At the Basel International Watch & Jewellery Show this year, Rolex surprisingly re-launched the Air-King, which was revived two years ago when it was merged into the Oyster Perpetual product line. The revamped Airmaster continues the aeronautical roots of the original watch, providing a new paradigm for the watchmaking industry.
The Air Fighter is a tribute to the pilot and his heroic spirit. It is simple, sturdy and three-pin. It has been the entry-level model for Rolex for many years. The history of the Air Fighter can be traced back to the mid 1930s. Prior to World War II, RAF pilots preferred to wear Rolex Oyster watches (bubblebacks), which were compared to British standard equipment at the time. The size is slightly larger for more reliable performance. After Rolex became aware of it, they began to create new watch series, such as Air-Lion, Air-King, Air-Tiger and Air-Giant. The first practical Airmaster watch (Ref. 4925) came out in 1945, integrating all the characteristic elements of the ‘Air’ watch.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Air Fighter type had relatively little change. Some minor appearance improvements made it closer to another Rolex legendary series-the Explorer type. The Ref. 5500 was launched in 1957. Since then, it has been used for a variety of disks during 37 years of production and operation. It is the most representative model. After 14000 and 14010, in 2007, the Air Fighter type ushered in a considerable update, and evolved into 1142XX. In comparison, the 1142XX case is thicker, larger in diameter, and equipped with an engine-turned bezel (though later abandoned). It is worth mentioning that 1142XX is also the first Airmaster series watch to obtain COSC certification.
Simplicity has always been
Today’s Air Fighter Ref. 116900 inherits the simple pedigree of its predecessors, and advances with the times to increase the diameter to 40 mm to meet market demand. It has all the special attributes of a modern watch, including Calibre 3131 (shared with Milgauss). The watch is equipped with a soft iron inner case, which protects the movement from magnetic field interference (anti-magnetic is a new major issue in watchmaking). The sturdy oyster bracelet is not only pleasing in appearance, it is actually comfortable to wear. The case is exquisite and charming, and the dense bottom design and screw-in crown ensure water resistance to 100 meters. The black dial is very individual, and its source is derived from the analog display instruments customized by Rolex for the Bloodhound SSC jet-powered car. Extra large Arabic numerals in white gold at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock are reminiscent of the iconic Explorer dial.
Other details include a white gold fluorescent triangle at 12 o’clock, a small yellow crown, a dark green ‘Rolex’, and of course the ‘Air-King’ word that is the same as the previous generation. Last but not least, this watch is certified by COSC and ‘Superlative Chronometer’, and its average error is within plus or minus two seconds per day. The rolex rolex case is so fascinating, not only in the watch itself, but also because it reveals a trend that many brands in the industry are following-re-release watches according to history; or simply launch watches, and It is linked to a specific specific story, thus giving the watch a clear basis for its existence. Similar examples abound: Panerai, Tudor, Omega (Zunba and Hippocampus Co-Axial) and Girard Perregaux (to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the brand’s relaunch, even though the first Laureato was a quartz ).
Making a connection between a watch and a specific story has a dual role. First of all, to help customers identify watches, remember that the market demand for luxury goods is primarily based on emotions. Secondly, to help watches accurately position in specific market segments. This storytelling strategy is not new. Rolex is a pioneer. From the beginning, it has always been about the quality of Rolex watches, such as reliability, simplicity, precision and water resistance. Furthermore, Hans Wilsdorf is a marketing genius.
Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf in 1942
Other brands followed suit. During the 1960s and 1970s, almost all watches were closely linked to a story, event, exploration, experiment or heroic feat. At that time mechanical watches were a necessity, and now we wear watches as accessories, or a declaration, a statement, what is the point? The answer is simple. For a specific watch model, a good story is often more deeply rooted in technology than innovation, even actual design. Consumers agree with the story behind the watch. Any story will do. If not, they can still invent it, even if it means connecting to obscure points.
Back to the advent of the Air Fighter watch, Rolex fully demonstrated its deep connection with the aviation field. This source originated from Hans Wilsdorf. Instrumentation is inseparable. So, does Rolex really need this story as a buying point for the Air Fighter type? After all, although the Air Fighter was a tribute to the pilot, the pilot was wearing a different model of watch (Oyster bubble back). The answer is yes, because this story fully justifies the existence of the Air Fighter type. Rolex needed this link to position the Airbus models in specific market segments and compete with other related products. Interestingly, brands often look back at history, blow away the backlog of dust, find a few forgotten stories, and use this to create a halo for new products. Sometimes it’s justified, just like the Rolex Skymaster; sometimes it’s pure fabrication. Unfortunately, the line between the two is not always clear.
Although this marketing strategy is old-fashioned, in recent years, vintage design has been increasing day by day, and it is becoming more and more intensive. Participants in the industry ‘follow the wave’, imitating the style of the past. However, for many people, real antique watches are still off limits. From high prices to daily wear restrictions to the expertise you need to shop for a variety of reasons. Of course, the prosperity of social media has made antiques (watches) closer to the wider public than ever before. This gave birth to a new market segment, demanding vintage watches with stories and feelings. The industry’s response was to introduce retro watches with relatively affordable prices as a substitute for antique watches. But keep in mind that most brands view their antique watches as a threat.
The marketing department is responsible for looking through the dusty archives, picking out interesting antique models, and then selling a new vintage watch to the public by creating a charming halo for it. Then, create a look that is very similar to the antique style, usually larger in size, but with ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘cool’ details, such as yellowish Superluminova (Jacques Deepsea Retro Chronograph), tropical strap (Ho Lexus Divers Sixty-Five), NATO (Tuduo Kai Cheng Biwan) or Milanese (Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 68). The rest is to put a story in the media bag of the new retro watch, a story that comes from history and continues the legend.
Today, watches are luxury goods. As luxury goods, their existence and potential success depend on the ability to mobilize and attract customers. Therefore, a story, no matter what story, is crucial. The power of the market cannot be ignored, so the trend described in the article will continue, and there is nothing wrong with it. The problem is that most of the seemingly abundant reserves have been discovered. For consumers, it’s really important to focus on the product itself, not the (possibly fictional) story surrounding it. Furthermore, industry players must look at and respond appropriately to this retro frenzy. It should be noted that credibility is not easy to obtain, and once lost, it is difficult to recover.