you a brief history of the Rolex Air-King, but today we’re going to delve into the longest running model in Air-King history: the Air-King Reference 5500.The Reference 5500 was produced for over 30 years and is one of the longest running models in Rolex history. It was introduced in 1957 and remained an iconic Rolex model until 1989, when it was replaced by the Reference 14000.
The Reference 5500 was a continuation of the Air-King name that Rolex first introduced in the 1940s with the Reference 4925, which caught fire along with the names Air-Giant, Rolex Air-King Reference 5500 watches Air-Lion and Air-Tiger. Rolex originally introduced the Air-King as a variant of the Oyster Perpetual Calendar to honor the RAF pilots who served during World War II.
The Air-King 5500 in the standard catalog was 34mm in diameter, which was petite even by the standards of the time. The entire Air-King range (up to the modern version) is known for its simple, clean, time-only design. The standard reference 5500 dial is an elegant silver with a soft sunburst effect emanating from the center of the dial. The sharply applied indexes have small plumes at the top of the outer edge of the dial, giving the dial a more elegant feel than the large applied plumes common on other Rolex sports watches of the time. The hands look like typical baton hands, with luminescence at about halfway up, but do have a point at the end like a pencil.
People are often confused as to whether or not there is an Air-King reference model of the 1002. Not really.The 1002 is an Oyster Perpetual produced from the 1950s to the 1980s with the same case size as the 5500, but with the COSC-certified caliber 1560. Due to their identical case size, Rolex often used casebacks bearing the 1002 on the Air-King 5500 model. In earlier years of production, you might find an Air-King with “5500” printed on the inside back, but by the 1970s, they often had “1002” printed on the case back. This is not a service case back and can be perfectly correct and original.
Finally, the Reference 5500 uses an Oyster case and screw-down crown; the Rolex is rated at 50 meters deep. All of this is topped off with a domed acrylic crystal. In short, the Air-King has all the qualities you’d expect from a Rolex, without any of the extras: a screw-down Oyster case, an in-house automatic movement, and a matching Oyster bracelet.