Rolex released their annual batch of new watches this week in Geneva at Watches & Wonders, so we sent an enthusiast and a skeptic in together to go hands-on. Join them as they recount what they saw, and hop in the discussion below with your thoughts on the new GMT, a gem set Yacht-Master, and a new Air King.
The Air King 126900
Blake: The Air King is one of those watches I’ve gone back and forth on over the years. It’s the oddball of the bunch and I can never seem to make heads or tails of it. On the wrist, the last generation reference 116900 was just too… much. The heft of the case didn’t quite square the simple concept of the watch, and the dial had just a few too many numerals, but taken together, its quirky charm was undeniable. The newest reference was a surprise in a few ways, mostly that they are sticking with the Air King at all, and second, that they’ve managed to add just enough refinement to make this a real contender.
The new case is a win in my book, and most importantly, shaves enough thickness out of the way to make this a genuinely comfortable watch on the wrist. The crown guards bring some presence to the show, so the dial isn’t left alone to leave an impression. Speaking of, the addition of the “0” to the 5 minute mark is small, but makes a big impact at a glance. Overall I’m excited about the Air King once again, and I can imagine it’s only a matter of time before we see this case on the likes of the Milgauss (remember that watch?).
Zach: I like the idea of the Air King, but this most recent generation, with the odd dial that immediately makes me think of a speedometer, doesn’t really work for me aesthetically. That said, the new case is great, and seeing it side-by-side with the previous generation AK it becomes apparent very quickly how much more refined the new case is. Speculation is now rampant that the Milgauss will get this case next, and that would be a compelling watch if it ever happens.
GMT-Master II 126720VTNR
Blake: The GMT has gotten plenty of love in recent years, and I felt quite confident that we wouldn’t see any movement in this range for at least a few more years. That they made another one at all was a surprise to me, let alone how they went about doing it. The VTNR (Flanders?) feels perfectly inoffensive to me, the black and green pairing even makes sense, and looks quite handsome to my eye. The crown and date migration was entirely unexpected, but as a concept in general, is nothing new. The crown winds in the opposite direction as the other GMT models, by the way.
At the end of the day I’m happy to see more options in this family, and my hope is that more availability follows. I’m optimistic that things are moving in the right direction there, and after speaking directly with Rolex about this issue, they seem to be as well. I’m a bit biased when it comes to the GMT, and I genuinely like the newest reference, as I do the BLNR, however, when it comes to this model, it’s BLRO for me.
Zach: For years, I’ve tracked the annual release of new Rolex stainless steel sports watches and met almost all of them with a resounding “meh.” They just kind of do what they do, iterating in small ways, never really changing anything too dramatically, and certainly not releasing entirely new watches as we usually think of them year to year. So we get a ceramic bezel on the Daytona and that’s huge, and the return of the Pepsi GMT was similarly earth shaking. But not for me, and that’s OK. Rolex famously takes a 100 year view on their own brand, and the result is incremental updates and an absence of anything resembling a radical reshuffling of what works for them.
This new GMT, though, strikes me as something quite insane for Rolex. I mean, did you have a destro GMT with a green and black bezel on your Watches & Wonders bingo card? I did not, and was totally surprised by this release. That feeling of surprise, I’ll admit, is a huge part of the charm, but there’s still a weirdness to this watch that I find incredibly appealing, and of course on the wrist it looks and feels great, at least once your eyes adjust to seeing the cyclops on the 9:00 side (a weirder change than the left-hand crown in my estimation). This is far and away the best stainless steel sports watch Rolex has released in a very long time.
The Yacht-Master 126679TBR
Zach: It will be no surprise to anyone who read my recent editorial on “extra” watches, but this was by far my favorite watch that Rolex showed us at Watches & Wonders. Seeing the gem setting up close is fairly mind blowing, and clearly takes exceptional skill and patience. It’s way over the top, not suitable for daily wear, completely impractical, and maybe even loud and obnoxious. But it’s also an undeniably beautiful object. I will never own one, and if I did I don’t know when or how I’d wear it. You know what? That really doesn’t matter at all. There’s a reason this was the watch Rolex closed their presentation with this year – it’s an absolute show stopper.
Blake: I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the Yacht-Master, mostly on account of the name (could you pair two more insufferable terms together?), but there are exceptions. Most notably, the 40mm Everose reference 126655. I’m also not really a diamond/gem/baguette kinda guy. But, the gem set Yacht-Master I saw today was as captivating as anything I’ve seen yet at the show. The color and cut of the stones around the bezel have an undeniable beauty to them that had me seriously wondering if I could pull it off. I have no idea when or where I’d actually wear something like that, but I’d look for any opportunity to do so. Alas, pictures do this watch no justice, and it’s prohibitively expensive, so the best I can hope is encountering one in the wild, maybe on the wrist of Zach Kazan if I can convince him to cash out his 401(k).