Calling all watch lovers and collectors of all things antique! We have a review today that dates back to the 1970s. A review of the Rolex Air-King 5500 and the Rolex Explorer 1016. Just to get this out of the way upfront, both of these watches are vintage masterpieces. I adore the quality and history of these watches, so it is going to be a challenge to recommend which one is better. At the end of the day, no matter what watch you purchase, you are buying a piece of history.
When reviewing vintage watches, it is important to note a few main points that I will cover in this article. History of the watch, value, product design, and style. Without further delay, it is time to jump into an overview of each watch, to go in depth about the features that make them unique.
Vintage Rolex Air King
To begin, it is important to know that the Air King model of Rolex watches is one of the oldest models to release. The Air King dates back to as far as World War II! In my opinion, simply knowing you are wearing a watch (or storing for collecting), that has such a long history is insane! These watches were curated for pilots who started to purchase Oyster Perpetual watches after the war, hence the name “Air King.” With a sleek, classic design, Rolex released a model that features a time-only display to keep the watch simple yet handsomely appealing.
The Air-King reference 5500 was released in 1957. Paying homage to the brave soldiers of war, this aviation-themed watch was initially released with the war pilots as their market. The model stayed around a good thirty-seven years, which highlights that the watches were appealing to much more than just war heroes.
I chose this model because the overall design is wonderful. You get everything that makes a Rolex with this watch, (besides the cyclops). A crisp and clean stainless 34mm case with an alluring silver dial perfectly complements the durable stainless steel band. The all silver look stands out on the wrist. You maintain a clean look that will go with any outfit you pull out of the closet. It is not a watch for those seeking a flashy and highly complex looking watch. The look is respectfully simple and genuine.
The stainless steel keeps this watch looking pristine with every wear. The watch was made to withstand everyday wear. An acrylic protective crystal and a waterproof, Rolex original, screw down crown keep the watch safe from any water damage. There is no doubt this is one of the most durable watches on the market for its age. Many you find for sale are in almost pristine condition. I own a vintage Datejust oyster perpetual and although I love it, the durability is nowhere near the caliber of the Air King.
The watch does not state “precision” on the dial for no reason. The movement on this watch is advanced for its time. With in-house made 1520 movement, you are sure to have an accurate reading timepiece despite the age of the watch. A unique fact is this type of movement was the first to be made 100% at Rolex factories.
To be critical, it is a downgrade from the 1530 movement, lacking a Breguet over-coil and only 17 jewel movement compared to 25 jewel movement of the latter. Do not let this discourage you. The watch is still an expert timekeeper. I just wanted to inform readers of the slight downgrades from other Rolex’s manufactured during this time period.
Value is extremely important when deciding to purchase a vintage watch. To get straight to the point, due to the immense history and durability of this watch, the value is great. What is even better is the particular model I featured on here is one of the most affordable vintage pieces by Rolex. So in short, yes this watch is valuable. Keep it in great condition and hold on to it for many years! It is a reserved classic that is sure to always be relevant to watch connoisseurs all over!
Vintage Rolex Explorer
What a trek we have with this piece. The Explorer ref. 1016 dates back to 1969 and the Explorer original model goes as far back as 1953. The Explorer brand of Rolex was created to congratulate the completed mission to the peak of Mt. Everest. British expeditioner, Sherpa Norgay, was wearing an early prototype that would eventually become the Explorer during his intense journey up Mt. Everest.
Now, if you have the chance to find a Rolex Explorer, you too can face Mt Everest (DISCLAIMER: You are not guaranteed to make it through the mission, but at least you have a beautiful reliable watch)! The Explorer quickly became a popular model and gave every hiker a bit of spirit!
Rolex began the production of the Explorer 1016 in 1969 and the watch lasted for over 25 years! Why it may seem odd, the older models are actually easier to find than the later produced 1016’s.
I would be lying if I told you this was one of the best looking Rolex watches. It is rather a plain model. The dark, tropical dial does not stand out as profoundly as the Air King dials, that match great with the band. A plus is a 36mm case, which is a great size on just about any wrist. It fits comfortably with an oyster bracelet with 280 end links.
The dial consists of three large numbers for the time, those numbers being 3,6 and 9. The font is not the most appealing and I feel as though the large numbers were unnecessary. Other than that, everything about the watch is pretty classic to Rolex.
You can never go wrong with the stainless steel bold and beautiful oyster bracelet. Rolex watches of every model are all made perfectly with no imperfections So when reviewing a watch by Rolex, I want to see uniqueness and innovative design. Frankly, I do not see any of that with the Explorer 1016 watch. There is no doubt a great history behind the Explorer, however, nothing stands out when looking at the watches features.
Like the Air King, the Explorer is also a durable watch. It offers the same protection with a strong stainless steel bracelet, that is held tight with 280 end links that keep it in place on the wrist. A pro is the water resistance of 100 meters. At the time of production, this is about double the resistance of other Rolex sports watches. The Air King can withstand 100 meters of water resistance as well, but it was produced later than the Explorer 1016, so it is innovative for the time.
Since the Explorer was made with extreme hiking in mind. Rolex added a low viscosity movement, so the watch is able to operate at extremely low temperatures. So your next trip to Alaska or the South Pole will not interrupt your watches functionality.
Overall, like many Rolex watches, the Explorer 1016 is a very durable watch that can withstand frigid cold temperatures and intense environments all over the world.
In order to survive a dangerous hike, you need a watch equipped with accurate time-keeping, VERY ACCURATE time-keeping. The Explorer does feature a 1570 caliber movement, which is an amazing movement for the time f production. Expect this watch to work today as it did 40 years ago! It is definitely a reliable time-keeper and it blows away the Air King on this one!
This is a tricky one. The vintage Explorer 1016 is a very expensive model that has a wide range of prices. The high price is fair in some cases because it is indeed a rare model. But make sure to look at the year of production. Many of the older models are priced extremely high and have replaced parts; so it is no longer original. For some reason, it is more difficult to find later models, produced in the early eighties. So account for that if purchasing an Explorer 1016.
If the watch is kept in great condition, you are in for a good investment! Just always be cautious and safe when buying a vintage Rolex. If you want the best value make sure it is a 100% original piece, in great condition, produced in the late seventies or early eighties.
To Fly Or to Hike: Which watch is best?
With everything we covered accounted for, which watch is best? I have to go with the Rolex Air-King 5500. Despite a lower grade movement and history that does not involve Mt. Everest, the watch is much cleaner and better looking. The beauty of the Air-King makes up for the lack of a newer movement caliber.
Both watches are a piece of history. No matter which one you decide to purchase, keep in mind the age of the watch and all it has been through. These are old watches that are still working to this day! Appreciate your vintage Rolex, whether you decide to purchase the charming Air-King or the historic Explorer.
Due to the rarity of the Explorer 1016, it is not found on Amazon. You can purchase it from other trusted sources but stick to only websites that have great reviews and certifies the watch you are buying is authentic.